Rishika Dewan. —
Janmashtami. It was one of those words that my phone had learned to recognize so well that it autocompleted “Jan” to Janmashtami rather than January, a fact that I was secretly a little too proud of. (I had also felt really accomplished when my phone finally learned to accept “Hare Krishna” for what it was rather than autocorrect it to “Hate Krishna,” the thought of which still troubles me on so many levels.)
The month of August was always the “month of Janmashtami.” July was the month of trying countless new baking recipes that I had drooled over during the school year, four-hour Netflix marathons, and summer internships. September was the month of waking up early (while tired) and brand new, glossy college-ruled notebooks and those glorious pink and neon green mechanical pencils with twistable erasers that everybody seemed to own. And sandwiched in-between was the month of Janmashtami. It was such an ingrained, irrevocable fact that, when asked in January when I would like to start my new job after graduation, I firmly wrote 08/29/2016 on the line above “Start Date” in my offer letter, having calculated that after celebrating Janmashtami on the 25th and Nand Utsav on the 26th, I would still have a full two days to move into my new apartment.
Yes, Janmashtami was a full-blown celebration, and the behind-the-scenes build-up to it felt a lot like that of a wedding to us youth “wedding planners.” Except it happened every year. And instead of dealing with angry relatives, we dealt with antsy uncles and aunties.
And in this stream of planning, I often found myself responding to an endless stream of questions. That yes, Mr. and Mrs. Lahiri’s son was indeed enjoying rehearsal although he made Mr. Balasubramanian’s daughter cry, and no, I could not give Mrs. Shah’s daughter more lines in the play one week before the performance because that would require me to rewrite the whole script and reteach the scenes. And of course I could help coordinate the costume contest this year, but if it requires me to pick judges, then make Rohan do it because I hate picking favorites. And yes, I would manage the cake booth table but only if it didn’t overlap with the kids’ bhajan performance because they needed me to hold the cue cards up. Yes, I would certainly be at Hobby Lobby on Tuesday to buy the paint and styrofoam for the set, but the issue is that I didn’t know what kind of dye to buy to color the sheets. And, no, I wasn’t stressed earlier, so could you please stop asking or else I really will get stressed out. Although, that last part was said in my head because good Indian girls don’t talk back to elders.
Perhaps all of it was a bit overwhelming, if I was honest with myself. But that’s not something I could afford to dwell on, with Janmashtami being merely days away. I took a deep breath as I positioned myself in front of more than a dozen four-year olds, ready to begin teaching class and explaining the significance of Janmashtami. Two dozen innocent wide eyes stared at me as I opened my mouth and before I could finish asking my question, those wide eyes started wandering excitedly.
The class erupted into delighted chatter, explaining matter-of-factly to each other that Janmashtami was Krishna’s birthday and that we had to throw a nice birthday party for Him. And just like our parents bake us cake for our birthdays, we, too, should bake a cake for Krishna. And instead of singing “Happy birthday” to Him, let’s sing our favorite bhajan for Him. And that we should give Him a gift…maybe a flute or butter because those are some of His favorite things. My face broke out into a wide grin. I stepped back and let them finish their conversation about how magnificent Krishna’s “birthday party” was going to be, feeling rejuvenated and grateful that these four-year olds had reminded me through their mood of pure blissfulness why the month of Janmashtami was the best month of the year.