Pujor Gondho Eshechhe... Durga Puja's in the air

Note: Lot of photos, keep scrolling

Once upon a time

I was about eight years old. I studied in Calcutta International School. Most of my classmates were expats. Those were the days when 'best friends' were both life defining as well as transient.There was a Polish boy called Robert in my class. He was my best friend at that point, the flavour of the month. I wanted to call him over to our place for lunch. I told my dad this. The family legend goes that my father never said no to me. He didn't this time too.

Dad, Mom and an Early Knife

Durga Puja was coming up. My father, a bilet ferot (foreign returned) orthopaedic surgeon, was in the thick of things. He played an active role in our Parar Pujo (community Durga Puja) in Dhakuria, Calcutta. Just as he did wherever he was, even if it was in England. I had heard  his stories of how he would recite the prayers in Pujos in England where there was no priest. With a fellow doctor, a Brahmin, mouthing my dad's mantras in front of the Goddess. Hindu Gods don't answer prayers unless offered by Brahmins apparently. These Durga images used to be flown in from Calcutta. I remember my father later telling his friends that he would say only one prayer if he was in a puja pandal, "Bhogoban shobar bhalo koro" (God, be good to all). I am paraphrasing here as my memories are as sepia tinted as the photographs.

Durga Puja in the UK. Mom with still early Knife

So if I wanted to call my friend over then it would be done. But in no ordinary way. For my dad took it upon himself to welcome Robert and his family to our country, our culture, our home, our hearts. He invited Robert, his elder brother who studied in our school and his parents, who worked in the consulate, to our house.

He gave the Poles the sort of welcome which the Commonwealth Games should now have. He touched up the paint of the walls of our rented house. Drew the Greek signs of male and female genders on a piece of paper and stuck it to the bathroom door to indicate that the loo was unisex. He bought footballs and given it the Para Puja committee to be given to the winners of the 'Dhunochi Naach' (religious dance with the holy fire) competition. He ordered a couple more of these footballs as return gifts for Robert and his brother. Bought traditional Batik shirts for the two boys and their father. And a sari for his mother. He called our foreign guests over on Ashtami, the biggest day of the Pujas. Paid and ordered for a special Khichudi Bhog (holy festival food) for our guests from Poland.

All of this because I wanted to call my friend over.

Legend goes that he never said no to me.

This story happened about twenty eight or twenty nine years back. Around 1981 - 82. I lost contact with Robert and his family a year later when I left International School and moved into another world. My memory is understandably a bit hazy. One or two details might be wrong.

It was probably the last Puja that I spent with my father. Or the second last.

Twenty eight years is not as long as it seems.

Puri, one of our last holidays together. Close to when this story played out

And yet I felt the spirit of that afternoon from the hoary past in our house tonight. A fortnight or so before the Pujas this year. We had a couple of friends over for dinner. After what seemed like a lifetime. The house was full of laughter and shrieks. Three girls put together can bring the house down.

I planned the menu. Shopped for it in the morning. Lunch followed by power nap. A quiet coffee. Gym. Got into the zone to cook dinner. Last minute shopping, shower and our guests were there. I threw my inhibitions to the wind and cooked with people around me. More laughter, chatter, squeals, giggles and photographs. Locker room conversations which made me run to the kitchen to take refuge.

Purple Foodie's cake. Chili chicken inspired by mom who learnt from my dad who learnt from a Chinese patient of his in the UK. Pork Hakka noodles. Eggplant and shrimp paste balchow. Inspired by a dish that I ate at a great host's place at KL. Fungi, my addition. All put together in around half an hour with a bit of cheer leading and a some bit of jeering. Every move photographed. Macro lens for food, regular for us.

We are hungry. Stop taking photos. Don't slow him down. I  am going to eat from the pan.

Gluten and carb conscious ladies digging into their plates dinner with gusto, asking for seconds. Laments about difficulties in finding the 'right' skirt swept aside with each fork-full.

And I relived memories of an afternoon from around three decades back.

The next pictures were taken by Jyotika Purwar of Follow My Recipe and her camera with two lenses

The morning after ... oops we did it again

Fresh guest. More laughter. Thankfully a couple of guys too to cut the skirt talk. A repeat guest from the previous night. And one who could make it this time. Two musicians. Adda in rhythm. The newly weds and the other old timers. The menu remained the same. We ate. Prayer and love can wait.