I am a hard-core Punekar, but with a twist- a Bengali Punekar. Incidentally, Pune does have a huge Bengali population. And the ONE time you see us clan up is during that of Durga Pooja. We forget all about the other people and priorities in life and just focus on all things “Pujo”.
There are some traditions that we have followed since I was very young. Of course, now a lot of things have changed, but the nostalgia of how things were, are still fresh in my mind. Here is a list of five things we just had to do, gearing up to and during Durga Pooja.
The Saree Shopping – This particular season signified the holy visit to all the saree shops on Laxmi Road. This was essential, as my mum believed nowhere else in Pune would she get the drape of her choice, so we travelled all the way to Laxmi road at least three days in a row, till she got her stock of sarees to see her through the Pujo season.
The Pandal Hopping – Not much has changed about this tradition, except that there are many more pandals to hop these days. About 30 years back (that’s as far back as I can remember), the list included Congress Bhavan and Khadki.
Over the years, Kalyani Nagar, Vishrantwadi, Koregaon Park, Dehu Road and many more were added to the list. We would scan the entertainment programme schedule at our pandal and list out the days and time-table of which pandal and when, to hop-to. My parents, and their friends worked this schedule out with military precision and nothing and no one could stop us from following it.
The Ashthami Bhog – This is a big one and it has and will always be mayhem. There are friends and friends of friends invited to the pandal for bhog. The piping hot khichudi, the tangy tomato chaatney, and the yummy labra, makes for a simply delicious spread that one can just not refuse. Our neighbours and friends always looked forward to the invitation and despite being thronged by people, they immensely enjoyed the bhog.
The Visit to Congress Bhavan – Even with the meticulous planning, we tend to miss going to some or the other pandal (given there are about 30 of them now in Pune). But going to Congress Bhavan and eating rolls there has been a tradition for as long as I can remember. I don’t know why specifically rolls, but rolls. Not that we don’t head for the likes of fish cutlets and mangshor chop loochi thereafter, but it always had to start with rolls. The guys putting up stalls and selling rolls have changed every year, but we have kept up the tradition.
The Food – This HAD to be in the list. The five days of Pujo we never cooked at home. Somehow, during this period, all of us actually seem to have asuras in our stomach.
Be it eating platefuls of biryani, loochi aalor dom, kosha mangsho, the dimer deveel and satiating our sweet tooth with the array of mishti available, we just can’t seem to stop eating! Pune being a city of food lovers, all the pandals would be full of Punekars devouring plates after plates of food. Every year we happen to run into some friends or acquaintance or some Pednekar kaka or Sharma aunty, who along with their families, are just there to slurp up the sumptuous food.
So, these are five nostalgic memories of all the years of celebrating Pujo in Pune. Some things have changed, some not so much. Even today my Mum has to make a mandatory visit to Laxmi Road, and even today students enjoy the food at the various pandals. Pune has grown, and we have with it. But Pujo for me will never be like Pujo anywhere away from Pune.