After a gap of 2 years of ‘pandemic forced restricted celebrations’ it was open house this year for Durga Puja, Dusshera and Diwali, and all of them happened in just one month – October. It was special because my eldest sister, Didi was coming from Germany to join the festivities after almost 20 years along with my nephew for whom this was a FIRST in over 40 years.
Originally, Durga Puja celebrations starts from the 6th day of the Navratri but for last few years, the pandals are thrown open to public as early as on the 4th day itself. In the pre-covid years, we used tie-up with our friends Basus and go pandal hopping with them. We renewed the arrangement and went to see the idols of Chittaranjan Park on the 5th Day or Panchami Night. Contrary to our expectations, not just the pandals but the roads leading there were quite crowded but we did managed to find parking spots within the proximity of the pandals and covered the main ones like K-Block, B-Block and Mela Ground and then hunger took us to Chungwa Restaurant at M-Block Market GK-2. The following evening, as planned we joined the Basus at DLF Club-5 at Gurugram. This was our first visit to a Durga Puja in Gurugram and we thoroughly enjoyed. Unlike the unruly crowds in most pandals in Delhi and resultant spillage of trash, this was very clean with manageable crowd. The Durga idol was much smaller compared to her Delhi counterparts but beautiful. Then of course, there was a full makeshift food court where we had the FUCHKA (Bong version of Golgappa or Paanipuri), it was so good that Sangeeta & I had two portions each. From there we moved on to Shushant Lok pandal which was what one expects from a typical suburban puja pandal, it was dusty and loud Hindi Bollywood musical program being performed on the stage in front of motley crowd. Our last stop before heading home was DLF Phase 2 Puja where I had Mughlai Porota, it was less oily than what you get in Chittopark but the filling of mutton was below expectations.
The following morning, Maha Saptami day, Deepika wanted to give Pushpanjali so we went to Durgabari in Kailash Colony where I unexpectedly bumped into my Childhood friend Supriyo. We chatted while both our better halves were busy offering the flowers and praying to the deity. Thereafter, Deepika & I went to New Delhi Kali Bari, a must visit during Durga Puja for all Bongs residing or visiting Delhi. The Basus also joined us there. In the pre-covid years, one could enter the NDKB Pandal wearing their shoes/sandals but this time (or perhaps during covid years) the rules had changed and one had to take off their shoes at the entrance gate and deposit with the shoekeeper. Our next stops were Minto Road pandal followed by Kashmere Gate Puja Pandal. The last one is the oldest continuous Durga Puja of Delhi and once upon a time famous for the delectable Biriyani served at the food court, however, the quality over time has deteriorated and no longer an USP.
By the time we finished our pandal hopping, we were hungry and decided to explore the Pandara Road restaurants which we haven’t tried for many years now. Moreover, one could get a vegetarian thaali which will be good for Deepika as she was fasting since morning. We were surprised to find that all the restaurants (5-6 of them) had a waiting time of 30-45 minutes even at the late afternoon. And except Pindi Restaurant, all of them had turned vegetarian for the period of Navratri. Deepika got her “Vrat ka Thaali” packed from Gulati Restaurant while we waited for a table at Pindi Restaurant. The food, in any of the restaurants here is typical north Indian or more precisely DELHI CUISINE. We eventually, after half hour waiting got a table and without wasting any more time ordered for Laal Maans (Mutton Curry), Lamb Brain Curry and Daal Makhni with a selection of Naan & Tandoori Roti. The restaurant allowed Deepika to have her special thaali since they were not serving the same. By the time we finished our meal, it was almost 4:30 pm and rushed back home saying our goodbyes to Basus. We had seen all the Pujas that we intended to see having missed them since 2018 due to varied reasons, all unintended.
On the morning of 3rd October, I started tracking the Qatar Airways flight path, it was supposed to land at IGIA T-3 around 8:40 AM… calculating the time for walk through corridor to immigration, customs etc, I guessed Didi & my nephew Hans aka Ajay will emerge not before 9:40 AM (an hour from landing) and accordingly left home exactly at 9:10 for the half hour journey to the airport from our home. To my utter surprise I got a call from Hans at 9:20 AM just as I was reaching the end of IIT Flyover… he confirmed that they were out of the terminal and waiting at the level-2 of the parking… I told him I will reach within 20 minutes. Faithful Guddu Kumar pressed on the gas and accelerated without my prompting. Thankfully, there was no traffic jams on the way and we made it well within time.
