It is Durga Pujas. And the beginning of a festive season, when the smell of incense sticks, dhoop, candles wafts through every town and city and the Durga pandals are decorated with fierce competition and grandeur, each wanting to outdo the other. Not a whiff of the air here in Melbourne, hence the nostalgia.

Going down memory lane, it was one of the most enjoyable time of my childhood. New clothes, new toys and gifts. What more could one ask for then?  My parents, avid Hindus, would tune to the radio six days before the Pujas to listen to Mahalaya. I never understood anything but I did know it was an auspicious moment heralding the onset of Durja Puja. The chants would blare from the radio in the wee hours of the morning. It did something to me, there was an unexplained feeling of happiness in the house as I would cover my head in my quilt and rejoice in passive participation.

For the next four days, we would be busy as a family visiting various pandals in our new clothes and returning home with balloons and all the new toys we bought. On the fourth and final day of the pujas, we would go early and find a good spot among the crowd assembled near the river to watch the immersion of the idols. Trucks after trucks filled with people recited the name Durga Mata. They cried, danced and sang, their way of bidding Durga Mata goodbye. There was madness in the air. 

Pujas bring such happy thoughts. In my mind's eye, I still have pictures of the laughter, of time together with family, plenty of good food, of course, visiting relatives, guests, cousins deciding what to wear each day, which area to visit first and then forming a group. The elders would form one group, the youngsters one, ocassionally one cousin would sneak out on a date with her best clothes on! My sister, with her penchant for shoes, would never complain even if she got the blisters of a lifetime from walking with new shoes for the pujas.

For a good part of my childhood, every Pujas was spent in much the same way in Shillong and Guwahati. And as I moved away from home and lived in the city, I saw less of the pujas because they were few and not as fervent as the ones held in small towns. But I relive my childhood with my phone calls home and through the stories of my neices and nephew - their new clothes, toys, and all other things.

In Delhi, where I was cooped up most part of my adulthood, after the Pujas was Diwali when the air had that inexplicable festive mood and the city was so decorated. Smell of jasmine, busy markets, sweets, sweets and more sweets on display. Diwali marked the beginning of a party time that lasted till the New Year. 

Quite depressing to be out of India at this time of the year. A friend last night told me Delhi is not the same without me. Very flattering but Lolo was quick to respond, their loss, my gain! That could, perhaps, be the antidote to my depression.

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