Fiction: The First Day of Spring

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First day of spring

— “Do you remember the times when you would suddenly start writing poems … setting your homework aside ?” 

— “Yes, I do…”

— “Do you remember the repeated calls for dinner from your Mom, as you desperately tried to finish writing that poem?” 

— “I do…”

— “What happened to that passion?…Do you still write?”

Before Diya could respond, the cellphone on the bedside table softly emitted a sweet tune for about 5 seconds, and then went quiet. It’s the 5:00 am alarm – time to get up! Rish was still in deep slumber on the other side of the bed – he had one more hour to sleep as his alarm was set for 6:00 am. 

Rubbing her eyes, Diya got up cautiously – making sure there was no noise to wake Rish up. She went to the window and slowly opened the blind – the east-facing glass window covered almost the whole wall. The window looked over the spacious lawn that ended in a small wooded area.  The long trees looked naked without the cover of their leaves, but their heads seemed to have a faint glow with the first rays of the rising sun. Diya closed her eyes, folded her hands and chanted the Surya Mantra (hymn for the Sun God). This has been her morning ritual for years. 

Growing up in a small campus town near Kolkata, in the eastern part of India, Diya always had the luxury of being surrounded by nature, which many of her friends in Kolkata did not have. Diya’s father was a Professor at the engineering school, and had been a strong proponent of ‘early to bed, early to rise’. Thus, at first reluctantly and then willingly, Diya had gotten used to the sight of the rising sun, from either the lawn or from the terrace of the Professors’ quarter that also provided a nice view of the river Ganges. The waking up of the day had become a very familiar sight over the years for Diya, as was the soft chanting of the morning hymn and the early morning rituals. 

“But now you do not have the luxury of walking around and watching the entire sun rise on a working day, in another corner of the globe – you now have to rush and get ready for the marathon that stretches for almost the entire day!” Diya tells herself, as she rushes to the bathroom. 

Taking a quick shower and getting dressed, Diya knelt down at her home altar as she offered her morning prayers to the deity, followed by a few minutes of meditation. This was a ‘must-do’ for Diya, no matter how busy or crazy the daily calendar looked, she needed this as an antidote to help her go through the busy day. 

Also read: A Letter From my Daughter

Rish and Mohu showed up at the kitchen table almost immediately after Diya had come down and kicked off a five-minute sequence of coordinated activities – each downing a glass of juice or milk, grabbing a banana and fruit bar in their hands, Mohu grabbing her lunch bag before hoisting her backpack as Rish rushed to open the garage door and both jumping in to the car. Diya went through her own sequence, a little more sedately as she turned on the house alarm before shutting the door behind her.  “Make sure you finish your lunch, Mohu!” Diya said as she opened the door of her car.  Rish rolled down his window – “Please pick up Mohu today, I’ll be late.”  Diya nodded as she watched the two leave, turned and switched on her car. 

Taking her car out to the driveway, Diya looked around and murmured to herself. She had told Dave repeatedly to make sure his people plowed the snow off the driveway by 6:30 am, but yet again they had not! “Maybe it’s time to switch to another company” she said to herself – “Thank God there was not much of an  accumulation last night”.                                                             

Maneuvering the car carefully, Diya got out of the subdivision. The Interstate was a five minute drive. She glanced at the clock on the dashboard and carefully pressed down on the accelerator. Parking the car in the parking lot, Diya looked at her watch again. No, she was not late! Gathering her laptop and purse from the back of the car, and buttoning up the coat, Diya started walking towards the main door. “Hi, Diya!” – the hard “D” told her it was Linda calling out to her. Diya stopped as Linda caught up and said – “Can’t believe today is the first day of spring…look at the weather!” Diya smiled, as she controlled the urge to translate the famous Indian poem – ‘When spring arrives, we do not need a flower to prove it!’ She forgot that today was the first day of spring. “See you later” Diya waved at Linda as they reached the door, and walked towards her office.

office
Diya walked towards her office

Hanging up her coat and turning on the computer at the docking station, Diya said to herself -“Here starts the second marathon of the day!”                                             

She opened up the calendar – the first meeting was with her boss, that was followed by a meeting with the stakeholders about the last project. Then the team meeting, followed by a meeting with the IT team…! Endless meetings. Sometimes Diya wondered whether productivity really went up or down with all these meetings, ‘when do you have the time to get anything done!’ She shrugged off the thoughts quickly – ‘If you are in Rome, you have to be a Roman.’ 

Fixing her scarf, Diya started walking towards the office of her boss. This was a routine one-on-one weekly meeting and the sequence was very predictable. The boss would repeat what he had heard from his boss, would pass on the workload and finally ask ‘how is everything else’…

Diya smiled as she wrapped up the meeting and walked back. She looked at the project list again – what to delegate and to whom…

Before going for the next meeting, Diya checked her email one more time – ‘I have to sit down with the model results…did Emma send the latest output as yet?’…

The meetings carried on past noon without a break. Diya looked at her watch – it was 12:23 pm and the next meeting was at 1 o’clock. 

