“Hey are you going back for Durga Puja this time?”
“Me? No. Not possible…We have a celebration and Yajna here, so going home is not possible. What about you?”
“I’ll be reaching late….Have got some library work. Will be there just for the Dussehera day and rest have to go and meet some friends. What about mamu and chinky-pinki.”
“Mamu has official work and Chinky-Pinky are going for a camp and aunty will be leaving with her friends to her maternal home. Youngest mamu has a Durga Pooja at his own office and so he’s the host of the entire office. All the rest are going to some place or the other for these holidays. No one’s coming back home.”
So how did you spend your Puja vacations? Writing this blog piece takes me back to class 5th when we were given assignments at school post Puja vacations to write small essays on the topic: “Durga Puja and how you celebrated it?” It was my favorite essay topic. I had hoards of things to write from my first-hand experiences starting from the Puja celebrations, rangoli, new dresses and wonderful delicacies cooked everyday with new menus, meeting cousins, aunties and uncles from paternal and maternal sides and freaking out full-measure. This was the time when we were actually FREE as during the Pujas moms were busy cooking, meeting people and dads in “men talk” and moreover in grandparents’ places you are just fearless of any parental attack. We played through the day, sometimes were dragged by an aunty to be given a quick bath and then were left on our own to do what we pleased and play and fight through the day. No one interfered and no parents stopped us from doing whatever we liked until the friendly squabbles got into bloody war. An uncle would then intervene and take the entire team out for icecreams. For people in the Eastern regions of India, Durga Puja is considered as the best time of the year. Navarathri celebrations are one of the most vibrant celebrations in India. But in our homes (mostly in Orissa) Maha Sasthi (the sixth day of this nine-day festival) to Vijaya Dasami (tenth and final day), celebrations are at their peak. The festival is known for its splendour, its uniting factors and specifically for its family oriented values.
I suppose most of us have maternal-paternal “ancestral” homes. Ancestral — even if your grandparents live there, because that is not your home and you go there either during Pujas or during some other function. In the earlier times, we divided the vacations between my maternal grandparents and paternal grandparents’ place. Our time was spent in shopping for the festoons, colourful dresses and cloth materials for the gods and altar, decorating and colouring the puja place. This year I reached late to my maternal home, on the Navami day (ninth day) and was busy roaming around and tasting delicacies that were cooked as Prasad. Only during the lunch hour after the morning arti did I realize that there was no one in the gathering except grandma, aunty and my mom and I. Durga puja was a time when our homes were packed. In fact, sometimes some of the family members carried their sheets to the outer verandah and slept there because of the lack of space. In my maternal grandparents’ place when nanu was alive, not just all his children but his brothers’ wives and children, his cousins and friends, grandmom’s parents, everyone came and stayed during the pujas. Food was cooked in large dome shaped vessels, meant to cater more than 100 persons. But this time when I went there, there was only silence and space to greet me. The puja altar was also very sparsely decorated and things seem now to happen because there is just a tradition of Durga Puja in our homes. People have done away with the formality of community gathering and joint family system for good or for worse.
In my paternal grandparents’ place the silence is even more deafening. The family is huge with 8 daughters and four sons, each of them having children and spouses. So the gatherings during Puja (we mostly met for the next big festival after Durga Puja called Kumarpurnima) was even more vibrant. Grandpa in his 90s stays there in that village, missing and waiting for his children to come back. However, we have different plans for vacations.
One might think that this a natural syndrome of joint family system and Sociologists and economists might argue that the nuclear family helps. But, I can claim that we don’t meet that one brother or sister or even our parents for years. They are alone during Diwali and our plans are separate from that of our parents. But, to what extent and which future are we moving? What culture and what family values are we going to pass on to our children? I wonder…
But, for the time being if someone asks me to write an essay on Durga Puja I might fail the test.