Twenty plus years ago, I stopped Durga puja pandal hopping. Probably because I felt that I was grown up enough to decide what I wanted to do and what I would want to stop doing. Until then, every year Baba and I along with his colleague and his daughter, my best friend then would get on to two pedal rickshaws and cover maximum of my hometowns pujas over a span of three noons- saptami, ashtami and navami. By the time we returned home, it would be late evening and we would still be all enthusiastically dress up to sit and assess the crowd coming to see our para pujo. With time, even sitting outside para (our lane) pandal stopped. Then 10th boards happened followed by 12th. Amidst all the pressure of studies, choosing a career and moving out for higher studies, I indeed grew up.
The interest in puja thereafter was restricted mainly to my Ma’s delicious home made snacks like nimki-naru, eating bhog, watching new movies on cable TV and endless conversations with my parents. Next there were years that I spent puja outside home. In Mysore, it was restricted to the single puja pandal that I managed to discover in my five years of stay in the city. In Bangalore, it was the Ulsoor puja in the first tenure and then the pooja at Koramangala pandal near my apartment in the second phase. That one year I stayed back in Kolkata with less than a month old Gogol – I visited New Town puja pandal, three blocks down. All these just concludes to my innate fear of crowded places.
This year was supposed to be no different except for an outing scheduled for the evening of 25th September – the day of panchami( since expected crowd turnout was supposed to be less comparatively). With Baba falling sick day before yesterday and developing an acute breathing problem,we decided to skip the plan. But something unexpected happened in the morning. Gogol had a bad chest infection during last puja and he had barely visited any other pandal except our lanes. This year, Baba decided to introduce him to Ma Durga and her family early on. Baba took him to our para puja. Gogol returned mesmerized, not by Durga but by Asura and amused by the lion near Goddesses feet. However much we tried to reason with him, he was of the firm opinion that lion was asleep and Asura was his favorite. Infact, he went on the whole day saying I want to go and see Asura again.
His grandsons persistence motivated Baba enough to get all of us out for puja parikrama. We covered six famous mandaps with Gogol focusing more on the beauty of Asura than appreciating the creativity and architecture. The pandals ranged from the shape of Golden temple to that made of drums. While returning home, Gogol dozed off in the car after conveying his biggest realization that all the Asuras in all the mandaps were glaring at Durga Ma with big eyes just like his Mum does when he refuses to eat or sleep(I’m still stunned by the parallel). Infact he claims that he can scare away Asura with a lathi doing doom, doom (sound of beating).
I’m not sure if we will dare to venture out again today amidst a sea of people just to let Gogol enjoy more Asuras or probably develop a liking for the Goddess instead. What I know is that this year I will be grateful to Asura for pushing me out of my static state to the life beyond four walls during festival. Last evening while walking down amidst three men, age ranging from 2 to 68, I realized that while the scenario might not have had much similarities with my childhood, it’s never too late to restart having fun without preconceived notion.
As I reach the end of my article, I see the boy getting into his shoes, helped by his Dadan, my Baba. He is ready to take on some more Asuras. Without caring about the 40 plus temperature outside, the oldest generation ready to pass on the surreal experiences to the youngest generation makes the movie.