For the last over 6 months, all vehicles are directed to the parking where they have marked the spaces for Domestic Traveler (Leve-1), International Traveler (Level-2) and All Taxis (Level-3). The waiting upto 25 minutes is free and thereafter charges are applicable per hour basis. On paper this should have eased the pick-up process easy but because of the “idiots at the wheel” chaos still prevails. I told Guddu to park the car and went to look for them. Didi was standing with the luggage but Hans was nowhere to be seen. I walked up to her and hugged. We were physically meeting after February 2019 though we regularly video chat. She told me that Hans had gone to pick up some beverage at the corner kiosk. He had no Indian currency with him and was vainly trying to with his card, I paid for his 2 cans of MAZAA (his favourite Indian beverage since childhood). Guddu had meanwhile followed me and found Didi with the baggage which he swiftly transferred in the car trunk.
It was Maha Ashtami Day and my (second) brother aka Chhorda who is actively involved in the GK-2 M-Block Market also known as Dakshinayan Puja, had invited us to have Bhog at their pandal. So, after resting and freshening up we went there in the afternoon. We are adept at the slightly spicy food that are made for the public but Hans and Didi found it just too overbearing and had only the kheer and chutney with the khichuri leaving aside the labda or the mixed sabji.
Following day, Maha Navami, I took Hans to my brother’s home to try out a designer Kurta that he had bought for him and then took him to Chittopark to check out pandals of K-Block & B-Block. Later in the evening, we went to Paschim Vihar Puja Pandal to meet my second sister, Mezdi who turned 76 years young that day. We visited 2 of the puja pandals in Paschim Vihar and also had first time experience of riding on the e-Rickshaw while traveling between the 2 pandals. Frankly, it was nerve wracking the way it was driven, the foreigners – Didi & Hans stopped short of screaming while I kept a stoic silence.
On Dashami/ Dusshera we relaxed at home during the day. In the evening Guddu provided a direct videocast of Dusshera celebrations through his mobile phone. He had taken his family out to the Ramlila celebrations somewhere nearby. Later, we went to my other sister’s home for dinner. My nephew, Saurabh made a cocktail called Earlgrey Gintonic… quite simple but very refreshing… made with a teabag of Earlgrey tea + 60ml Gin + 60ml tonic water + lime and filled with ice cubes. He served this amazing drink with some succulent Chicken Malai Tikka and Mutton Sheekh Kebab. We thoroughly enjoyed the evening.
One of the evenings, Deepika took Didi and Hans for a Heritage Walk at Safdarjung Tomb where they met a family who had similarly come with their overseas relatives and invited them to Isha Foundation Ashram at Chhattarpur, New Delhi.
On Saturday, the morning began with rains and continued throughout the day, I vainly waited for the rain to cease but in the evening had to rush to Chittopark to buy the Puja Samagri for the Kojagori Lakshmi Puja at home… Hans came along with his GoPro video cam to record the market activity but the intermittent rains and premature darkness did not allow him to capture good footage.
This year, for the Kojagori Lakshmi Puja, a new Panditji came over, the younger brother of our original Panditji who could not come to Delhi due to health issues. The new PanditJi who came had retired from NDKB few months ago and was much involved in the rituals than his brother and took almost 3 hours to complete the process. But Deepika as well as the participants of the Puja rituals were extremely satisfied. And rewarded him generously… while I found him to be quite chatty… in the five minutes post puja interaction he told me all about his family!!
Later, that evening Deepika went to Kualalampur for a 5-day trip to attend a 3-day conference. Ayush gave her a very expensive list of whiskeys to be bought from the Duty Free shop at the airport.
In the days that followed, one day I took Didi & Hans to the Dakshin Delhi Kali Bari which has changed drastically for better and expanded as well. After the rituals we went to Delhi Haat which was like a Pandora’s Box for Hans…he wanted to buy everything being enchanted with the ethnic tag. He picked up half a dozen paintings of varying sizes and few brass statues. Another day, we went to the Saket Malls just for a stroll but Hans ended up buying quite a few stuff and was particularly interested in a brass Ganesha idol but it’s heavy weight stopped him from buying. The next few days, Delhi experienced its wettest days of October; it rained incessantly throughout the rest of the week forcing us to be indoors.