Pujo used to be so much simpler 25 years back. Half yearly exams would be over. We would get the half yearly results only after the holiday so any repercussions would have wait after bhaiphota.
The Break from studies
Pujo meant five days of break from studies and running to and from thr pandal. The discipline of daily routine would go for a toss. Ma will not ask us to have lunch at 12:30 pm, we were allowed to buy some ghooghny from the local vendors and balloons too. Me and my sister would run to the mandap in the morning, after shower, in the brand new clothes and help the ladies with flowers and fruits and general organising.
The feeling of family with Durga Ma
Our local puja was very much a family effort. My father would be involved in all the puja activities. Ever since I could tell, thamma has been preparing the auspicious astami Bhog. There was only once that she took the year off and went for a trip. There was a vociferous complaint about the bhog not coming from our house. So she used to stay at home during the durgapuja. She travelled once more, when I was in my class twelve and my mother had to take on the responsibility of the bhog.
Astami and Bhog from our house
Puja meant the awesome astamis. Thamma would be up from 4 am in the morning, showered. My mother used to cook something simple vegeterian food for our lunch on astami days. When I turned 16 and my sister was 14, we decided to fast with them for lunch.
Thamma would prepare the bhogs whole day and after the glorious astami anjali, the priests woulc come to our house to get the bhog for Holy Mother. What a beautiful procession it would be. The priest would come, the dhakis would play the dhak before or after him, one young kid would purify the streets with ganga water and then he would bring the bhog to the pandal. My father would carry the heavy khichudi , the priest would carry the heavy payesh, Thamma would carry the fried vegetables and we were allowed to carry the smaller food items. My mother would carry the water. We would walk the 50m distance barefoot and we would be treated as vips from all the devotees. Thamma would then offer her bhog anjali and we would go back home, waiting for the first prasad to arrive.
The ritual is still carried on by my 82 year old thamma and my parents. I just miss it every year. October is usually the last quarter and work here becomes extremely crazy. It is almost impossible to go home during durgapuja. More than the raoming around, meeting up friends, going to maddox, flirting with boys, the rituals of the puja is something I miss terribly.
The biggest difference between childhood, teenage and now is the thrill of durgapuja is dimmed by the day to day pressure of job.
Now is so much different from then
Back then, we counted the days to puja, now we rejoice if atleast one weekend falls during the puja. I count myself lucky, if puja falls during a working week, and I can manage to go to the local puja after work during the evening and not miss the evening festivities like arati.
I miss get together‘s with friends but I have a family of friends here. The puja at Erlangen feels like a reunion of friends but I regret that I cannot time off to participate in the organising, the rituals as much as I like. However it is probably the difference between being a child with no responsibilities and being an adult. It makes me appreciate the immense amount of work my father and every other person puts in to organise every single detail of puja.
Puja used to smell like new dress and new shoes. Who misses that? We do not need special event like puja to dress up in a new dress anymore.
The lingering smell
Still there is something in the clear blue sky, the cold crispy october german weather that reminds me of our childhood, of the time we have now, the wonderful presence of DurgaMaa and I still count the days to next puja from dasami evening.