It is that time of the year when the fragrance of Shiuli flowers rides with the pristine morning autumn breeze, setting the entire leitmotif for a change- the ubiquitous sight of Kash, the ornate sky laden with bright cirrus clouds, a slight chill in the air, the first beats of dhak in sync with heartbeats of the city, and then the arrival of the Goddess. More than being a festival of glee and gaiety, Durga Puja is about how it brings nostalgia and memories.
How Kolkata dons a veil of its traditional music, be it a Rabindra Sangeet or a Nazrul Geeti. How the scent of flowers and slow burning coconut husk sprinkled with incense and camphor smothers the air in accompaniment with feverish dhak rolls emanating from every corner of the city.
Mind you, each day of the five-day fiesta has to have a different menu on the table. Ilish Machh is a gourmet’s delight. For decades, it has been more than just a fish recipe. It has brought families together at lunch tables, made almost every man fall for his wife’s cooking all over again, and your Grandpa may have quit chicken, thanks to his zero teeth count, but tell him there’s Ilish Machh for lunch, and he’s on cloud nine.
And then the enticing home-made Pulao and Kosha Mangsho are reserved for Ashtami. Of course, there is a dash of mishti with every dish on the table. See, ‘chicken’ and ‘sweets’ don’t quite fit into a Bengali menu.
Gone are the days when all that mattered was to have the best cap gun among our friends. It was a matter of prestige, man. I remember sitting with my gun and arsenal of cap rolls, testing the weapon for afternoon gun-wars with my friends. Wars that bled euphoria. As children we had our share of fun and nuisance.
Parents were there to look after the rest. In teenage our priorities changed, but the fun kept transcending in other ways. Whether it was in creating chances for your friend to woo his crush or fighting with kakus and kakimas for a change in the playlist of the club stereo, or for that matter, using the excuse of pandal-hopping as an euphemism for a beer party at the bar.
The way we huddled in circles on the dewy fields for late night adda. The irresistible smell of puchka and chicken roll that stirred in the air. Hardly did we realize that soon we would move out of our homes, leaving a nexus of memories that we crave to relive now.
That may be it was the last pujor adda with those whom we called friends even before we knew how to spell it. That inspite of knowing it was my last Puja with her, I didn’t have the courage to tell her how beautiful she looked in sari. That may be we’d get to resuscitate those days only when we got back home after two or three years.
For a Bengali out of Bengal, Durga Puja is perhaps the most missed. But come the five most evocative days of the year, we resume celebrations with alacrity, be it in any corner of the world. How we lure ourselves into a trap of Pujo feeling as pandals put on an artist’s piece of work on rich fabric. How every stroke of colour breathes life into the towering statues of Ma Durga.
How She restores life to the dormant sentient corners of our humdrum lifestyle. How she watches over every child running around in little dhoti kurtas. How she notices every boy who blinks during the anjali to steal a glance at his sweetheart in sari. How she makes food lovers oblivious to calorie counts. And how on Dashami, She radiates the warmth of her departure as She descends to the depths of the waters.
All that remains are memories to be cherished. Cameras, with photographs to be shared. Couples, with a moment to reassure each other, and mothers, with sons and daughters bidding adieu for another year.
Undone homework copies are opened again, pandals are brought down, and the beats of dhak go for a hibernation, leaving the the city’s heartbeats in sync with our daily lives as autumn gives way to the chills of a dawning winter, and we start counting.
By: Soumya Chakraborty
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