Lockdown ‘Pohela Boishakh’ Confessions & The Hugs We Took For Granted

5:00 am, the landline rings, I pick up the phone amazed at the audacity of the caller, a cheerful voice on the other side greets me with love  – ‘uthe podo didubhai, mondir jaabe bolechhile’ (wake up, you said you’ll accompany us to the temple), my dadu (grandfather) would be my alarm clock on those days when I didn’t have a phone melody I could conveniently snooze. This was about 12 years ago. Things, of course, are different now.

Growing up in Delhi’s Chittaranjan Park, I might not have been the quintessential Kolkatar-bangali – but I wouldn’t consider myself any less when it comes to being ‘cultural’. From taking part in seasonal art competitions, to attending Rabindra Sangeet classes at Bangiya Samaj, I’ve done it all. So how could I not accompany my dadu to bring in the ‘naubo borsho’ (new year) at the crack of dawn? And that’s exactly why, on the night before, I asked him to wake me up when he does – things we take for granted.

Following his call, I would take a quick shower, put on some new clothes that mom would have already bought for me, and head to the temple, where he and my grandmother would already be waiting for me. We’d do our sun-salutation, I would touch the feet of my elders, hug my cousins and friends – and then would come my favourite part of it all. These goody bags my grandparents very carefully curated for us, comprising a mandatory Ponjika – the fortune telling bangla almanac, that comes second to Boroline, when it comes to objects Bengalis swear by; a box of malai chom chom – honestly, I prefer this to rosogolla, any day; a packet of chire bhaja AND – an envelope of hard cash. This would be followed by a hearty breakfast hosted by my mother every year, and the rest of the day would be spent discussing my porashona (studies) and ‘eibaar aekta gaan shona’ (sing a song).

There would be no social media updates of the above-mentioned activities, no ‘stories’ to prove they ever took place. Just some pure, simple moments of human association that, little did I know, would eventually help me get past the many complicated situations I would be confronted with.

Life went on, I got busy – working round the clock. Dadu got old, naubo borsho wishes were reduced to phone calls, goody bags were ‘dropped off’. The love, I would like to believe, stayed intact. Life was picking up pace, and I wasn’t going to slow down. After all, all that porashona had to be put to some use – dadu had only said. The quest for ‘things’ took over the need for relationships.

But today, as we embark upon a brand new Bengali year, without dadu or even the freedom to associate – I am reminded of all the joys I received back then – of free wake-up calls, hugs and most of all blessings – the ones I’m counting on, in these times of uncertainty. And also the realisation that when we run out of ‘things’, it is love that helps us maintain our sanity. Hugs – not really, because social distancing. So sending out virtual naubo borsho hugs to my fellow humans of lockdown – the sun salutation might be restricted to our windows this time, but it sure seems to shine brighter upon us, thanks to lower levels of pollution.