It was the Mahalaya, the day from which the Navratri starts. On this day, Ma Durga starts off her journey to go to her parental home from her husband, Shiva’s home. But for Raj, the old blind idol-maker, the journey was actually the reverse. Every year, the idol of the goddess which he makes with his three months of undivided hard work finally sets off for going to the Puja pandals. When the whole city of Kolkata wakes up at dawn to listen to the famous recital of Birendra Krishna Bhadra that requests Goddess Durga to come down to earth, Raj wakes up for a different reason: he wakes up to bid his child a final farewell. In return, the Puja committee members pay him his final remuneration and take his daughter away. Raj could never become happy on the auspicious day of the Mahalaya. The remorse becomes so much that he never steps out of his house on the nine days of Navratri. When the rest of India is busy celebrating the joy of their greatest festival, Raj lives those days in absolute penance and remorse. For him, it was the period of grief and sorrow.
This year, as he lay on his back on his hard bed, after his earthen daughter is gone, Raj was reminded with the pretty and innocent face of Maya. He felt that somehow Maya’s thoughts reduced his sorrow. Raj was very surprised that how a small meeting with Maya on a day before, had left a big impact on his mind. For the first time, he felt to leave his small home at Kumartuli to go back to his ancestral home. But again the thought of staying at his cousin’s home discouraged him from going back to his village. Years ago, his cousins threw him out of their house to grab Raj’s father’s plot of land. But he, being an invalid, as the society had labeled him, could not do anything. Teary eyed the blind orphan boy of hardly sixteen years had to leave the house. He had nowhere to go and sat under the old banyan tree for days. His elder sister had passed away a month before this incident. When he remained on the road side, only a couple of people came to his rescue – his Guru (teacher) and his youngest cousin, Kashi.
Kashi, though his cousin, was unlike the others in his extended family. His mind was too young to understand why Raj was thrown out of their home. In spite of all his elder brother’s and their wives disappointment, he used to steal food from the kitchen for Raj. And when the whole house took an afternoon nap, Kashi stealthily crept out of the house and ran to meet his weak and dependent cousin, Raj.
Raj too had faith on Kashi. He might have been short of two eyes but his inner eyes could easily distinguish between the rice grain and the adultery. Although the older cousins had made him shelter less, Raj firmly believed that Kashi was completely different: he won’t leave Raj alone no matter what. But reality struck Raj like a bolt from the blue.
It was one lazy afternoon, probably a week had passed since Raj was staying alone under the banyan tree. He was keenly waiting for Kashi to bring some food. The sun was gradually receding to the west, the rays were no longer that hot but Kashi didn’t come. The pain of hunger was so strong that he could hardly stand up yet there was no sight of Kashi. Minutes later, a group of men came and what happened next was beyond Raj’s worst nightmare.
“So, you’re teaching our brother how to steal! You imbecile wretch!” It was one of his cousins, Raj recognized.
“No brother, you’re wrong. I never asked Kashi to steal food.”
“What do you think of where the cooked food comes from?” implored the eldest one of the group.
“I never asked Kashi but never thought that he would steal from the kitchen. I’m sorry for the mistake. Please don’t punish him. I am really sorry.” Having said that Raj went on his knees, clutching his two ears tightly.
The group became silent. The onlookers and passers by were mute as well, silently enjoying the incident.
“But we don’t want to see you here anymore. And… And never dare to come back to our home.”
Raj’s silence hinted at his acceptance of the order. The only thing he didn’t know was what his guilt was. Was being blind a crime? He didn’t know. Was his being a dependent on them a crime? He dared not to ask this to anyone. Years later, when his adulthood brought his maturity, he realized that his share of the ancestral property was the culprit. Even the animosity became predominant when human beings sense the aroma of property and money. That night it was his poor teacher who said saved him from the greed of his cousins. Life started afresh when Guruji sent him to Kumartuli permanently. Raj still could recall his last words before Guruji left Kumartuli:
“Son, no one, and nothing is permanent in this world except change. Always adapt yourself to changes. Even the soil in your hand needs to be mounted to give a definite shape. So, forget your past, forgive the wrong doers and move on. Just keep in mind that you are independent.”
The mental tug of war that Raj was facing since the early morning was disturbed by a phone call.
“Here’s a call from your village, Dada.” one of his friends at Kumartuli came running to him while saying these words in a rush.
“Oh okay. Give it to me.”
“Hello uncle, when are you coming?”
“But who’s speaking?”
Raj heard someone giggling on the other side. He was sure that the other side could not be more than a decade of age. He patiently waited for the giggle to fade out.
“What did you have for the breakfast, Maya?”
“Now you recognized me.” Maya giggled again. “Tell me when you’re coming?”
“See Maya, going this year to the village is difficult for me. I have lots of work to do. I’ll surely go next year. Promise.”
This time Raj heard some faint sound of sobs.
“Maya, why are you crying? Okay, don’t cry my baby. I’ll go tomorrow.”
“What will you bring for me?
“Really? Baba only gives Toffees.”
“Okay. I’ll buy you some lollipops but promise me you’re not going to cry.”
“But who gave you the phone to call me? You’re a kid only.”
“Baba gave it to me.”
Raj realized that Kashi wanted him to go. He knew that only little Maya would be able to convince Raj.
On the other side, Kashi held the phone.
“Dada, do come tomorrow. It’s the start of the Navratri. We’ll celebrate together after a long time. Please do not say a No.”
“Sure. I’ll come tomorrow morning itself. I can’t break my promise to my little mother.”
The phone was disconnected from the other end. Raj sat down on his twin bed. He had to go back to his roots. The soil of village was longing to see his child again. This time Maya became the voice of the Mother Earth, that Raj simply could not ignore anymore. The duel of the past and present in his mind finally ended – the sweetness of the present swiped off all agony and pain of betrayal of the past!