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Stories from an Indian Millennial

Between Puja and Pujo!

Ganpati celebrations mark the beginning of the festive season. We are already through with Navratri and just days away from Deepawali. As a little girl, I always looked forward to Navratri celebrations. It used to be one busy week, especially between Saptami to Navami. It would be as if the whole neighbourhood has suddenly woken up to my existence. There would be so many invites that I could literally use an appointment diary for those 3 days. For the uninitiated, this is the time when in some parts of the country, families host young girls for a meal and gifts as a ritual of ending fasting period. The house hopping with cousins and neighbourhood friends would start sharp at 8 am with multiple trips back home. As there was only so much of chole, puri and halwa plates that my little hands could accommodate. Back then I could never understand, why the people whom we were supposed to bow with Namaste and call uncles and aunties rest of the year, would be washing our feet and asking for our blessings. But the happy chatter with the gang and the joy of eating all the food would fade away any serious business. 

The real excitement, however, would start when it was finally time to count your earnings for the day and compare with rest of the cousins as to who got how much. That time, gifting 1-2 Rs was a norm and if someone gave in the denominations of 5 or 10 Rs or things like a pencil box, a mental note would be made to move them to the high priority for next year’s visits. If you could collect 50 rs (with a generous contribution from mom and dad), the next few weeks at the nearby candy store would be a breeze. But for the ‘good’ kids like me, it would be a question of how much to invest in the ‘gulluck’ and how much to spend on candies.

Sometimes, I feel that festivals from the eyes of kids are more colourful, vibrant and exciting. Some of my fondest festival memories are from childhood.

This is what Navratri has meant to me as I grew in the lovely little valley of Dehradun. Parents would be fasting for most of the 9 days. In the evening we would be treated with some yummy food, without having to undertake any sacrifice. The festivities would culminate by hosting young girls over a meal at the end of the fasting period. The idea of dandiya, garba and pujo pandal for me was confined to the ‘festivals’ chapter of social studies book and Bollywood with a special mention to the movie Devdas.

So it’s no surprise that my maiden Garba and Pujo visit happened here in Mumbai. I am still always amazed at the enthusiasm with which dance preparations begin weeks before the actual dandia season. Though traditional dancing is not my strongest asset, I at least visit the Pujo Pandal here in Powai, once during the celebrations. I’ll be honest, I do not understand very much of the Bengali traditions despite having at least one good bong connection throughout my life. I even had a namesake Bengali friend in school, whose father would wrongly pronounce her name as ‘shugondha’ until she told me that there is no ‘s’ in Bengali, it is always ‘sh’. She even taught me some survival sentences lest I ended up in Bengal someday. In fact, my ‘sweeter’ ego is definitely Bengali as the sound of Saundesh, Chaum Chaum and Kheer Kadam is like music to my ears.

So I visited the pandal this year too. It was quite busier than last year, maybe because it was the day of ‘Navami’. The statue of Devi maa was captivating as always, the environment outside electric and the chatter vibrant. After darshan, we quickly moved to the sweets counter ready to gulp down the festive sweets. But as the taste of overpriced, stale tasting roshogullas was about to put the damper, KK’s voice singing ‘Kya Mujhe Pyaar Hai’ just salvaged the mood. The weather started to become cool and windy as if indicating the onset of the change in the season after Navratri. We decided to call it a night, with an intention to come back next year again, maybe not for the roshugullas but definitely for the sweetness of the festival.

This year I decided to give the yearly bonus to my cook who incidentally is a Bengali, earlier as I felt for her, ‘pujo’ would be her Diwali. The happiness on her face was priceless. I asked her if she was planning to visit the nearby pandal. She nodded in yes but I could see a sadness loom on her face. When I asked her, she reminiscently said, ‘Didi, it isn’t the same as back in my village near Kolkata. There the festivities are as big as during Ganpati here’. She missed home! Don’t we all, especially during the time of festivals? We all may have built our lives here. Might hold the dream jobs and dream cars but there is something in the spirit of festivals that they will subconsciously remind you of where the home is. It doesn’t matter if you come from a small village of Maharashtra or a small hamlet of Uttar Pradesh. It might be a small fading memory or pure missing. You will always be reminded of where you come from. For me, it has always been the festival of Deepawali. The years that I couldn’t go home for Diwali, I would always reminisce the lights on the porch, the rangoli making in the verandah and the simple joy of lighting every dark corner of the house with one diya at a time.

So if you know of anyone who isn’t going home this Diwali, invite them over or bring some sweets while coming back from home. If you are someone who isn’t going home, don’t be shy to knock on the nearby door and wish Happy Diwali! Who knows when new friendships are forged and bonds are further strengthened with these simple gestures. May this festive season lights not the just the deepest corners of your house but your hearts and minds too.

-Reproduced from my column in 'My Powai' magazine.

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I am a writer by passion, a petroleum engineer by accident and a proud Indian by origin. Follow my stories on FacebookTwitter and Instagram!

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