Durga Puja is an occasion when the familiar sound of dhaak, dhunuchi nachh and the mild fragrance of shiuli, gives a familiar tug at every Bengali heart. But that's not all about it. The four-day festival brings the unique opportunity to reconnect with friends who congregate every year without fail and always seem to take off from where they left off in the previous year.
These are the friends who didn't go to school with you, were not your neighbours, were not the guys in the park where you played and definitely not the ones who you emailed or called or scrapped. You didn't know what they did the entire year and neither did they bother, but come Durga Puja and the 'hoi-hottogol and haanshi-thatta' that emerged from this group of 'puja friends' was always the loudest. Or so they believed and continue to till today!
Bengalis can never be separated from sport and every Durga Puja did not start with Mahalaya, but sports day that featured events like flat race, lemon and spoon race, throwing the discus etc. And this is where on a balmy Sunday morning, the 'puja friends' would suddenly emerge from different directions. Somebody had grown taller, some broader, but the camaraderie was still the same.
And then from Saptami morning right through Bijoya sammelani, this group of friends hung out together. It still amazes me when I think how this group automatically fell in line for bhog poribeshon, how they knew when the other had to take over at the dhunuchi naach, what exactly was needed to be said to each other's parents so that they would allow them to go puja hopping together and how at bisarjan they combined vision and strength for a fitting farewell to Ma Durga.
These friends grew up, went to college, picked up jobs, some travelled, some settled down and slowly went their own ways. Some went on to do bigger things like find finances for a Durga Puja somewhere, direct a play in another, and some even started pujas in places where there were none.
And then they had children and life came a full circle. The new generation of 'puja friends' arrived - like the elves who help Santa every year; except these were in the service of Ma Durga.
Every year a few get added to this list, a few get subtracted. But you'll never find a year when there are none. And that's my fondest memory of Durga Puja. You too can meet these elves. Sometimes you have to close your eyes, sometimes you have to open them. Sometimes you have to look around, sometimes you have to look within. What a miracle!