What I Miss Most About Childhood: The Countdown to Durga Pujo
On the calendar, the eye could only look as far as the Pujo dates. Every day we counted down, the fervour only grew.
As a kid, I looked forward to Pujo more than anything else in the world. More than my birthday. More than vacations with family. More than watching Sachin bat at Eden.
‘Ma, only three months to go for Pujo!’
‘Ma, theatre rehearsals are going to begin next week!’
‘Ma, when are we going Pujo shopping?’
On the calendar, the eye could only look as far as October. Or for some years, like this one, we only had to wait till September.
With two months to go, rehearsals would begin for the play that the kids from our residential complex would put up during Pujo. And that’s when you knew that Ma was coming real soon!
Six weeks to go meant Pujo shopping with relatives. After a couple of hours of shopping though, a cranky seven-year-old me would want to go back home. After all, how long can you sit and watch your mother and aunt inspect a thousand sarees each in a dozen shops?
Okay, I may be exaggerating, but you get the point. For some reason, they’d always finish buying my clothes before relishing the hours spent choosing their own. Patience was never a virtue I had, and my memories of Pujo shopping are half filled with joy, and half with crankiness.
Yet, sitting 1,500 kilometres away from home, away from family and the friends I grew up with, I can’t help but miss it all.
But this isn’t the time to go all sentimental, so let’s get back to the pre-Pujo timeline.
With a month left to go, bamboo poles were planted to set the framework for the pandal. You could feel the festivity in the air!
School would only break for the Pujo vacation a couple of days before the festival began. And trust me when I say this, it was impossible to focus on studies in the last one week of school.
The rehearsals stretched well past evening by then. The pandal was almost ready. The excitement fever-pitch.
You know what I hate the most about adulting?
You don’t get the gradually increasing excitement of the Pujo countdown, with every day celebrating its arrival. You don’t get the time-lapse your mind visualises as you cross the pandal-under-construction every day. You don’t get to tell Ma that you’ll hang out with friends till later each evening, just because “Pujo aashche!”
Panchami, the day before the Pujo begins, was dress rehearsal day for our play. But more importantly, it is the day Ma arrives at the pandal. Her face is kept covered till the next morning, when the purohit invokes the goddess while festivities begin in full swing.
Panchami is often touted as the best day to go pandal-hopping. The jams aren’t as mad, the crowds are just about teeming. Proper claustrophobia is a couple of days away yet.
I remember vividly the time our family decided to go pandal hopping late one Panchami night. We left home at half-past ten. We got back at 6:30 the next morning. In the eight frenetic hours in between, we had been to countless pandals across the length and breadth of the city.
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On returning, I stifled a yawn and promptly flopped onto the bed. My mother hoped I’d sleep for a few hours at least. “You need to rest”, she said. I was up in two hours’ time.
“It’s Shoshti, Ma! How can I possibly be sleeping?”
The festival had arrived. As I put on my new Pujo clothes for the first time and got ready to run downstairs to the pandal, I heard something which set my heart racing like nothing else could.
The first beats of the dhak. Ma Durga was calling.
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