I am agnostic to Durga Puja. I am not exactly opposed to it, but I believe in living and letting live. As long as Durga Puja (the first phrase I came across in my life that was abbreviated to DP, courtesy: Presidency College days) lets me live on my own, I do not have an issue with others celebrating. I can tolerate the stench of chilli sauce and stale noodles in the air for four days. It is infinitely more tolerable than the Diwali noise-pollution and people forcing you to play Holi.
But this is not about me. Neither is it about Durga Puja. It is about Dussehra, the festival where Raavan is felled: Raavan, of great valour, of ten heads (is the torso under the fifth head or the sixth?), of near-unmatched sexual prowess, of unflinching dedication to Shiva, of great musical talent — a man who simply chose to kidnap the wrong woman to avenge his wounded nymphomaniac of a sister.
But this is not about Raavan. This is about Dussehra, a festival not as big as Diwali or Holi in Mumbai, but popular nevertheless. Women (and even men) of Mumbai celebrate Navratri in colour-coded attire, one for every day.
Note: This is a remarkable phenomenon, the Navratri colour codes. This year, for example, the colours were red, navy blue, yellow, green, grey, orange, white, pink, sky blue, and purple in that order for the ten days from Pratipad to Dasami. This time there were two Pratipads and a single day for Navami and Dasami, but there were ten days nevertheless. You get the basic idea. If you do not, check this photograph from DNA.
This was Dussehra. Navi Mumbai had shut down completely (the term is subjective: a completely shut Navi Mumbai afternoon is comparable to a fully functional Kolkata afternoon). I made my way through the Vashi Station subway and found the underground passage uncharacteristically empty.
Holidays are supposed to be like that, unless you are in a media organisation.
More so if you are into sport, which knows no time.
More so if India plays South Africa at home, trailing the series 1-2 with two matches to play.
Yeah, that sums it up all right.
But no, I am digressing. I left for work an hour before the match started. I passed the railway station, walking in the sultry yet tolerable October sun of Navi Mumbai.
I almost passed the mall that has the words INOX sprawled over the top floor in humongous dark blue font.
And then I saw them. Or rather, they saw me.
A boy and a girl, in her high teens; or maybe in their low twenties.
They were not from well-to-do families. It was evident.
They were clearly out on a date on a Dussehra afternoon.
Maybe she was from a conservative family. Maybe it had taken him a lot of coaxing to sneak her out on Dussehra. Maybe she had lied that she was going out with female friends.
You know when it happens. You can tell it from their faces.
He, the emperor of the world, now that he has her by his side.
She, the empress of the world, having granted him a wish after being wooed for so long.
They, the first family of the world, for there was joy in their eyes. Their fingers were not interlinked, but the glint in the eyes was unmistakable.
I was in a hurry. So were they.
They asked me where CineMAX was. I was about to ask them to check their smartphones, but realised they did not have any.
Affordability had to do with it, but I loved to believe there was more: they were too immersed in themselves to not care about communication with the world.
I gave them vague directions using my phone. She looked back, confusion in her eyes, before looking at him. He was confused as well, but there was a smile of assurance in his eyes.
I showed him the direction on my phone. This time he understood, smiled, thanked me, and looked around for transport.
The awe in her eyes for him is a spectacle that would be with me for an eternity.
No, he could not afford to buy INOX tickets on a holiday. I knew that much. CineMAX was the inexpensive alternative.
It was the closest I came to offering a couple INOX tickets. Why not do something good for a change?
But then, it seemed so futile — for I could hardly add to his seemingly inexhaustible riches.
Kings, unlike us, do not ask for alms.
And for those few moments, that Navi Mumbai Dussehra became a Kolkata February, transcending boundaries of space and time.
And I lived my Durga Puja.