The sight of the pandel being erected on the play ground a few paces away from our home would arouse a great deal of excitement in our childhood. It would usually take one month to complete the pandel that would house the idol of Devi Durga and this one month , the pandel, its bamboo structure, would be the centre of all attraction for us. While going to school, with satchels on our shoulders, we would stop for a while near the pandel. Someone among us would say that the pandel had shrunk a bit in size and dimensions , compared to that of the previous year. Another would argue on that point and assert with certain amount of confidence that it was not so. But we had carved a bit of time sure to swing our bodies from the bamboo poles using our hands.
Then we would run to school. After school hours we would again take that road which would take us to the pandel. The labourers who were busy working there would allow us to play there.
Only when they put the canvas over the dome of the pandel and stitch cotton spreads and put nails on the spreads to attach them to the structure, they would rebuke us mildly. ' Don't run here on bare foot! Nails are there everywhere...' .They would say, working as they would be, sitting precariously on the bamboo poles , stitching cotton spreads there or hammering tiny nails into the wooden frames.
For days as those labourers worked, we would hear the sweet tapping sounds of hammer heads on nails whenever we went to the pandel.
Just before the installation of the deity, a thorough sweeping and cleaning of the pandel floor was done.
The pandel turns into a mandap as soon as the deity of Durga will arrive.
We would try to get a glimpse of the deity as usually the face was covered before the Maha Shasti.
The evening of Shasti would be grand. Many people would throng at the mandap.
The smell of incense and camphor and flowers mixed together would create an ambience of pristine purity around.
The blowing of counch shells at the evening would make us know the evening prayer had started. Often the purohit or the main priest would be someone who knew sanskrit and could chant clearly having a voice that could be heard even without loud speakers. For the chanting of prayers in those days was done sans loudspeakers for it was believed that too much of sound and noise could drive the soul of the devi away from the mandap.
That belief , however, got a serious challenge from us as we often laughed out loud or made sounds replicating that of gunshots by pressing triggers of our toy pistols which we would invariably buy before the pujas. Making a series of gunshots from our toy pistols had been our favourite occupation during the pujas.
We would pester our parents to buy us those pistols. The girls , who were of our age, however, were more interested in buying colorful bindis, or hairclips or ribbons. In our neighbourhood a single shop sold both the pistols (for boys) and those objects of adornments ( for girls).
The boys and the girls and their parents would make a beeline there in the evening before the onset of pujas.
Our small industrial town would deck up slowly as the festive mood would set in.
Light bulbs were hung from trees.
Our familiar streets appeared like those of fairy tales being so illuminated.
But I would love the subtle changes that autumn would bring in to the town.
Gradually the monsoon clouds would beat a retreat and little cottony clouds would appear , sailing like tiny boats. Early in the morning the sight of dewdrops on leaves, glittering in the first light of the day would make me glad. Simply glad. The scent of shiuli blossoms would wrap me. The mild nip in the early morn's air would send a slight shiver.
And the most beautiful sight for me would perhaps be the sudden arrival of white cranes at the marshy land beside our house. Those birds would come every year during autumn and stay in the trees, often flying across the marshyland. The sight of their flight, their white wings spread full, against the back drop of green trees and blue sky, was simply captivating.
Many hours I would spend watching them.
Many hours I would spend savouring the beauty of nature.
Arrival of Durga , has since then , got aligned in my mind with the arrival of autumn and very rarely I tried to differentiate between the two occasions.
The smell of shiuli, the sparkling drops of dew, the azure sky, the swinging heads of kash flowers peeping out of grass- they all would come together to weave a single sensation of pleasure in me, a kind of pleasure which was so ethereal and abstract that I would just be happy inside and would bask in it. I am sure, we all had that same feeling then.
Running through the meadows with kash flowers blooming always brought us that happiness .
Years later, while studying literature, I realised, it was not anything associated with religion. It had been our sense of joy in getting pleasure in discovering Mother Nature's awesome bounty of beauty.
It was our own little way of reacting to all the varied sensations that autumn brought.Durga was just a part of it. Picking lotus from ponds for the worship was more of an adventure to us.Durga provided that occasion for us , to be in all those little and simple things of joy. Our young minds were tickled by the mirth the season of autumn brought.
Wordsworth probably talked of that in his poem 'Prelude' , when quite animated as a young boy he ran to the wilderness of nature and being mesmerised by its beauty thought of a curious transportation to another place and time perhaps :
' as if I had been born
On Indian Plains, and from my Mother's hut
Had run abroad in wantonness, to sport...'
Revisiting Autumn is to me like that , making a journey to that time of year when in our little hearts we had nothing but the candid flowering of our love and passion, that love which could ,with consummate ease , transmute objects trivial into objects of supreme beauty.