Rewinding the time a little, holiday season around Dusshera and Diwali brought a lot of simple joys. There was the long time off from school, a very desirable midterm break which gave relief from homework and unit tests. In that age it was the very definition of freedom. Then there were the customary new clothes and gifts which one got during this period. One thing which I remembered doing as a kid was visiting the beautiful pandals along with my parents during Durga Puja, mostly around “Ashtami”. I can distinctly recall some very magnificent ones when we were based out of Bilaspur in late nineties, a small town in Chhattisgarh. I believe proximity to Bengal played a role and Durga Puja was celebrated with full aplomb in that part of the world. Every year we would go around pandal hopping, each one with an amazing and elaborate design in their bid to outdo the others. I remember one which was modelled on Kolkata’s Victoria Memorial. Then on Vijaydashmi we would cap the celebrations with a visit to a local ground watching the effigy of Raavan being burnt as a symbol of the victory of good over evil.
Our visit to Chittaranjan Park during Durga Puja brought back these old memories which had somehow got lost in time. Priorities had somehow made me shift away from this simple but joyful experience. This year though we had made it a point to witness Durga Puja celebrations CR Park which has a significant Bengali influence. We chose to go this Saturday afternoon and took almost 2 hours in reaching there from Gurgaon. Once we entered the narrow lanes in CR Park the festive mood was quite evident. I had once visited Kolkata during Durga Puja during my days in engineering and I must admit that I had never seen an entire city so immersed in vibrant and colourful celebrations like that. It was more a community affair than individuals celebrating in isolation. The spirit in CR Park was similar to what I had experienced years ago. The people were out dressed in their traditional outfits, women dawned beautiful sarees, men in their Kurta Pyjamas. We first went to the pandal at Kali Mandir with a beautiful statue of Goddess Durga. Some people gathered in front, offering prayers, while others idled watching the proceedings from a distance. As I had mentioned it was a community affair and no one was in a hurry. People sat, talked and mostly enjoyed the celebration in the pious presence of the goddess.
There is something about enjoying a good bite with festivities all round and to visiting the food stalls is a must do. And what could have been more apt than getting Jhaal Murhi?
We walked down to another pandal which was pretty close,modelled on the Lotus Temple. The statues here had a sliver tone and looked wonderful. Here too atmosphere was same, a big mass of people who had gathered to celebrate and enjoy together.
We continued our eating spree sharing a portion of Churmur, a type of chaat prevalent in eastern India and rounded it off with delicious Radha Ballavi and Aloo Dum. An announcement was made which asked everyone to make three different queues one each for men, women and senior citizens.
Quietly they lined up for distribution of Bhog. Meanwhile on the loud speaker a Bengali song started playing and you could sense that celebration for the day had only begun.