“Have to get something into your stomach Mrs. Diya  Bagchi – the second half was going to be long and included an IT meeting!” Diya told herself as she walked down to the cafeteria to pick up a chicken salad. 

Coming back to her desk, she finally had an opportunity to pick up her phone – eighteen WhatsApp messages!

Maneuvering the car carefully, Diya got out of the subdivision. The Interstate was a five minute drive. She glanced at the clock on the dashboard and carefully pressed down on the accelerator. Parking the car in the parking lot, Diya looked at her watch again. No, she was not late! Gathering her laptop and purse from the back of the car, and buttoning up the coat, Diya started walking towards the main door.

The first ones were from her college batch-mates group – mostly inane ‘Welcome Spring’ messages, she hated those almost as much as the ”Good morning” messages – ‘who has the time to send such messages everyday that I bet no one reads!’ Next were from the group of her school friends – similar bunch of messages heralding the start of spring. Diya never had the time to read all the group messages or listen to all the forwarded videos – a quick glance was all she could afford, and then pick up on any special message about a birthday or an anniversary. She did the same now, telling herself that she would have to find time and clean up all the ‘garbage’ this weekend. 

The next message was from Brishti – “How are you folks? Will call over the weekend.” 

Diya felt a little guilty. Brishti was her first cousin. She lived in Dubai with her husband. They did not have any children and Brishti loved Mohu as her own daughter – she called at least once or twice every month to talk to Mohu and Diya. Each time Diya would hang up with Brishti, she would make a mental note ‘I’ll call her up the next time…I must call next time…it cannot be Brishti all the time.’  But as every weekend rolled around, Diya would be so involved with Mohu’s activities along with all the other household chores, that she never got around to calling Brishti up.                                                                                      

cooking with Indian spices
She always heard about the benefits of Indian spices

Diya’s neighbor Kristie always told her to order pizza on weekdays, but Diya just couldn’t. She would remember all the advice she regularly got from India about the benefits of avoiding junk food in favor of home cooked food, about the herbal benefits of Indian spices and about how her mother would tirelessly cook for the family when she was growing up. No, Diya could not escape from cooking, and depriving Mohu and Rish, just because she worked at a full time job. So, between Rish and herself, the weekends were a non-stop string of chores – from getting to the grocery store to picking up the laundry, cooking for the week and taking Mohu to her activities. By the time everything was done, it was 8:00 pm on Sunday and time to prepare for the next Monday!

“I wish I had some domestic help, like back home in India!” Diya sighed to herself, but quickly recovered before actually regretting her lot – “This is, as per The Gita, my Karmabhumi and I am happy to continue my karma without any domestic help!”

With a smile on her face she opened the next message. This one was from Rish. – “Remember the Chaitra breeze blowing at twilight on the bank of Ganges…?” WHAT?! Diya nearly jumped out of her chair – “Is today the 6th day of the month of Chaitra per the Indian calendar?” She quickly checked the online calendar – “yes, it is!” This special day this year coincided with the first day of spring. Once again, she had forgotten but Rish had remembered! 

first day of spring
This special day this year coincided with the first day of spring

God knows why Rish follows the Indian calendar for this particular day…how on earth can anyone possibly track the Indian calendar in this country? “Unless you are a priest at the local Hindu temple…”

Rish always said we should never force ourselves to adopt the easy way. We follow the English calendar for our birthdays and wedding anniversaries and everything else – but this one day must be different. This day is special – as this was the day Rish had met Diya for the first time at the start of the beautiful spring season in India. Hence his insistence to celebrate this special day according to the Indian calendar.  

Diya had gotten absentminded for a second. It seemed almost yesterday, yet it was so long ago! So many springs had passed since that particular day. Almost everything had changed since then – their country, their food, their culture…she herself had also changed overtime. But still…somehow…somewhere that saree-clad, long braided, Diya Sen was still quietly dwelling within the step-cut haired, “westernized” Diya Bagchi. Half-hidden, but she is surely there.

Diya sighed again. No time to stop for a second and look back.

‘Can we go out for dinner tonight?…Probably not, this is Mohu’s exam-week. She also has a SAT Prep-test this weekend. Besides, Rish might also be late tonight since he had a team visiting from their European office.’ Diya looked at her watch – five minutes to the next meeting.

Quickly sending off a ‘thank you’ and a smiley face to Rish, Diya gathered her files and walked towards the conference room. 

This day is special – as this was the day Rish had met Diya for the first time at the start of the beautiful spring season in India. Hence his insistence to celebrate this special day according to the Indian calendar.

It was exactly ten past five when Diya finally started walking towards her car, after having wrapped up everything and taking the laptop in case something urgent came up in the evening.

Mohu had to be picked up by 6:00 PM so the third marathon of the day starts now! 

