“Xarodi raani tumar henu naam…” (I heard…you are the queen of autumn)
This song by Bhupen Hazarika plays through my earphone, and my mind slowly drifts back to the days of Durga Puja spent in Nagaon, my hometown in Assam. The ‘Xewali‘ (night Jasmine) must be swaying in the breeze by now, the mystic ‘dhak‘ (musical instrument) beats, and the camphor emanated air engulfs us with the aroma of Maa Durga’s arrival. The feeling is so real that even while sitting in my apartment in Delhi, I can well perceive the faint nostalgia carried by the breeze. I can feel Durga Puja in Delhi air too.
The definition of Durga Puja has never been static to me.
In my childhood, Puja was special, as it came with long vacations from school and more extended periods of free time to play with colourful balloons and toy pistols with red ammunition rolls coiled inside tiny paper cases. My longing for ‘xarodiyo’ (fall) season became more intense a few years later – when dad took me to the best shop of the town to buy polka dotted frocks with matching bindi, bangles and hair ribbons.
I fondly remember the journey to my nani’s place in upper Assam during the Puja days, when the tea gardens and nearby villages rushed past our car’s window. During the days of Durga Puja, those villages came alive with festive colours- balloons, colourful street lights and sweets of different shapes and sizes, along with sparkling eyes and smiling faces of the villagers.
Durga Puja in the high-school chapter, was mostly about meeting friends in the neighbouring puja pandal while persuading my parents (with obvious help from friends, a favour that I returned during their turn) to visit the nearby restaurants. Success in these efforts would mean long-hours of gossips with friends, devouring chicken chow mien and coca-cola. Wearing the best suits and heels in the puja evenings became the definition of Durga Puja in the following years, and I still remember those eyes that searched for the glimpse of that ‘special friend’ and a heart that beat so fast the moment the eyes met.
Over time, as I moved out of town, making it back home every year during this time of the month, became impossible. However, studies and then jobs in new cities started taking me to different Puja mandaps, giving me the chance to try out local-cuisines and to explore diverse customs of Durga Puja, Navratri, and Dussehra. In some years away from home, I found myself struggling with my company’s manager and HR to get a few extra days off from work, and in some other years, I spent lonely Ashtami evenings, crouching over the laptop and binge-watching episodes of Friends.
This year, as I am going to spend another Durga Puja away from home in Delhi, an intense longing to go back home has emerged. Still, I can’t deny the fact that this city has its fair share of Durga Puja celebration as well. And I am gearing myself up to visit the pandals in CR Park, take the Ashtami Anjali and eat their Navami Bhog.
Durga Puja is not just a festival for me; it’s a nostalgia that weaves different emotions and memories from quiet autumn mornings and sparkling Puja evenings.
With the firm belief that Maa is going to destroy the devils and darkness, on this auspicious occasion, I wish you all happiness and prosperity.
Jai Maa Durga!