Monday 5 am 2011: “You really need to get up sleepyhead, she is here, and you don’t want to miss that!” I wake up with my eyes still half closed. I tell my grandma that no I don’t care, I want to sleep, and also one boring radio program doesn’t really mean that she is here. My grandma not relenting picks me up, makes me sit up and puts the radio on full volume. For my grandmother Mahishasuramardini – a two-hour radio program signifies the arrival of Durga Ma.
Tuesday 10am 2015: “Mom why didn’t you wake me up early, I missed the whole program”. Mom looks at my red angry face in disbelief and then shrugs and says, “Since when were you interested? Anyway even I gave it a miss this time”. I get ready to argue even more and threaten to tell grand mom, only to realize that she wasn’t here with us in Mumbai, and without her, the radio program simply didn’t matter. As I sat down to have my breakfast, my thoughts went back to my old, wrinkled and grey haired grand mom.
Monday 9am 2011: I see her hunched back sitting on that stool, she is making those sweets. I still don’t know what they are called. The whole house smells festive, it’s almost like Durga Ma is just at the door. The fresh flowers fill up my nostrils as the light autumn breeze enters through the windows. Grand mom has just taken a bath, she smells of her jasmine soap and her white wet hair falls till her waist.
Being from a zamindar family, but grandmother took pride during this festival, after all in the earlier times Durga Puja was a festival meant for the zamindars. The courtyards used to be covered with intricate rangolis (alpona), as marigolds hung from every corner of the house and the smell of the incense stick just made the whole atmosphere more welcoming.
I once had the opportunity to visit my village and was able to witness what Durga Puja actually is. It is not about how popular your Puja is, or how beautifully you have decorated your house or how lovely your idol is. No, it is about a feeling, it is about celebration and mostly it is about being together with the whole family.
Durga Puja was celebrated since the medieval age. Pandals were non-existent. It was just the few members of the family and the idol. The priest used to belong from the household. The idols used to be erected by a member of the household itself. It wasn’t about the feast or the quality of the food, it was about the worship. It was about staring at the masterpiece of the carved hour glass figure like Goddess, and just immersing oneself into the chants. Rituals were simplistic- giving Anjali was a must, and as an unwritten rule women were meant to wear white sarees with red borders.
I am jerked back from my lovely thoughts as my eyes are drawn towards an advert on the newspaper – ‘Does your pandal have what it takes to win the award? Well, then what are you waiting for, nominate your pandal’ I close the paper in disgust, as I realize how much has changed. The festival is not about the worship or togetherness anymore, it is about profit. It is a business. A business fueled by people’s desire to see something grand. A simple pandal doesn’t suffice anymore, it has to be the largest something, or made out of something unique or out of the blue to attract crowds. Once a place for socialization, pandals have now become places to bump into people, stand in lines, push and curse strangers, just to get that perfect picture to show off to the less fortunate, who weren’t able to do the same. It is not about standing in front of the idol and admire the craftsmanship anymore, it is about lining up for eating in front of the numerous stalls. The typical folk songs have been replaced by the need to pull crowds thereby, shelling out huge amounts just to bring some popular Bollywood singer. My mind goes to the innumerable hoardings and banners that I have to cross just to see one small idol. How frustrating it gets!
Anjalis, white sarees with red borders, listening to the radio on Mahalaya have now all become insignificant to this generation. Already my house doesn’t smell the same, the flowers don’t exist, the songs have dried up and my grandmother isn’t here anymore to make those mouth-watering sweets.
A feeling of sorrow clings my spine, as I wonder why I never listened to the program before. Now, so much has changed, and all I wish now is for a time travel machine just to go back in time to enjoy the Puja as it should be enjoyed.