Revisiting Puja of yore

Now that Durga Puja is round the corner, I am overcome by déjà vu but with striking differences. The festive mood used to set in much before the five day celebration begun. The extended Puja holiday spread over a week was always eagerly awaited. Relatives from far and near would start arriving by train or bus; not by air as these days. Feast and festivity would be palpable permeating the home and the family.

Leading literary magazines would invite contributions from eminent literary figures well in advance for the special Puja volume, which would be bulkier with a beautiful cover page of Maa Durga. Films were scheduled for release coinciding with the Puja. Much before the previews hit cinema halls, posters would be hung at the most vantage points in town. A man on a cycle rickshaw would go around different streets announcing the coming of the movies in a dramatised voice with all theatrics. He would play snippets of a song or a dialogue from the film, drawing school-children during the recess or lunch hour.

Today, we have smartphones, car stereo, YouTube, FM radio or TV to listen to choicest music, but back then we only had the Phillips or Murphy radio for music. The rich and privileged had just got hold of tape recorders, while we still had the gramophones and record players. Remember the battery operated Fiesta of HMV that would play songs of leading playback singers on the eve of the festival?

Apparel showrooms, fresh off a facelift, would offer discount on branded fabrics. My father would take us to the family textile shop owned by a Gujarati businessman in the Motiganj Bazar in town. In those days of no shopping malls and mega-stores, we would sit on the dari or vinyl floor. As Bapa, my father, was a revenue official, the shop owner would treat him respectfully and display rolls of cloths for pants and shirts.

My father would not pay in cash right away, and credit cards were non-existent then. The shop owner would write down the details of the purchase in his ledger and Bapa would pay when he got his salary, may be within a month or two. One only bemoans such simplicity and bonhomie of those days. Bapa would then take us to the tailor and ask him to get the clothes stitched well in time.

The puja committees of different areas would get busy putting up the mandap. The artisans would first prepare the bare structure of the goddess’ idol with bamboo frame and straw, then earthen clay would be applied followed by a white coating. Finally, painted in colours of different shades of hues, Maa Durga’s idol would be ready. The streets would wear a festive look with rows of electric bulbs and the booming beats of drums.

On Puja day, the house would resonate with the uplifting chants of the Mahalaya on All India Radio. As the recitation of the Puja mantra reached a crescendo, the sounds from the conch and drums would create perfect atmospherics for the celebrations. Within days, the gaiety would be over and guests would start leaving. Today, we miss much of the old world charm of the Puja of yesteryears.

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Revisiting Puja of yore

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