For any minor who was in his growing years during the eighties in Kolkata, the season of autumn had a unique significance. We were pretty much keyed up for the puja celebrations. Puja in Sanatan Dharm signifies devotion. But for us Bengalis, puja is synonymous with the Sharodotsav or Durga Puja festival, the mother of all festivals for the bongs even today where mother goddess is venerated as the mahashakti, the shaped and unshaped, is the root cause of creation, preservation and annihilation.
The festive season used to kick start a month before with the fête of Vishwakarma, the engineer God recognized in our folklore. Now with the cyber generation in full flow, at times Ganapati takes precedence. The sky mostly remained clear blue during the Vishwakarma puja day. Each neighbour used to offer stiff competition to the other in flying kites. Probably many among the new generation haven’t ever heard the pure Bangla word “bhokatta”, which signifies that I’ve out starched your kite comprehensively. The puja countdown used to start from then only. Now it is a major challenge to obtain a clear sky.
There used to be a fragrance of shiuli flowers which is Nyctanthes arbor-tristis (Night-flowering Jasmine) as per Wikipedia. The aroma used to fill the air. We used to feel the cologne more during the evening. The smell itself used to denote the advancing days of Durga Puja. Mahalaya used to start with Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s unmatched rendition of Mahishasur Mardini along with Bani Kumar and Pankaj Kumar Mallik. Probably this trio never understood what they had done for us. They had gifted us a tradition to feel proud of. Mahalaya symbolizes the end of Pitripokho (patriarchal fortnight) and beginning of Debipokho (fortnight of the goddess). Tarpan is still conducted by many on this day which is an act of paying homage to the deceased ancestors. There was a certain level of planning among the family members to schedule the pandal hopping. An innocent contest used to prevail among our friends as who has got the maximum dresses this year. I loved this nontoxic rivalry. We were almost sure that the firmament will remain as blue as it can be. That’s why we have a term in Bengali which means autumn sky. Maddox square, Ballygunge Cultural Association, Ekdalia and Samajsebi were definitely in our wish list. It still is. Good to see that the hands that used to hold tight their hands with their parents are now guardians who are still holding the hands- but of their children.
But over the last half-decade, I really do not find that clear blue sky one aspires during the festival days. Who to be blamed? I don’t know. It could be due to the changing climate patterns due to global warming. Even weather gods do not want us to rejoice. Virtuousness has been replaced by complexities in our daily lives. That is why even in the penultimate week of September I can’t feel the freshness of the period which is called riturani (queen of seasons).
Tagore once wrote-Eseche sarat himer paras legeche hawar pare, sakal belay ghaser dagay shishirer choya lage”
“Autumn (Sarat) is here, just feel the cool breeze and presence of morning dew on the top of grass”.
Can I ever get back that autumn of my growing years? I do not need the years because that’s absurd. I remember that the immersion of the idols on the Dashami day meant that we need to get back to the studies as the annual exams are a month away and we all need to be promoted to the next class. That apprehension also used to be there on the days of celebration as to how would the preparations be.