The sun is a beautiful shade of gold. The birds are chirping more often, almost glad that a long and dehydrating summer is on its way out. The air is fragrant – with the distant aroma of khichudi-bhog that hordes of people will queue up to eat. There’s no doubt about it – Durga Puja is here.
For a couple of wonderful days starting now, days that make up for everything else the year brings forth, C.R. Park in Delhi will celebrate merriment and gaiety. Children will dress up in their new clothes and run to the pandals, buying one ice-cream after the other from the many carts. The stage will abound in musicians and orchestras, dancers and nervous little volunteers making announcements related to the prasad and the anjali. By night, the lanes outside my house will be lit in a million colours, the fairy lights in no mood to sober down till long after the year has bid adieu. It will be a sight to behold. And here, miles away from it all, I will behold the sight only in my memories.
This is going to be the first Durga Puja I will be spending away from home. R and I can’t make it back this year and will have to make do with gorging on home-cooked luchi-chicken. We will go without the music and the buzz, the rush of getting-ready-to-pandal-hop, and the smoke from the dhunochi. We will also forego the warmth of the October sun, the fragrance of the season’s first oranges, and the mewing of my house-cats expectantly waiting for us to return home and bring them Pujo-special dinner. Instead, we will shiver in Vienna’s early winter rains and wake up to cloudy skies that will never light up with the glow of lamps thousands of kilometres away.
Mom tells me we will celebrate with gusto next year. In fact, we will make up for everything we go without this time and take extra trips to the chicken biryani shops at the Anondo Mela. Without me, it isn’t the same for her either. I can see her sitting in the balcony watching the cars rush by, avoiding going out to the pandals because I wouldn’t be there with her.
“Next year, we will make up for this, won’t we? The three of us will be the untiring trio who refuse to leave the pandals!”
“Of course we will, Mom.”
Of course we will. I am convinced there will be a next year when Mom and I will be together again and click hundreds of pictures in our Puja finery. In the meantime, I will go and cook some delicious, steaming hot daal-khichdi for R and me which we will pair with begun bhaja. That’s one of the best things about food. It has an uncanny way of making the past come alive through simple flavours and fragrances. Now that’s what I call magic.