Today is Panchami.
As per religious edicts, it marks the fifth day of the fortnight of the Durga Pujō or devipaksha.
Today also marks the day, from when, being away from home will be the hardest, for the next five days.
By today, the pandals would be complete, the idols in place, faces covered, and a general air of festivity and nonchalance all around. At this time, you would not need alarm clocks to wake up early, the morning dhāk would awaken you and the fresh scent of shiuli would greet you as you step out.
The adults would be busy with last minute arrangements of the pujō, while the kids would be busy with their toy guns and games; the adolescents, the group of confused in-betweens, would be making detailed plans of meeting, lunches and dinners for the next few days. What everyone will be doing, in their own way, will be letting go of everything else to just immerse themselves in the joy of these five days of festivities.
Pujō, was always less about religion, and more about the community-based joy and celebration. The young and old coming together to construct a magnificient pandal out of bamboo, or to rehearse for a play or a dance recital,to work together as caterers and care-takers. The relaxed banter, or the mischievous gossip, the 'group dates', the relaxed homecoming deadlines, the street food, the new clothes, the stolen sips or puffs..these are what pujō stand for in the minds of most people.It is a religious festival surprisingly free of religion, the rituals being reserved only for the hired purohit performing the puja, and the more 'religious minded' ones who act as helpers to him. Religion is not thrust upon you, it is an option you may choose. It is this sense of camraderie, a certain sense of 'belonging' that is in effect the essence of pujō.
So, when you're stuck in an alien land, even though the outer skin of it is the same- same rituals, same pandals, same cultural programs, even the same lingua franca; underneath it all, there is a realisation that you should have been else where.
The people, after all, are not the same, and Pujō is so much more about the people than anything else.