IT ALWAYS STARTS WITH THE DHAAK, the quintessential Bengali percussion instrument that announces the arrival of Durga Puja around the country. Dhaakis, usually village men who arrive in town well before the festival, are entrusted with the responsibility of welcoming not only Goddess Durga, but also her many children. On the first morning of the festival—and all its mornings thereafter—it is this beat that wakes me up and reminds me that I am home for Durga Puja.
I did not grow up celebrating Durga Puja. In Uttar Pradesh, where I spent my early years, it was not the primary festival. Yes, every town I lived in celebrated Durga Puja, but my encounter with it was rare and perfunctory. You can call it my luck then that I chose to marry a Bengali man, and, by extension, the festival. I distinctly remember how anxious I was before my first trip home for Durga Puja; I wasn’t sure how I would cope. I needn’t have worried, though. My hometown-in-law, Jamshedpur, was, and remains, a modest place, and Durga Puja here is always the same: quiet and intimate. It was the first time I enjoyed the festival and saw beyond the noise. In the past two decades since, home trips have become a permanent fixture on our autumn calendar.
Arriving in Jamshedpur on a shashti morning (the first day of Durga Puja) is a ritual now. As the train chugs into our little railway station, I see dozens of hands waving from the platform. Even before the train halts, men have hopped off, children have started to squeal with excitement, and elderly parents have wiped their moist eyes. While we may recognise only two or three faces out of the hundreds, all of them feel like our own. The short drive home is ridden with festivity and fervour. Makeshift flower shops with rows of marigold, hibiscus, lotus, and jasmine line pavements; large hoardings announcing special offers loom over low buildings; and Durga Puja pandals, in various degrees of completion, dot the land. The air is heavy with the scent of shiuli, night-blooming jasmine, and the earth smells of home.
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