They had both been living in the same city, pursuing different streams – he was studying business management, she was studying engineering. They never had much in common since they were kids so they didn’t contact each other while they were both away from home studying. However, this pujo was different. It was as if they were being acquainted for the first time. They were inseparable throughout the four days. They would go on long walks together, they’d spend the nights huddled together on the rooftops, smoking cigarettes and looking at the bright lights that adorned the buildings, while losing themselves in the almost ethereal beauty of the night interspersed with little blobs of light.
Panchami saw him bringing her a bar of chocolate. He shyly offered it to her in front of her friends and she accepted it with a hurried thrust of her hand and a visible reddening of her cheeks. He walked away smiling. Just as he was about to enter his house he received a text from her saying ‘Thank You’ with a smiley after it. His face mimicked the grin that was present on the screen next to her message. Shoshti saw them sharing a taxi to Maddox. Not an Ola or Uber, but a good old yellow cab, a throwback to the times the city was called ‘Calcutta’. She couldn’t be more grateful to the traffic as his deodorant filled the cab for those long hours they were stuck on the road. She inched closer to him hesitantly. Suddenly without warning he put his arm around her shoulder. She was very shocked and almost moved away from the physical contact, it was all so new, all so electric to her. Instead she leaned her head on his arm turned her head to take in the smell of his shirt and slowly exhaled with content. He adjusted his arm to get into a more comfortable position for the rest of the ride. She would never forget that taxi ride to Maddox for the years to come. Shoptomi saw both of them with pits in their stomach, restless and uneasy for they were apart. He had gone pandal hopping with his family and she had gone out with some of her friends. The constant pinging of their phones helped them retain their sanity, while talking nonstop, from pandals to roads to restaurants, till their fingers ached and yet they could not stop sharing every minute detail of their lives with the other; so entwined they had become over these days.
Oshtomi came and her heart lifted when she saw him walking towards her looking resplendent in a red punjabi. She looked especially ethereal in her saree; he was almost certain that there wasn’t a woman on earth more beautiful than her. Their smiles mirrored each other’s’ as they went into the pandal together for the anjali. While the anjali was going on, she suddenly grabbed his hand tightly. He slipped his fingers in the spaces between her fingers and they fit perfectly, like two puzzle pieces coming together to form a beautiful picture. Of course both of them knew it was all about to end. Pujo was drawing to a close. There was just one day left. Tomorrow Maa Durga would be immersed in the Ganges and with her their love story would be immersed too. They were almost wistful about it. Doshomi came and soon it was time for the bhashan and the tempo and fervour of the dhakis almost made it seem possible. He almost said the words. She almost said something. Almost. Deep inside, both knew that it was the enchantment of the pujo that was holding them together. They’d never last a week without magic. Soon the idols were loaded on the truck and they got onto the truck too. He held her close, buffering her from the wind that grew colder later into the night. He whispered something in her ear that was drowned out by the other sounds in the truck. As he leaned in, the scent of her hair had made him say the words he dreaded the most. Luckily she had not heard him, instead just felt his lips move against her ear. On the way back home he held her the entire time. Both of them enjoyed each other’s company and the warmth of their closeness. The fact that they both knew it would soon be over made it even sweeter. They were last off the truck. As everyone around them hugged each other shubho bijoya they seized the opportunity. He embraced her with all his strength and she held on to him, almost wishing that she didn’t have to let go. In that very moment they were infinite but the embrace was over all too soon. They both went back to their homes. The lights that had adorned the buildings had been turned off for the night. They wouldn’t come back on again. Tomorrow the dhakis would go back home too, taking with them the last of the magic that seemed to hang around in the air, intoxicating all around with hope and belief that tomorrow would be a better day.
Sketch By: Kanishka Aggarwal