It is already quite a few days into the customary, cool October. Yet, people in Delhi is fretting and fuming in sultry, sweltering weather, be it day or night. As the ten day Dasera festivities begin, one sorely misses the pleasant nip in the air at dawn and past the dusk.
Thanks perhaps due to media exposure, even the unsophisticated blame it all on the Climate Change. And rightly so.
Yes, the people in the capital need not be told about the significance of the UN announcement that the Paris Agreement on Climate Change will enter into force in less then 30 days.
Of course, the Paris Agreement alone will not solve the climate crisis. As US president Barack Obama observed, even as nations reduce their carbon emissions over time, the positive spin-off is that the exercise also “opens up the floodgates for businesses and scientists and engineers to unleash high-tech, low-carbon investment and innovation
at a scale that we’ve never seen before.”
Returning to the blighted Puja air, one is stung by pangs of nostalgia about pleasanter occasions in the past. Musing over them gives one certain vicarious pleasure.
Come Dasera, Delhi assumes a festive air. Hinting at the coming winter, the air begins to get cooler. The change from the sultry months of July-September lightens the the mood, adds a spring to the feet and brings a hearty song to the lips. Happiness levels soar as the mercury drops. The season sees the confluence of cultures as Bengalis celebrate Durga Puja, the North Indians Ram Leela, and the South Indians Navaratri.
Durga Puja begins on Shashti – the sixth day after the Mahalaya Amavasya. Elaborate rituals and bhajans start from dawn. When the sun goes down, the aarati-performer, holding the mud pot with blazing coal, dances himself into a trance to the rhythmic beat of the drum as aromatic fumes permeate the air, creating a mystic ambience.
The Ram Leela, dance and drama performances from the Ramayana, is played out for for nine days. On the tenth evening Vijayadasami the effigies of demons, symbolizing `evil’, are burnt, signifying the triumph of
For Delhi’s South Indians it is like being back home. In the 1930s to the 1960s and 1970s, South Indians coming to Delhi would invariably be drawn to Karol Bagh, Mandir Marg, Laxmibai Nagar, Sarojini Nagar and R.K. Puram. They were the first generation migrants, collectively labelled `Madrasis’. They came to the capital to work in a variety of
government jobs in independent India.
They also helped run the wheels of bureaucracy in independent India. The `Madrasis’ brought their culture to a city that still retained the ambience of Mughal life and British-style bureaucracy those days. They began celebrating festivals the way they did back home.
Navaratri gave them the opportunity to showcase their unique way of celebrating Durga Puja. The highlight of the nine-day festival, of course, is Bommai Kolu,or arrangement of dolls on delightfully decorated wooden planks ranging from 5 to 11. The dolls depict gods and goddesses, community life featuring the temple, the village pond,
the priest, the grocer, usually a bear-bodied, pot-bellied Chettiar who signifies prosperity, the nicely laid out
streets and the flora and fauna.
In earlier times, the nine-day festival also served as a matchmaking season that often saw marriage alliances fixed. Girls, dressed in colourful costumes, would visit each and every `Kolu house’ in their locality, and exhibit their music and dance talents.
The boys, though normally not allowed to be present, took sly glances at these bejeweled beauties from adjoining rooms. The days of “girl friends”, “boy-friends” and “dating” were long away. The young and carefree teenagers would follow these girls, the objects of their often unexpressed, but at times tacitly acknowledged love, to every home.
They did this under the pretext of receiving “prasad”. This was usually “sundal”, and a mouth-watering dish – both sweet and sour – and made from pulses such as chenna, dried peas, moong dal and other
In those days places such as Karol Bagh and Laxmibai Nagar exuded the southern air, aroma and ambience – a la Mylapore or Madurai. Today’s, Srinivasans and Subramanians, now in their 50s, 60s and 70s, were in their teens those days, gently following – not crudely chasing – Lakshmis, Lathas, Susihilas and Sulochanas to every home that displayed Kolu. In Mandir Marg there was one such demure damsel. In later years she became Bollywood’s Hema Malini, now a Lok Sabha member. Ends RCR.