Saturday, October 1, 2011

:: DURGA PUJAS ~ food, friends, family, nostalgia ::

The earliest memory I have of the Durga Pujas is watching the awe-inspiring idols sitting on the shoulders of my dad. I remember waking up to the beats of the dhak, with the tempting smell of home made malpuas wafting from the kitchen. On Mahalaya, we would be up at four,turning the knobs of the cranky radio to set it to the right frequency to catch the songs and the programme. Puja used to be waking up early in the morning, dressing up in new clothes, taking the blessings of the elders, and then running out for the daily share of adda, games, prasad, to the para pandal. After a short rest in the noon(for which my mother had to literally lock me up in a room), it would be dressing up in new clothes again, sitting near the pandal with my para friends, playing antakshari and dumb-charade, ocassionally sipping on Coca-Cola and munching on Uncle Chips. Late evening, mom and dad would usually give in to my constant begging and take me out to visit the nearby idols. Enthusiast that he always was, Dad would be ready with all the information on the best of idols and pandals nearby, and Saptami and Nabami mornings would be spent on visiting those, and then returning home with packets of fried rice and chilli-chicken. And the most special of them all would be the astami mornings. With a good few hours spent on draping mom's oversized saris on myself and holding it up with safety-pins(so many of them that I would be like a mini pin-cushion), and then give anjali, all the while trying in vain to curb my hunger(we were supposed to fast till the anjali). We would wait eagerly for granny to sneak out of the pandal with plates of sweets and fruits and distribute it among our large group - we were about 12 kids in the neighbourhood if my memory is not failing me. Comparing dresses, bragging about the new hindi songs that you memorized,gossiping about that cute boy in class whom you had a crush on, more cold drinks and more chips, occasional phuchka treats by someone in the para, running about and distributing the thalis of prasad to the nearby households and that innate sense of freedom for those five days - Durga Puja was inevitably the most awaited and anticipated festival of the year.

With the festivity season setting in, it is almost in a nostalgic mood that I look back at what the Pujas meant to me for the first twelve-fourteen years of my life. This year, Mahalaya, which marks the start of the season of the Goddess, was a welcome holiday spent in watching the latest movies at the house of my best friend. We gorged on burgers, pastries, popcorn, Chinese delicacies and lazed around the whole day before returning home in the evening. For the last few years, the Pujas have been pretty much the same - waking up late, having some breakfast, sitting with the laptop to check update statuses and tweets, surfing through the newspaper to see if some good movie is playing in the plex, then dressing up in those branded jeans and tees or boutique made kurtis, balancing on the high heels of the new shoes, or just slipping into the comfort zone of the converses, and then meeting up with school and college friends at CCD, KFC, HHI, Tantra or even Maddox Square. The adda sessions usually culminate with dance sessions at Underground or Venom, or even random photography sessions. Food is usually from the various buffets hosted by the city restaurants, wrapped up with Mamma-mia gelatoes and CCD floats. The dhak beats serve as sudden unexpected souce of alarm when in the mornings you suddenly wake up and realize, oh, its the pujas.Family time is the Navami luncheon with mom at Park Street and coming back home with packets of food, like old times. Para friends have become practically non-existent. Pujas have become an occasion for meeting friends and eating good food. Phuchka still reigns supreme though.
The reason I wrote this is not to pass any value judgement. Its not that I hate what I did back then or what I am doing right now. Both are fun in its own sweet way. The only discontent in my mind is that I no longer get to sit on Dad's bike and visit the pandals in the morning and come home to taste the yummy coconut jaggery balls(nadus) concocted by granny. Yes, some voids can never be filled.

Image courtesies: Google Image.

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