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Dashami is the final day of the Puja, where the Goddess is bid an emotional, often tearful goodbye. Which is why the day always spells a certain amount of gloom, even today! But this year I was determined to shake off the gloom and celebrate till the very end…

So the usual suspects decided to catch up for one last Bhog at the D N Nagar Puja. We reached there in time for one final Anjali, repeating the holy mantras after the priest, still struggling to get the pronunciation of the Sanskrit words right, even after years of going through the same ritual :0 And then it was time for lunch. Khichuri, Mixed Veg Curry (Laabra), Paneer Masala, Tomato chutney, Fried Papad and finally some Cardamom-flavoured Kheer (a milk-and-rice sweet dish). This was far from the usual peaceful affair that it should be, though. The group of friends got bigger, the discussions got funnier and the weather got hotter even as we dipped into the delicious food, ribbing and general tom-foolery on a high. And being a slow eater, I bore the brunt of all jokes, from all those who had licked their plates clean before me…

Yes, this is what the Puja is about… when we were younger and living with our parents, it would be family and friends getting together to celebrate these 5 days, eating together at a community meal, and chatting together at the pandal, laughing, joking and reminiscing. Renting a bus or van, or just squeezing into a small car with little space to breathe was okay, keen as we were on visiting as many pandals as possible… It would be a tough contest between the groups, with a fair amount of fudging of the numbers of pandals actually seen, but it was all in good fun and part of the effervescent ‘Puja spirit’.

Today, away from home, our friends ARE our family. We don’t compete for the highest numbers of pandals visited, but how many we can go visit together. We compare notes on which Bhog was better and share valuable information on good food stalls. And we may not wear a new set of clothes everyday, but we do make an effort to dress up in dazzling, traditional attire, however tired, busy or cranky we are from our full working days in office (as opposed to 4 days of official holidays in Kolkata!)

Yes, we are older, more mature and a bit more cliquish now in our determination to enjoy these few days. Now WE are those women we used to gawk at, dressed in the typical red-bordered White Sari, smearing red Sindoor on the Goddess and then reveling in a cloud of red dust and laughter and tears (Sindoor Khela). But then, all it takes is one old song, one whiff of an Egg Mutton Roll, one reference to Usha di (Uthup) or Bappi da (Lahiri) and we are back to being those saucer-eyed little boys and girls, craning our necks to check out every idol-laden truck that passes by on its way to the immersion ‘Ghat,’ doing the awkward ‘electric-shock’ dance with gay abandon in time with the frenzied beats of the Dhaaki’s drums, drinking in as much of the sights, sounds and excitement in the dying moments of the Puja this year, until it comes back to life again next year!