With the kind of freedom that village boys like us enjoyed in childhood, Durga Puja, celebrated as Bada Dasain in Gorkha ethnic societies ,was really worth a year ‘s waiting with the pure spirit and joy of its celebration .The eyes were neither blind to the silvery kohuas adorning the river banks nor to the dew washed night jasmines that carpeted the ground but the mind was too raw to find a link between the Kohuas, night jasmines and (Dasain) Durga Puja. It was celebration of Biswakarma puja near the village market by a few motor workers that heralded Durga puja for us.
A few days later, one of the classmates coming from market side whispered into our ears the breaking news when the teacher was busy writing on the blackboard. By the end of the period the news reached every ear. The wait for leisure was longer that day .The difference was of micro-seconds when the teacher walked out of the classroom through the door and a group of upper class bold students jumped through the unbarred broken windows to the backyard of the school. In no time the runners reached the market through some thatched sheds for instant verification of the breaking news. Yes, they had started. The artisans had started filling the straw figures with clay. Yes, Durga puja was near.
Back home the very day the breaking news of idol making was broken at home to elders as well as Youngers. After that every opportunity to visit the market place, in addition to going to school, was fully utilized and development in idol making was shared with the enthusiasts all along the way back home.
As puja drew near we gloated at the swelling shoppers in the local bi-weekly market. Then came the shopping day. A good number of families from our neighborhood had common shops for purchasing clothes and tailoring as well. The result was that many times we got clothes from the same piece and on puja days we looked like an unarmed infantry of dwarves donning in the same colour. Now we had another place to visit .Everyday, after school we peeped into the tailoring shop of Ali khura (as we called him) though it had already been agreed that he would deliver our clothes only in the morning of Belbodhan. Our sisters who used to get ready-made clothes from Tihu teased us at the delay.Our visits to the market became more frequent as preparations started at the community puja site. The village messenger came door to door collecting rice and money for the community puja. Beside this, it was compulsory for every family to send a family member with a bamboo to offer voluntary service at the puja pandal. Banana leaves served as the roof of the puja pandal. Besides, huge swings were erected at public places where the elders forgot their ages and swung with the children.
Our joy knew no bound when puja holiday was declared in school. We exercised full freedom of lingering about in the idol making site that day where the artisans were busy cladding the idols with sparkling attires .On our way back home that afternoon dhulia artists were seen camping at our school. Restrictions were relaxed on our home coming time.
Our village was at about one kilometer distance from market place but the first beating of drum by dhulias in the evening could not miss our ears. As planned earlier we sneaked out of homes lest our younger brothers and sisters should follow us to spoil our freedom. It was selfish of us no doubt but not a matter to compromise with our freedom.
As for our new dress and shoes we preferred to put them on the day of Vijaya Dashami while visiting our maternal uncles but tried them on several times whenever a guest or neighbor visited us. At the puja pandal we, the friends, did not feel like standing in queue in front of the Durga temple with other devotees as if it was a matter of shame to renew our relations with our special acquaintances, the Gods and Goddesses .Not the prayer but the Prasad that we were interested in. Even the Dhulia show could not hold us on for a long time. Like a swarm of butterflies our army shuttled between the dhulia show, mina bazaar and sweet shops enjoying jalebis, mitha paan (prohibited at our age) and buying balloons to content the sulking youngers at home. We returned home before midnight shouting and hooting to scare away the fear of evil spirits. It was a routine work for the next three days. The only thing that filled the young minds with horror was the sacrifice of buffalo on Navami .Thanks to the resolution of the puja committee to stop the practice long ago.
Sometimes rain spoiled our merriment. We planted chillies upside down on the backyard of houses hopping that this would stop the rain and we could put on our special dress and leather like shoes on Vijaya Dashami. The muddy roads shrouded our joy but the new shoes were tried several times indoors to adapt with them in case the weather cleared. As Vijaya Dashami was a special occasion at home none of us took part in immersion of the idols but the heart shrank when we walked through the empty puja pandal to our maternal uncles’ home the same evening.
Now a days a huge and beautifully decorated pandal is erected in front of the permanent Durga temple .The whole family goes to offer prayer to the temple carpeted from a long distance .Children clad in beautiful dress move about the pandal in the bright decoration of lights holding their elders’ hands. What goes missing is the group of small boys, carefree and spirited, thronging the pandal.