Essays from The Education of a Bengali Gentleman –
Next Year Will Be Different!
Vijaya Dashami marks the end of ten days of Durga Puja celebrations in many Hindu homes across India. It is the time for new beginnings. Mother Durga has conquered and subdued the evil, Asura. Rama has vanquished Ravan. I am laying my garden to bed for the winter. I am preparing for next year. Next year, starting today, will be different.
This year I heard the best interpretation of Mother Durga’s slaying Asura, the elusive buffalo demon. At the end of leading the gathering through the prayer offered to Mother Durga, the priest stated – “I am not sure if the story retold in our homes of Mother slaying the buffalo demon is true or not, but this much I know – Mother is driving the demon out of our hearts.” The message resonated with me. With every passing day after Vijaya Dashami I will try first not to let the devil into my heart. But, as the myth goes, Asura disguises himself in many forms, beguiles us and slips into our hearts and minds. I know I will recognize him when I fill his evil ways choke my heart and blind my reasoning. Then, I will make a superhuman effort to drive him out. Restore Mother’s special place in my heart, soul and life.
Laying the garden to bed for the winter is a laborious and tedious process. There are no new blooms to reward my painstaking, back breaking work. Not for another seven months. This I know because of the harsh winter in Chicago. What if the squirrels find my carefully planted daffodil and tulip bulbs? No regrets. I provided them with a much needed meal and in their place I will fill in some seasonal spring flowers. A happy thought already radiated through me. My generous work of volunteering at the Chicago Botanical Gardens has rewarded me all summer long with the most spectacular blooms of globe amaranths. You see when you volunteer at the gardens, pulling weeds, on your hands and feet, getting in between the cracks in the brick paving, deadheading lilies and hostas, sometimes you get to bring home a few saplings of seasonal flowers. On that hot June day I brought home two six inch potted globe amaranths. And the two grew and grew and grew, with love and care to fill a three feet by twenty feet rectangular bed in my yard. Pink globe amaranths, hundreds, perhaps, thousands, charming the entire neighborhood.
We are making a dent in our garage, clearing away years of accumulated wealth, now junk. There’s an important reason to keep the home clear of clutter. To ensure that someone else doesn’t have to do the job later on, what the Swedish call “death cleaning”. The garage is a beginning. There is also the attic and the crawl space. The bookcases and the filing cabinets in the office. More bookcases in the den. Next year will be different. We will be able to call ourselves minimalistic. Time and effort are a given, especially when you have to keep the appointment you made with the Salvation Army or the American Vets to haul away your “junk” that we must place outside the front door by 7am.
No garage sale this year. We did that about three years ago when we opened our garage to a not-for-profit group Expanding Lives that my daughter is a part of. For weeks we let families and friends bring and store their “junk”in our garage. Everyday we labeled red, yellow, orange, brown stickers to denote their resale values. I even kept an inventory in a spreadsheet. When we hosted the garage sale Expanding Lives grossed $400. It was the first summer of our retirement. When you open your heart, the devil runs away. Mother Durga thrives.
We have not started in the attic. Yet we knew of a bag full of books that belonged to my mother from the time when she came to live with us. There we found a beautiful treasure. My mother’s Bhagavad Gita in Bengali. It is a small pocket book size, easy to carry everywhere. My mother made her own red silk cloth cover for it. She embroidered the word “Gita”, in Bengali “গীতা”, with a golden thread. It will replace the smartphone in my trouser pocket. One more step towards independence from social media, which somewhat like Asura, keeps creeping back into our lives. Now when I sit to wonder about the theo-philosophical questions – Why do we exist? What is life’s purpose? What comes after death? – the Bhagavad Gita and the sacred words of Lord Krishna will be nearby to enlighten my journey to Brahman, the ultimate realty, knowledge pure and simple. Simplicity, clarity, singleness.
Next year there will be no Facebook. I am reclaiming my independence from social media. That also means, no Twitter, Instagram or Google Circles. In 2016 when Trump won and Hillary lost, I got my independence from CNN. This year will be a bigger celebration. More books and magazines to read. More music to listen to. And that Nutcracker ballet I have been meaning to see for a long time.
In the meantime, after spending an afternoon taking down the priceless globe amaranths, there are fresh leaves a falling from the neighbors trees. Somehow my maples have all shed and have been mulched into the grass. I must find a away from keeping my Halloween witch from wrapping herself around my Halloween scarecrow. Luckily the pumpkin lights are on timer. They come on at dusk, and shut off at dawn (when there is one.) I just read a wonderful article in the National Geographic travel magazine about a climate buff who takes bicycle trips through climate change threatened locations in Colorado, Tennessee, New England and more. Next year the bicycle hanging from the garage ceiling will come down. I will ride to the Chicago Botanic on my volunteer days and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Yes, next year will be different!