Time for homecoming
Come the holiday season and the anxious mothers eyes brims over when their sons and daughters come home for a break. The virtual children and grandchildren over Skype and Facetime becomes, for a change, a real family. The Durga Puja and Navratri celebration is of course one of the longest of such breaks. Suddenly in the middle of the day you feel happy, you smile and hum to yourself without any cause. Nostalgia keeps you warm. I still remember the anticipation that we used to have for Durga Maa when we were kids. The counting of months and days and then hours. The biggest high of the times was ‘No School’, ‘No Homework’ and virtually ‘No Studies’.
Then there would be an enormous shopping spree with dresses and jeans and matching shoes and puja special outfits to be bought. Moms and Dads would bravely battle with crowds of people, all bargaining to their hearts content and all after that one special outfit that someone else had already chosen. This was, of course, in the pre shopping mall era, so the venue would be The Kolkata New Market or Gariahat. In the nineties, the mushrooming mall culture ensured that the picture changed a bit. Now the crowds were standing in ques in the Malls on their big Sale days. In our childhood, another important element of the Pujas was the Food. There was an enormous planning and organising among the moms and pishis and buas and mashis and even the neighborhood aunties about the puja menus. Each day of the Puja would have a different menu with vegetarian on Shashti, Fish on Saptami and rounding it off with compulsory mutton on Navami. In Kolkata, Durga Puja is celebrated not only in homes but also in every para and every locality. The temporary pandals and lightings erected all over the city adds to the magic. I still remember the introduction of the Sharod Shamman Prize for the best Puja by Asian Paints. Suddenly the Durga Puja was a competition too, of para against para.
The next year saw prizes being given in various categories. There was a scrambling among Puja Committees to get the best artist, to create the best idol or the best lighting. The Committee members began to have nightmares about every little details going wrong or worst of worst, rain spoiling everything. Quite oblivious of their struggles, I, with my friends and families packed tightly into 2 or 3 ambassadors would go around the city for whole nights hopping from pandal to pandal while munching on goodies and sipping Thumsup or Citra. Now of course we have a plethora of companies giving prizes for every imaginable categories which is being telecasted or aired in some television or radio channel. Growing up in Kolkata, I always had large number of friends from other communities or other states. They would happily join us for Durga puja and we always end the festivities by going for a Dandiya evening at the end of Navratri. This was the Indian version of Valentine Day and disco nights rolled into one. Many relationships would start or end on the dance floor that night.
Nowadays of course the character of pujas have changed somewhat. The busy executive mom and aunties, trying to balance work and home have neither the time nor the inclination to cook during festivities. If you ask around, the topmost plan on every executive’s puja list is catching up on sleep. But we don’t sleep the time away, we take a deep, fortifying breadth, and then plunge into the festivities, determined to make the most of it. Now, to keep our memories alive we have a new breed of eating joints offering the same nostalgic taste of Durga puja of our childhood. But even though we try our best to recapture the magic, somewhere there is always a gap. Perhaps what we are searching for lies not in the Pujas today but in the memories we have collected, the nostalgia we have left behind and the relationships we have lost. Salute to every memory, every nostalgia, every loss.
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