Somewhere, in a parallel world, a little girl dressed in Durga Pujo finery is walking hand-in-hand with her mom. The two are going to the Anondo Mela in the Mela Ground Pandal, one of the biggest puja pandals in C.R. Park, Delhi.
“What all will we eat there, Mummum?” The little girl jangles her purse. It is full of new notes and coins that her family has given her to spend at the Anondo Mela.
“I am thinking we can start off with Ghughni, move on to Mangsho-Luchi, and end with Kulfi?”
“That sounds perfect! But first we will look at all the stalls, okay?”
The Anondo Mela is on in full fervour. Aunties from the neighbourhood have put up stalls that sell all kinds of Bengali delicacies, handiwork, desserts. Some stalls that are manned by young college-going children sell fancier items like ‘Virgin Mohito’ and ‘Chomchom Cupcakes’. On the stage, a band is tuning their instruments, standing against a big banner that lists all the sponsors of the year. Uncles sit in the reception, handing out pamphlets of the cultural programme and collecting donations from visitors. Overseeing all this stands Durga Ma with her children, her eyes bright, thoughts and plans for the next three days filling her heart with joy.
Several aunties call out to the little girl and her mom. Her music teacher from school. The lady of that grocery shop they always buy monthly supplies from. Their neighbour from three houses away who is renowned in all of C.R. Park for her paathi-shaapta.
They can’t decide where to go first. So, they glide through the stalls, not stopping to chat for too long anywhere, and telling everyone they had just eaten this and that. And eat they do! A bite of sandesh. A plate of amazing Chicken Hakka noodles. Some ghughni which they also get packed for Papa. Fuchkas. Golas. Piping hot luchis!
A few hours later, the duo emerge from the pandal, their stomachs full. Their hands too are full with packed food. In the street outside, the hawkers have all collected at various corners. They are selling balloons, masks, whistles, dry papads in plastic packaging, pseudo-radium ornaments, and devil horns. It is still twilight outside. The street-lights haven’t yet come on but the market is full of glimmering fairy-lights. Business would be brisk for a few days, and everyone was all set to make the most of it.
The little girl has a spring in her step as she walks back home with her mom. It is only Shashti, the first day of Durga Puja, and she is already having so much fun. Tomorrow, there is the drawing competition in the morning. There is a new dress waiting to be worn. There will also be prasad (with the special big boondi that she loves) and khichudi-bhog in the afternoon. And in the evening, they would all go pandal-hopping, her grandfather complaining about the traffic, her grandmother inspecting her sari every now and then (which would still, inevitably, get soiled with ice-cream), and her dad trying to find auto-rickshaws to go from pandal to pandal.
She looks up at her mom; her mom smiles back at her. It is a warmth that travels all the way from that parallel world to this, lighting up my heart with joys from erstwhile times.