A Little Girl & Her Mom At The Anondo Mela

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?”

“Absolutely.”

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.

Durga Puja C.R. Park

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.

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Why Evenings Have Changed

Sunset
It is early evening. I can hear the birds chirping excitedly, convening to discuss the night’s meal and if the chicks are going to be happy with what they are taking home. The lights have started coming on in the windows I can see from mine; there are candles in some. An old man is slowly walking on the pavement, carrying a bagful of pastries for his grandchildren. I can hear their faraway giggles from the neighbourhood’s park; they are glad the swings are no longer covered in snow. Perhaps they aren’t his grandchildren. Perhaps his grandchildren are away, in another country, and he only gets to talk to them on Christmas and birthdays. Maybe he is taking the pastries for his wife. Maybe for himself. But I digress.
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Why This Durga Puja Is Entirely Different

Durga Puja in CR Park

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. Continue reading

The Real Reason I’m Fixated On C.R. Park Food

CR Park Market No 2

“I’ll have some of the Radha Pallobi.”

A friend of mine, a newcomer to Market No. 1, Chittaranjan Park, had just wiped clean a plateful of Bengali sweets – chomchom, rajbhog, sandesh and yes, rasgullas.

“Splendid idea.” I told her. “You’ve had far too many sweets anyway.”

“Wait, what? Isn’t Radha Pallobi a sweet? It sure sounds like one!”

I shook my head and handed over to her a plate of steaming hot Radha Pallobi – stuffed luchis with delicious aloo dum. She was taken aback momentarily, but soon dug in with enthusiasm, much to the shop-owner’s joy.

My friend was no exception; most people on their first trip to C.R. Park are gastronomically overwhelmed at the sheer expanse of this mini-Kolkata. There’s the chaat corner, for instance. They have soft fuchkas – or panipuri – which they fill with a yum mixture of mashed potatoes, chillies and fragrant lemons. They have mangsho-ghughni – chickpeas infused with delicious spices, and hold your breath, mutton. And then there’s jhalmuri too – tall cones of puffed rice flavoured with green chillies, onions, tomatoes, spices and namkeen. Continue reading

Oh Delhi!

CRPark

Outside Shiv Mandir in Chittaranjan Park, New Delhi

I travel to Delhi tomorrow. After almost eight months of living away from the madness. And while I can’t claim Pune has been particularly sane, I have been away from the morning Metro rush, the honking cars outside my house, and the slight chill in the air that starts coming in this time of the year. But madness, really? This evening, randomly, I realize I have actually missed it all!

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When Pujo Is Just a Month Away

Durga Puja in C.R. Park, Delhi

Durga Puja in C.R. Park, Delhi

The sunlight is different. More golden, less yellow. It touches you differently – more softly. When this happens, Mom says Pujo is approaching. That glorious time of the year when my Bengali neighbourhood looks lovelier than ever and the air is delicious with luchi, aloo dum and khichudi. I feel it in me today, even away in Pune. Durga Puja is not too far.

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Rituals at Lajpat Nagar

Central Market

*Picture from http://im.hunt.in/

It was a ritual of sorts. They couldn’t return from Lajpat Nagar without a chocolate ice-cream and a pair of earrings. “How many earrings does your shop now have?” Onlookers and neighbours who came to visit them would often ask, putting on mock-serious faces. That was when she decided to keep an inventory though nothing could tempt her to let her possessions out on rent.

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Counting Sparrows

She wondered what had made her laugh in the picture taken at India Gate, no less than ten years ago. She had visited more recently than that but then, the newest trend which she had failed to catch on to was selfies. He no longer bothered to click pictures of her. He no longer bothered to come along, really.

At a stone’s throw from India Gate was Children’s Park. This was where their son had got his first bruise. He wore a Band-Aid over the wound very proudly for a week, after which she had to cajole him with a chocolate to get rid of it. Like the other happy families, they would snack on sugar candies and sweetcorn on Sunday evenings at the park. Once, when their six-year old had fallen asleep in the car afterward, he held her close and kissed her.

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Finding Peace

He hated being late to work. He hated the whole drill of rushing to the elevator, swearing when it stopped at each floor, hoping against hope the card-swipe machine would have a malfunctioning clock. In the Delhi Metro every day, he struggled with a million others to covet a seat and prevent himself from falling over at each station.

“Are you alright?”

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