Durga Pooja has some fond memories related to childhood. Initial ones are those of my native place. Later, we were not so frequent in visiting the village during Durga Pooja and it had not remained that interesting either. But at one point of time, it was almost a custom in our family that almost everyone would gather in our village during this time. Needless to say the place looked really cheerful then. Even the married daughters of the families would not stay at their in-laws place during Durga Pooja. They will come there with their children and stay here, most of the times accompanied by their husbands too all along. And it was not the case with just our family, but almost all the families in the locality. The Pooja of our village was quite famous in the villages nearby.
We were usually the ones to reach the last, since my father’s job would not give him break before saptami or ashtami, unlike the jobs of many of our relatives. And usually, this was the only time in the year when I would visit the village. So, to me, the picture of always elucidates the picture of a place filled with people. I woud not glamourize it and be honest, being the shy and introvert person I was as child, the experience was not usually a very interesting one for me. But today, sitting here in the hostel, wondering what to do with this occasion called Durga Pooja, I can not help but feel nostalgic about those days, which probably will never come back. People have scattered all around, the aspirations of lives have changed (not that I bemoan it!) and things won’t even be the same again.
There was this tradition (familiar to people almost all over India) of inviting young girls to eat. The feast is called “Kumari Bhoj” (Feast for virgin girls). Now, unfortunately for me, most of the families would have this feast for all the 10 days of Puja. Since, I would always reach late, I was not in the regular list of people 😦 . Sometimes, when people increased the number on Ashtami or navami, I may also end up getting an invitation. At other times, it would be out of sheer consideration and formality – “Oh! So Jaya has also come. Bring her along.” Being the person I am, loss of the opportunity to eat was not really a loss (was more a relief, given the choosy nature I had with respect to what I did and did not eat), but when on Dashami, all my cousin sisters would return with the money and sometimes clothes they get after Kumari Bhoj, I did not used to feel a pang of envy. Not that I ever said anything.
Dahsami was a good day even for me. All the elders of the family (those who are earning) would give all the kids money for visiting the fair. And here, there even a late-comer like me was not at a disadvantage. In fact, this town-bred, shy, out-of-place girl was often at an advantage because she won’t pressurize anyone. So, people used to get more generous at times, I would receive some amount secretly too. 😉 (Blame me for not being ethical :D) Especially from kakka (tau jee – dad’s elder borther). The system was such that older children will get more money. There would usually be groups according to the age. And those on the border would try their best to get counted in the upper group so that they will be eligible for a higher amount!
Even before Dashami, we would go to the Durga Sthan (the temple of Goddess Durga) daily. Now, most of the things at the place and in the fair was hardly of any interest to me. My cousin sisters would go mad after the posters, song-books etc. I would usually end up spending very little, except on some the story books that were available. The normal ice cream that was available was not something I felt like eating (I had no qwality walls-upbringing then, but even for my small-town-taste, it was not up to the mark). However, there was a higher priced curd ice cream, which tasted quite well. I would usually have that.
The village used to be a very quiet and safe place then. There would be these drama shows (done by the people of the village themselves) all night and everyone including women (even the newly wed daughter-in-laws, who would usually be under strict parda) and kids would go there. No need of the group of women being escorted by men.
Then there was Nisha Pooja. This would involve an offering of all 56 vyanjans (dishes) at the Durga Sthan and would go on for all night. Almost all the adults and the kids who could manage it, would be there in the temple for the whole night.
Even at our home, there used to be eleborate rituals of the worship for the 10 days. The eldest man of the family would preside over the rituals. The second one of the four siblings of my grand-father’s generations, was an avid devotee of Durga. We, kids, used to call him Pooja-Baba (Pooja = Worship, Baba = Grandfather). In those early days, he wasthe one who would preside over the things. Those ringing of ghantas (do not know exactly what is the English name for this instrument) along with the chorus recitation of “Na mantram, na yantram” by the whole family is something that would overwhelm even someone who knows nothing about the whole celebration.
Several things have changed since then. The village was not as safe a place afterwards. The clash of unemployed-youth-turned-into-trouble-makers of two nearby villages had made things really scary at one point of time. Every other month we would hear of someone or the other getting killed. This appears to have improved over time, however. However, in that period, some charm was lost and lost for ever. Now, more and more people are town and city bound. Several amongst those who would look at my discomforts in the village with skepticism, have themselves gone out to live in cities like Delhi and Mumbai and now find the lack of electricity in the village such a big trouble. Their kids are faring worse than I did! Again am not bemoaning the changes. Has led to at least some initiatives at personal level in the village to live in a better way. A proper toilet was never considered a necessity in the village in those days.
People can not manage to come every year now. Many have permanently settled outside and find it difficult to leave their homes for extended periods of times. The schools and homeworks and exams of the kids are big deterrents. It’s good. The kids will aspire for a yet bettwe life. However, as many people do not gather in my village now. Kids do not clout to be considered in the higher age-group, while getting money to go to the fair. Girls are no as crazy after the posters. The cheap clothes given during the Kumari Bhoj are not as attractive. People demand better fashion and aesthatics. Now, the sisters do not buy the clothes of the same pattern on any occasion, which was so common earlier. It looks like a “band party”. Those days people would go barefooted from the home to the temple. I found it very irritating as a child, but my mother would insist that I should not stand out. Last time when I went there, I followed the same practice and went out without a pair of slippers. Only to realize that everyone else was wearing it. A cousin sister took pity on my burning foot and offered me her slippers. Despite my protests, she got me to wear it.
Several things have changed for better, yet several things still lag behind. And several things have changed for worse – simplicity of the life is lost. I would not want the world to be exactly as it was then, still I do feel nostalgic about certain things.