There is a Tahitian proverb which says that “When the dew-laden breeze of the uplands creeps swiftly down, it brings with it the fragrance of the gardenia." Well, in my cases, I want to rephrase it as “when the dew-laden breeze brings in the scent of Sewali, it brings in the fragrance of Durga Puja.”
Since my childhood, my mind has associated the scent of sewali flower (Night-flowering Jasmine) with the occasion of Durga Puja. I had spent my childhood in a tea garden in Upper Assam. While we were children, me and my sister used to collect dew-soaked sewali flowers from our garden during the Durga puja. I do not even remember collecting the flowers on any other occasion. That’s why whenever I sense the smell of sewali, my mind immediately links it with Durga puja.
Nowadays it is very rare to get the smell of sewali in the city. So, yesterday evening when I whiffed the scent of the flower, my mind automatically indicated that Durga puja is about to arrive. And along with it, the fragrance brought back numerous memories associated with Durga puja.
During our childhood, the best thing we liked about Durga puja was that we were able to stay outside even at night. We were allowed outside at least till 9 pm, which was a big deal for us at that time. We spent most of the time in the tea garden puja pandal premises with out toy guns, playing some bizarre shooting games amongst ourselves or a shooting competition with the boys from another tea garden colony. The balloons were the added attraction and I remember that we used to play volleyball with bigger balloons in the field near the puja pandal at nights. Though we were mostly a gang of boys but when the girls also joined us, we would play antakshari with them, sometimes almost in the middle of the road!
How I wish if I could play with this again......
There was, however, one aspect of the puja that deeply disturbed me. In our tea garden puja celebrations, animal sacrifice used to take place every year. Goat, pigeon and duck were sacrificed there. It was the only puja in that area where animal sacrifice used to take place and that day witnessed the highest footfall as people from all the surrounding areas came either to witness the sacrifice or to themselves offer an animal in sacrifice.
The first time we watched the animal sacrifice was when we were may be around thirteen years old. I still vividly remember how the legs of the duck were flapping after it was sacrificed and thrown to the side. On that day, me and my friends had decided that when we would be adults and will be members of the puja committee, we would stop the practise of animal sacrifice at our puja premises. Well, I certainly didn’t get to be part of the puja committee as we left the tea garden after a few years. Now, I do not even know whether the practise is still carried on or not.
Also, durga puja was incomplete without pandal hopping with family. Two-three families of our tea garden used to go together and visit pandals in the nearby areas. I remember on one such occasion after we came back from a long pandal hopping session, I opened my shoe and found a dead frog inside my shoe, crushed to its death under my feet. I had kept the shoe outside the house in the afternoon and it must have gone inside. In the evening when we went out, I had put on the shoe without checking. I was deeply hurt seeing the frog dead. Till today, I feel sorry for that frog and blame myself for its death!!
Another special thing that happened to me during Durga puja was that I proposed the girl I loved. She was a girl from my neighbourhood. After falling in love for the first time in the age of thirteen, I proposed to her three years later during Durga puja. And I was fortunate enough that she accepted my proposal. That was one of the most memorable nights of my life. And this made Durga puja more special for me.
After we left the tea garden, I gradually lost my interest in Durga puja. I never feel that charm of Durga puja anymore. The puja celebrations at the Tea garden remain the best memories for me. Nowadays, it is just a routine celebration for me where I meet my friends and go for a stroll around the various puja pandals. And since now I stay outside my home town, it is one of the best opportunities where I get to spend some time with my family.
But, every year, around this time of the year, I think about the old times and look back towards those golden days – the days which were much simpler, pure and beautiful. Alas! I can’t get back those days.