Today is Mahalaya. And it had to begin like almost all Mahalayas of my life: Listening to Mahishasur Mardini on AIR. The night at its darkest just before dawn, all the world ahush, waking up when ma creeps into our room to put the radio on, the static on AIR, the blowing of the conch to signal the begining of the programme itself.
It has been such an important part of not only our durga pujas past but of our peripatetic lives as well - in our cosy blue bedroom in the small bungalow and then the larger one in Assam, in Kuwait when our nutty ma would (god bless her) put on a cassette at 4.00 am (thank god Kuwait time) on Mahalaya and now ofcourse here in Kolkata.
Since 1932 when it was first aired, it is a part and parcel of durga puja for bengalis the world over. Difficult to say whether Mahalaya means Mahishasur Mardini or vice versa. Such is the popularity (popularity is so inadequate a word...fervour maybe) that the TV programmes a recent development only 10-15 years old are timed to coincide with the ending of the Radio programme.
It is sacred. Every bit of it - right from the blowing of the conch shell at the begining and the end of the programme, all songs, all chants, the music everthing inlcuding the names of the participants - almost legendary now - Banikumar, Birendra Krishna Bhadra and Pankaj Mullick.
Any changes (a few have been tried) have ended in abject failure - rejected unanimously.
The piling up of bamboos, bundles of rope, corrugated tins, canvas tarps by the road side; structures coming slowly, bamboo girders on footpath, festoons and banners, pandals coming up bit by bit, puja barshikis...all important part of the count down till Mahalaya and Mahishasur Mardini on AIR at 4am. We'd lie snug in our beds half asleep, half awake and as the programme would draw to an end, the sun would rise. I would often fall asleep in the middle to wake up to hear another bit and the doze off to find that the programme had ended but with a contended sigh think, there is always next year.
Is there? Will there be? This year, when the final song Shanti sang by Utpala Sen finished, we waited to hear the illustrious list of names as much a part of the whole process...but were aghast.. to hear ads 0ne after the other....harsh raucous and completely shatterring, infact it felt like a violation of something sacred.