Coming Home for Poila Boishakh

The flight from Seattle to Kolkata is not an easy flight. And neither is it short. At the end of the 23-hour flight, my back ached. My eyes were heavy but my heart was light. A wave of nostalgia swept over me as the plane landed in Kolkata. It had been years since I’d been home on Poila Boishakh. My mind flew back to my childhood when every occasion was an excuse to celebrate. Poila Boishakh was big in my family. We were a joint family of about 15 members. When our cousins got together, we were a force to be reckoned with. The house would be swarming with people and greeting each other, “Shubho Noboborsho!” Not all of us were enthusiastic early risers. So, although we knew about the Prabhat Pheri, we didn’t really ever witness it. Later, when we moved away from the joint family home, I’d accompany my mother and sister to Rabindra Sadan to listen to music. The day would progress and the elders would reminisce about their childhood experiences. One of my uncles, who had a printing press in the house, would arrange for a Ganesh and Lakshmi Puja for his staff and go through the symbolic gesture of opening the haal khata.

Lunch was the event that everyone waited for eagerly. It would start with the obligatory Shukto. Then there’d be cholar dal and jhuri aloo bhaja. Then we would move on to the fish preparations. Ilish maach, which is prohibitively expensive around April, was procured just for Poila Boishakh. Kosha mangsho was usually reserved for dinner. Lunch would end with bhater payesh and shondesh before which we would have aamer chatni. Then we would settle down to gossip followed by evening tea. Jokes and anecdotes would fly around. Then it would be time for everyone to go home and only the immediate family would remain. As I thought about those days, I marveled at how far away I had moved from my roots. We cousins were living, scattered all over the country. Nobody had time to visit. Poila Boishakh now was only a phone call saying, “Shubho Noboborsho”. That’s all that remained. On my way home, in the taxi, I found myself wishing that life hadn’t become as fast as all that and as I sat and wondered about what would be waiting for me at home, I could almost taste the Ilish maacher bhapa.

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