As the sound of the conch shells fade away and dhakis stop beating the dhak, Bengalis all over the world heave a collective sigh as the Durga Puja festivities come to an end for another year.
I have to admit that all through my life, growing up in Kolkata, where Durga Puja pandals literally spring up in every para (neighbourhood) and preparations for the event start months in advance, I used to take Durga Puja, like so much other things, for granted. I questioned the need to offer pushapanjali to the goddess, to do boron and sindoor khela, to touch the feet of elders for Bijoya Dashami and to compulsively check out each pandal across the city in a mad pandal-hopping race, meeting known faces and friends at every pandal and stopping for some food and adda on the way.
But now, as I sit, miles away from Kolkata, I wait eagerly for these 4 days as do millions of other Bengalis. And this year even as the Goddess is immersed and life comes back to normal, I ask myself, why does Durga Puja have such an irresistible lure for Bengalis across the world?
Why do we do it?
Is it nostalgia? Remembering our childhood days in Kolkata when we used to hop from one pandal to another to see the creativity on display in the lights and the pandal decorations that vied with each other to bring new heights of imagination and craftsmanship every year?
Is it tradition? A chance to hold on to the Bengaliness in us in lands far away from Kolkata where we try to create a shadow of the warmth and fever that Durga Puja used to mean for us as children?
Is it just enjoyment with friends? A chance to lose ourselves in adda even as gorge on oily, unhealthy street food that is so unbelievably tasty? The chicken, mutton rolls, biriyani, mughlai porota, luchi, jalebi and sweets?
Is it our way of holding on to a past that is disappearing so fast, the glory and beauty of which we want to show our children so that they too, when they grow up, can share the memories with their children in turn?
We may not be in Kolkata, but the 4 days of the Durga Puja can bring back a little bit of the magic back for us.
For some, it could the new dresses, resplendent new sarees with the sparkling jewels that make the Bengali women look much like goddesses themselves.
For a few, it could be the food, the bhog from the Puja and the array after array of junk food that takes over the kitchen during the period of the puja as cooks and mothers take a temporary hiatus from cooking.
For the culturally inclined, it could be the music and dance performances that enthrall them - ranging from the famous artists to the amateurs who entertain with all their heart and give us magical moments of joy.
And for a few, it could actually be the spiritual call of the god, the chants invoking the goddess and the power that she exudes even as destroys the evil and upholds all that is good and sacred.
But for the most part, for many of us, Durga Puja would just remain a chance to be, once a year at least, part of something that defines us, part of a past we can never forget, part of a warmth that engulfs us in a familiar glow and gives us the courage and hope that in the ever changing, uncertain world, there is at least something that will still not change.