Thank God, the traffic was not that bad today – it did not take much time to commute from Diya’s office to Mohu’s school and from Mohu’s school to home. 

Dave had cleaned the driveway in the meantime – not a bit of ice to be found.

Diya parked her car, collected the mail from the mailbox and walked into the house with Mohu. 

“Freshen up quickly Mohu, I am getting your dinner ready in the meantime.” Diya called out.

Mohu said – “What’s for dinner, Mom?…I am starving!”

“Come and see for yourself.” Diya smiled as she put the shrimp casserole into the microwave. Mohu loved this fusion version of the shrimp dish, heavy with Indian spices. 

The dinner time chat at the kitchen table was Mohu’s favorite when she would excitedly talk about her day at school, her friends or her dance and piano classes, her club activities and whatever else that came to her mind. Diya paid full attention to the unending flow – she wanted to be a constant part of Mohu’s ever-changing world. This generation is so different. They are open minded and free-willed – honest almost to a fault, but very independent minded…they are absolutely in love with the concept of independence.

Diya knew it was not easy to raise an only child in a land where there was no extended family, and when she herself had her own career unlike her mother or grandmother. Diya was not able to spend as much time with Mohu as Diya’s mother had with her, but she wanted to make up for that whenever an opportunity presented itself.

During their youth, growing up in India, neither Rish nor Diya had so much independence, neither did they know how to demand independence. They shared a room with their siblings, their bathroom was shared with the family, pocket money was non-existent till they were in college, no decision could be made without the consent of the family. Diya had once said it aloud, and Mohu had exclaimed – “Why? Is independence bad? What are you so concerned about?…Did your uncle not fight for India’s independence?”

Diya had said – “That was totally different – that was for the independence of the country, but as a young individual you need …”

Before Diya could finish, Mohu had smiled and stated confidently – “It’s all the same, Mom. See, independence is not bad. Asking for independence is not bad. Misusing independence is bad, and I promise you I’ll never do that.”

Diya could not say a word in response to that. 

“Mom, I am still hungry – do you have some curry-rice?” – Mohu said.

“Sure” – Warming up the curry-rice, Diya also took a plate for herself.  Rish had just texted that he had gone to dinner with the European team and would be late coming home.

Krishnachura tree
Are these icicles, or are they the Indian flower of red Krishnachura

They finished the dinner while chatting about their respective days. Diya then asked Mohu to go up to her room – she had an exam coming up. After cleaning the table and loading the dishwasher, Diya made herself a cup of green tea and settled down on a chair at the kitchen table. Taking slow sips of her tea she told herself – “the marathon is finally over for the day!”

It was almost 7:30 PM – there was still some daylight, thanks to the ‘daylight savings time’ that had just started. In the beginning, Diya had always thought – ‘why do these people push their clocks back and forth, to keep up with nature?’ Now she knows ‘why’ – to prepare their own minds for the upcoming change!

This was Diya’s favorite spot. The kitchen door opened onto the deck that looked over the lawn. The lawn ended at the wooded area that the house backed into. The woods were home to all sorts of creatures – rabbits, deer, wild turkey, even one or two coyotes had made their presence known. The animals generally did not show up during the winter months, but the deer occasionally showed up and left footprints on the snow, especially at dusk. Diya loved the fact that she was able to stay so close to nature. 

It’s usually so quiet at this time of the day, you could hear a pin drop. The trees were standing solemnly, adorned with the remnants of the last snowfall and some icicles. Not even a bird was around to break the all-enveloping silence. 

All of a sudden, two deer came out of the forest – one bold buck and one proud doe, still wearing their ‘winter coats’. Slowly they walked up close to the deck, casually glanced at Diya through the glass patio door and then looked up at the sky. They then came even closer and looked into each other’s eyes and stood there as if forever. As if one was asking the other – “Remember the Chaitra breeze blowing at the twilight on the bank of Ganges…?” 

Diya kept watching them intently, as if she was hypnotized. Who are these animals? Are they the messengers of spring? Are they here to help Diya go from this cold winter to the warm spring that she had left behind, so many years back in time, from this American city to the banks of the river Ganges? Are these icicles, or are they the Indian flower of red  Krishnachura? Has Diya stepped back in time and in Kolkata now? She could almost hear all those familiar sounds around her! She whispered – “where were you all till now?” They said – “we have always been here, and will always be here”…she replied – “why did I not see you before?”…they started smiling and laughing…the surroundings were filled up with the sweetness of their laughter…

And just at that moment, Diya heard the sound of the garage door opening – must be Rish. Diya got up with a smile on her face. She turned on the light and put Rish’s favorite Tagore song on the audio system – “The spring is here…”

As she went to open the door, she whispered to herself – “This is my passion…this is the poem I write everyday now.” 

Notes:

Chaitra- The last month of the Bengali calendar; it falls in March-April

Krishnachura- Royal poinciana; a red flowering tree that blooms in spring

Images courtesy: Pxfuel

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