Those days we used to wait for it. Those days when I was 12 or 13 and coincidently my friends were about the same age, we used to wait for it. Holi and Diwali never figured in our favorite festival’s list, but it did and we used to wait for it. The Feel, The Energy and the festivity that happened in late January and early February every year and like any other Patna guy(or perhaps any not-so-small town guy) I used to wait for it.
Patna, arguably the only recognized city in the state of Bihar is the epicenter of all educational activities. Convent schools, Intermediate colleges, Graduation colleges and speckled in between the colleges are coaching centers each of which is run by an Ex-IITan and each of which guarantees a seat in the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology. And the students from all across Bihar and Jharkhand and Eastern UP come running to the city in pursuit of education. And the city lives to their promises. Hence students form a perpetual part of Patna - rich, poor, timid and violent, students of all types and varieties. Education is the prime topic of discussion. While Gujaratis love their money, Punjabis love their food, Tamilians love their culture, Biharis love their education till the verge of obsession.
And Goddess Saraswati oversees all educational activities. She is the goddess of wisdom, knowledge and enlightenment. Because of her benevolence, people crack competitions, pass their semester and yearly examinations and get through tricky job interviews. It’s because of Goddess Saraswati that we have so many Engineers and Doctors and Lawyers and Managers in our country. Saraswati prepares people to worship Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth and prosperity) for the rest of their lives. And Patna leaves no stone unturned in making the goddess joyous. Saraswati Pooja is the annual fest of all colleges, schools and coaching centers of Patna. Some of them even call it the unofficial Valentine’s Day of Patna.
The glorious 90s - the decade I was brought up in, celebrated the festival in Grand Style. Boys in groups of 5-10 knocked every door in the locality urging (or begging or threatening) for Chanda (donation). People sometimes willingly contributed and sometimes unwillingly gave away cash ranging from Rs. 5 to Rs. 501. Every Collection Committee managed enough cash for the entire worshiping ceremony, lighting, sounds, VCRs and a rented color television for playing pirated video cassettes for late night movie watching. The elderly students fondly addressed as” Bhaiyyas” by everyone even saved enough cash for their beer and porn movies. Brightly lit Pandals, statues of the goddess adorned with marigold and rose garlands, a continuously chanting Pundit and noise all around, the craziness seemed absolute sanity at that time.
The Geniuses who were experts at handling locally assembled music systems or “decks” as we called them ensured that entire colony listened while the Pundit chanted by strategically placing the metallic loudspeakers on electric poles, roofs of neighbors, or even ad lib bamboo poles. No one in the locality complained, the curse of Saraswati could have rendered their children uneducated and unpolished for life. The same loudspeakers proudly broadcasted the latest chart-busters for three continuous days. Alien words like “Bass” and “Treble” were still to make ways into our lives. “Loudness” was very much in. So when the songs were played, people switched to sign languages in their respective homes. That was the time when music from movies “Aashiqi”, “Sadak”, “Mohra”, “Dil” etc. made their way into our lives. When there were multiple pandals around, there used to be an impromptu music contest that continued till wee hours of the night. Everyone wanted his Pundit to be heard and everyone wanted his music to rule. And we innocently remixed songs without any hi-fi mixing instruments.
And that was the time when we started noticing love around us, for the first time. Girls flocked at the Pandals dressed in bright Salwar-Kurtis usually ranging from pale saffron to bright orange which is the official dress code for Saraswati Pooja. And their lovers went out of their way to give them a personalized treatment. Once the love of their life appeared at the Pandal, the music usually switched to a soft romantic Ballad, a “chori chori jab nazrein mili” or a “Nazar ke saamne, Jigar ke Paas”. The expression on the girl’s face would change from happy to shy to a state where fathoming expressions became impossible. And her friends elbowing her frenziedly so much so that she’d stop looking at anyone. And then the hero would appear with Prasad Packets neatly arranged onto a metallic tray. The usually ordinary Prasad would be garnished with generous helping of seasonal fruits and sweets. Some lucky lovers even managed to spend some private Prasad munching moments with their girls as her friends would leave as soon as the guy appeared. Everything was planned without even planning. The demonstration of love continued till every single guy of the committee got to treat her girl flamboyantly. Saraswati, the white adorned goddess of wisdom with a constant smile on her face silently played the love goddess. The show continued till three days and after the Pooja new couples surfaced.
Now when I switch on my workstation on a Saraswati Pooja day or any festival that made me go wild in old days, a smile robotically comes on my lips. The songs start playing somewhere inside my mind and flashes of guys dancing and girls shyly accepting their Prasad packets and wailing kids and chanting pundits and blaring loudspeakers appear on my mental canvas. While I mechanically pretend to be lost in work, my mind dances in the streets where a white idol of the goddess of wisdom smiles at my moves.