Heart filled with anticipation, we manoeuvre towards the entrance. Cars jostle for parking space, dhoti-clad men and alluring women draped in Devdas-style sarees sashay gracefully in and out, halogens radiating their perfectly decorated faces. It’s the ninth and last night of Navratri, the night before Dussehra and my last chance to experience the much revered Sarvajanik Durgotsav – Public Celebration of Goddess Durga.
Now in its 11th year, the Powai Sarvajanin Durgotsav is organised by the Powai Bengali Welfare Association, also known as the PBWA and ranks among the top ten Durga Puja Pandals in Mumbai.
It’s amazing how despite such a massive turnout, everything is so organised and well under control. The entrance opens to an enormous ground, its every corner oozing festive energy.
Irresistible aromas of delicious Bengali food follow you everywhere. We somehow manage to control our urge and head first for the blessings of Goddess Durga. Enter the beautifully themed enclosure and get bedazzled to the larger-than-life idol of the Goddess. Riding her roaring lion, looking resplendent draped in vermilion red, her dark, lustrous hair flowing beneath her sparkling gilded crown like an unstoppable raging river, festooned with garlands, she looks spectacularly ferocious and yet breathtakingly beautiful. Her big, round, kohl-lined eyes look mercifully at you while she slays Mahishasur, the demon, the symbol of all things negative.Darshan, done. Time to hit the food stalls. Whether you are a vegetarian or otherwise, they are sure to wow you with a wide variety of gastronomic delights.
Hungry crowds hover over the counters, frankies sizzle on massive skillets, biryani tossed onto the plates, aroma of Chinese food beckons. But it is the traditional Bengali delicacies that steal the show. I struggle, crane my neck, stretch my hand, for one click. Seeing my plight, the guy at the counter gladly obliges.
We chomp on Steamed Rice drenched in the flavorful Bhapa Ilish, the succulent Hilsa fish first steamed then cooked in luscious mustard based curry. This accompanied by Fish Fry, deep fried skillets of Bhetki, juicy and tender on the inside, enveloped in the crunchiest and most delicious crust there can ever be. It’s amazing how the coating is seasoned and flavored to make up for the blandness of this river fish.
We wash all these down with a soft drink and head towards the desserts.
The stalls have run out of the much-in-demand Sondesh. So we make do with its another popular cousin, the Mishti Doi – sweet and thickened curd set in an earthen pot. What’s so special about that? you ask. Honestly, nothing. It’s the earthen flavor and the feeling of having everything Bengali tonight that makes the difference.
With the muscles of our stomachs starting to protest, we have no option but to parcel the Lancha – a larger version of the Gulab Jamun. Little further, old Hindi and Bengali melodies fill the air. A well-known singer performs live, enthralling the audience, belting out one hit after the other in his soulful rendition.
While my ears are on his singing, my eyes scout hard to capture one of the many Bengali belles parading around. I’ve always been awestruck by their beauty – luminous complexion, voluptuous figure, dense dark hair and big almond eyes.
My lens finally finds its muse…
While ambling the grounds in an effort to get our digestive system working, I bump into an ex-colleague-cum-friend after eight long years. Looking at his son I realize how time has just flown by.
World is indeed small and such occasions are a wonderful way to meet people who you may not otherwise, in this enigmatic conundrum called Life.
All you need to do is get yourself out there…