“It’s Ashtami today,” thought Ambika as she woke herself up. She looked at the alarm clock. It was not 4:30 a.m. as of yet. Just five more minutes to go. She switched off the alarm clock. Her husband and two daughters were still sleeping. Naren, her husband, had to go to office yesterday as well and then her daughters had school too. Today being a holiday, she did not want to wake them up early. She went near the dressing table, tied her jet black, long silky hair into a tight bun. Tip-toeing to the closet, she took out her cotton ‘mekhelachadar’ (traditional attire of Assam).
It was pitch dark outside with rains hitting the roof. The weather was somewhat cold but Ambika needed to bathe now. Not that she was not used to bathing early, but today, she was not feeling well. “Never mind Ambika,” she told herself, “you do it every day. Once you finish you bath, you will feel fresh.’ She went to the bathroom, took a quick shower and came back. She put a Gamusaon her wet hair. She pinned up the mekhela chadar thoroughly. After applying moisturizers, she drew a nice round vermilion dot on her forehead and smeared some vermilion on the trichion right after parting her hair. She then tied her hair into a nice bun and stepped out of her room.
Her parents-in-law were also sleeping. Her brother-in-law and sister-in-law were fast asleep too. She went to the prayer room and opened the window. The window creaked. A ray of the dawn sun swept into the prayer room. The wooden window creaked the moment she opened it. Ambika took a piece of cloth kept on the shelf nearby, went to the water tap, drenched the cloth and mopped the floor. She was feeling hungry, however, she had to focus on her prayers today because she was fasting.
‘Ashtami’ is one of the most important days of the Durga Puja celebration. She had to make Bhog(offerings to God which is made of lentils and rice), a mixed vegetable curry and a dessert (rice pudding). She was fasting today for a paramount reason. She was told by the adults of the family and an astrologer that, if she did that, she would certainly be blessed. In an hour, she had finished cleaning the prayer room. After lighting the incense sticks and the clay lamp,she knelt down, bowed in front of the idols and offerred a silent prayer. She felt a tinge of pain in her lower abdomen. She knew the reason; hence she did not worry about that.
The kitchen was spotless clean. Before going to bed she always ensured that she washed all the utensils, mopped the kitchen floor, cleaned the gas stove and threw away the trash. Her day always started at 5:00 a.m and ended at 12:00 p.m. With eight family members including herself, she always took care of everyone, including the guests as well, who visited very often. Most of them were relatives. She usually started her day by heating up drinking water for everyone and putting that in a flask. She then made breakfast for everyone, which comprised of 18 to 20 chappatis (flat bread) and a vegetable curry followed by tea. She then packed lunch boxes for her husband, brother-in-law, sister-in-law and her kids. Once she was done with that, she served breakfast to everyone, got her children ready for school and ironed her husband’s clothes.
Today, although she was famished, she knew she could not eat anything till dusk. Moreover, today she had to make Bhog for 17 people. She was pretty much used to it and started making the Bhog. Since it was an offering for God, she cleaned the gas stove thoroughly. She pulled a wooden stool to sit. However, when she sat, she felt a sharp pang of pain in the lower abdomen. She knew it was because of the miscarriage she had undergone some time ago. She thought of having a glass of milk before going ahead with the cooking. She went to the refrigerator and was about to fetch the bottle of milk, when the doorbell rang. Two of her mom-in-law’s sisters had come. After making tea for them, she resumed making the Bhogwith utmost dedication.
By 12:00 p.m., the guests had started arriving. Ambika had finished cooking by then. She took some amount of Bhog to the prayer room and put the bowls before the idols. She then rushed to her room to get dressed. Just then her husband screamed, “Ambika sweetheart, where is my checked shirt?’ Ambika smiled and went to the terrace, ironed the shirt and also got her daughters ready. She felt a little dizzy. She sat on the bed for a minute. She could not afford to sit for long. She had to get ready. She took out her pretty red mekhalachadar from the closet. After draping that perfectly, she applied kajal (kohl) on her beautiful bright eyes and wore a bright red lipstick. She looked jaw-droppingly gorgeous. She went back to the kitchen, served tea and snacks to the remaining guests, and started preparation for serving lunch which was primarily ‘Bhog’.
By 3:00 p.m, all the guests were done with their lunch. They praised Ambika for the delectable food. Ambika put the left-over food back in the kitchen and started cleaning the dining table. She looked at the clock. It was 4:00 p.m. She was starving. She could break her fast only after 5:30 p.m. She loved ‘Bhog’ and was waiting to relish that, but then she was fasting for a reason. She was advised by a soothsayer to do that. She focused on her goal of completing her fast. To ensure that the hands of the clock moved fast, she cleaned the utensils, kitchen, dining table, got the dried clothes from the terrace, folded them, kept them in place and served evening tea and snacks to all the people at home.
She looked at the clock, it was 6:00 p.m. She had to take a shower before having her food. She took a quick shower, changed into her regular clothes, went to the kitchen and served ‘Bhog’ on her plate. She mashed the morsels of rice with her beautiful fingers when all of a sudden she felt giddy and fell on the floor. The noise brought everyone to the kitchen. The relatives standing nearby said, “It’s because of not eating anything since morning. She is fine.” Despite sprinkling water, she did not wake up. The family then rushed her to the hospital.
The doctor checked her pulse, did a thorough examination and told her husband, “Is she a diabetic?” Naren, tensed and worried, replied, “Yes. She had complications during her first and second pregnancy. That’s when she got diabetes.’
The doctor continued, “She missed her insulin dosage today and I believe she did not have a single morsel of food throughout the day.”
One of the relatives replied, “Yes, she was fasting today. An astrologer had told her that if she fasts on ‘Ashtami’ this year, she will be blessed with a baby boy. How long can she go on without having a boy child, a descendant in the family? A couple of days back, she underwent a miscarriage, she was already upset with it. Hence, this time she did not want to take any chances.”
The doctor took off his glasses and said, “Well, thanks to the soothsayer and other advisers, she won’t have any more chances. She suffered a stroke and we could not save her. If only she had got her share of sleep, rest and food on time, maybe the “Durga” and “Lakshmi” of your home could have got a chance to taste the Bhog.”