Autumn. And the aroma of Durga Puja.

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Again. It’s that time of the year when there is a nip in the morning air but it is also sunny. The mornings are both foggy in the distant far and balmy close by, but I can feel the chill when the balcony door opens to let the autumn mornings gush inside.  What makes these October mornings more personal is the whiff of Durga Puja in the air. There is this distinct fragrance of approaching festivities that linger in the immature air, and the deja vu feeling of the Pujas come rushing into me. Its very familiar. Its unassuming. And it takes me back to the jejune Puja happiness of Kolkata.

As kids, the Pujas meant a time of being free and happy. Free from school, free from study time, free from mom’s scoldings, free to eat food that seemed heavenly manna for me but was actually classified under ‘junk,’ free to feel free. The Pujas meant 5 sets of new clothes for each of the five days of celebration, the warm smell of new cotton, lip-smacking delicacies made at home, lot of blaring music from the nearby pandals which hosted the goddess, and happy crowds everywhere.

We used to spend the five days of the Pujas at our grandparents’ place. And we were pampered by our uncles and aunts, not to mention the grandparents. We used to love the intricate decorative lighting all over on the roads, the exquisitely massive pandals, the embellished idols of Durga and her convoy of Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kartick, and Ganesha, the mountainous piles of fresh flowers in the pandals, the aromatic and traditional Dhunuchi Naach (dancing with a big earthen incense burner with a lot of coconut husk and resin), not to mention the rhythmic loud sound of dhaak (drums hung around the neck). The exuberance of the entire place was remarkable. The joie-de-vivre of the time filled everyone, irrespective of age or of class. Everyone revelled in the buoyancy of the festival that was incomplete without the ethnic ‘Khichudi Bhog’ (a melange of lentils and rice) and ‘cholar daal with narkol (lentils cooked with coconut pieces). If I were to list the essential element of the Pujas, Im sure I’d miss a lot of them.

The strongest memories of this time include the fragrant aratis (worshipping with oil and resin lamps), my dad lifting me high to see the idols in the smokey pandals, the bunch of people dancing like lunatics during the immersion of the goddess,  and also the constant fear of losing my shoes in the crowded pandals.

In the last ten years, I havent been to the city during the Pujas, but I can imagine the gusto of the place. I would love to visit the city and relive its Puja fervour, but I’m probably averse to crowds now. It is strange that I may not be able to really enjoy the festive zeitgeist with that crowd, but that crowd is the essence of the Pujas. Without that crowd, the Pujas are bland.

For now though, I’d settle with coconut ‘naru’ (sweet ball of jaggery and coconut)!

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