After Ravana was reduced to ashes, the crowd would rush out, leaving behind 30-40 families, the Bengalis, who would now wait for the arrival of the shanti jal (holy water, though literal translation would be 'water of peace'). Shanti jal is the water collected after the idol of Goddess Durga is immersed, and in the case of Kanpur, shanti jal is also Ganga jal.
Eventually the party which went for the immersion would return in trucks, and the priest would sprinkle the water with mango leaves. Sweets were distributed and people wished other, touched the feet of the elders, and went home. From the next evening, till Diwali, Bengali families would visit each other, often unannounced, to, well, eat. The menu usually would be an assortment of sweets and salty snacks. If the host was generous, there would also be ghughni -- chanaa masala.
I don't think that happens anymore. At least you don't go to anyone's home unannounced: now there is the telephone over which you could either get invited or invite yourself over. In any case, cable TV has cut out the dependency on neighbours for evening entertainment/timepass. You now live in a self-contained world where everything is available with a press of the button -- even dinner. And what is the point going overboard with celebrations when the kids are no longer kids but have become the new generation, scattered in various cities and living in their own self-contained islands and celebrating Puja in their own way?
But some things don't change. Like the weather. No matter how hot it gets during the day, there is a mild chill in the evenings. And just before the sunset, the air is fragrant and smokey, dhuan dhuan. That's when you know Durga Puja is round the corner, and that the festive season, which would last till the year-end, has begun. The fragrant air brings in, more than anything else, plenty of memories and the reminder that once upon a time you were a kid: wasn't it just the other day, when we spent entire days at the neighbourhood pandal, and in the night went pandal-hopping?
One of the chief attractions of Durga Puja during my childhood was the 'orchestra' -- a local orchestra party would present latest Hindi songs, and those days you didn't have the synthesiser, so there was the piano accordion and quite a few violins. My earliest memories of watching an orchestra dates back to 1977. An ageing ex-Air Force employee called Prashant Chatterjee, hugely popular in Kanpur at the time, was performing at the same community ground with his team. All the Kishore Kumar songs, including those from Hum Kisise Kam Nahin, were sung by a young, bearded, bespectacled man called Abhijeet Bhattacharya. Today, the world knows him as Abhijeet, the singer. Last Saturday, when I was making the front page, I saw a UNI picture of Abhijeet and Sanjay Dutt posing before a Durga idol in Mumbai. My memories went back 30 years and I front-paged the picture.
I wonder what has become of Prashant Chatterjee. I pass his house every time I visit Kanpur, but I am too scared to find out.