“So, what do you plan to pray for today?” enquired Soma, as they got into the car.
“Hmm. Haven’t really thought about it. Maybe a promotion or a pay hike.” considered Diana while adjusting her seat-belt.
“And not world peace?” teased Soma.
“I am not delusional darling.”, replied Diana with a tired smile. “Besides that’s not up to the Gods is it?”
“Well, you’re right about that.” Soma gave a quick nod as she started the ignition.
They reached the pandal, got out of the car and collected the plate from the backseat. The pandal was in the process of being dismantled and stowed away onto trucks. Left-over decorations, wooden tables and heaps of used Styrofoam cutlery were strewn on the ground. It lent a sense of finality to Pujo. A portion of the pandal remained, sheltering the idols and the sparse crowd. Diana felt a little uneasy and nostalgic. Looking at the remnants of the structure, it was hard to imagine that this was where they spent the last five days rejoicing. No wonder Soma felt down in the dumps on Dashami mornings.
As they walked, Diana recollected the first time Soma had brought her to a Durga Pujo pandal. She had been greeted by a variety of sensory inputs. She had witnessed the resplendently decorated interior of the pandal, and the radiant, mingling crowd of Bengalis, across all age-groups, dressed in bright, cheerful apparel. She had heard the loud, rhythmic beats of the dhaaks  and the timely, repeated clang of the accompanying kashor-ghonta , signalling the evening aroti. She had smelt the blended aroma of incense sticks, dhunuchi , camphor, sandalwood and flowers being used near the mandap.
Even the aroti, Diana observed, had engaged all her senses. She had stood amazed at the finesse and intricacy of the idols and their accessories. The more carefully she had looked, the more details she had been able to discover, and this astounded her. Diana had later excitedly gushed to Soma about the skilled handiwork of the craftspeople who worked on these idols.
Today, the idols were stationed outside the mandap, with a significantly long line of women in front of them, dressed in different kinds of laal paad sarees, carrying their plates of mishti, sindur and other items used for the ritual of boron . Diana and Soma took their place at the end of the line and waited for their turn. On Dashami, after the prescribed rituals had been performed by the priest, the idols were brought down from the mandap for the Goddess’ boron which was traditionally performed by married Bengali women.
Diana and Soma stood conversing, and at times their conversation was interspersed with sudden beats played on the dhaak, to keep rhythm with the women who were dancing in a circle, having already performed boron. The two of them watched the happy women indulge in their revelry, as their line gradually shortened and brought them closer to the idols. They also kept a watch on the movements of the women near the idols, to gauge where the feet of the idols were placed, so as to avoid delay and confusion during their turn. The couple then removed their footwear and kept them secure on one side before taking their positions near Ganesha’s  idol.
“Okay. You know the drill. Let’s go!” announced Soma as she swooped down to Ganesha’s feet for blessings. Diana followed her, took a close look at the idol with a smile, petted Ganesha’s mouse on the head and solemnly said, “Dear Ganesh ji, give Soma the wisdom to know better, than to cook karela  every alternate day.” This caused the woman in question to roll her eyes and say, “And please give Diana the wisdom to know what’s good for her.” This made Diana tap her temple in order to indicate intelligence and declare with a grin, “Well, I am with you aren’t I.”
Next up was the idol of Lokhkhi . Once again Soma bent down to touch Lokhkhi’s feet, while Diana admired the handcrafted patterns on Lokhkhi’s mukut . As Soma said her prayers to Lokhkhi, Diana petted the white owl and prayed for a decent pay hike.
Then they reached the Goddess. Soma humbly held the plate of sweets in front of Her as an offering and bowed. She took the small container of sindur, and with it touched the Goddess’ feet. As Soma prayed, Diana fondly gazed at her, and then met the bright, benevolent eyes of the Goddess. Diana smiled, overcome with emotion and mouthed a silent “Thank You” at the smiling Goddess. She then patted the fierce lion and moved onto the idol of Saraswati  as Soma caught up with her.
After they had prayed to Saraswati and Kartik , and Diana had dutifully petted the swan and the peacock, they searched out their footwear and stood close to each other in an uncrowded corner.
“Alright. Now comes the fun part.” said Soma and opened the small container of sindur on the plate and looked expectantly towards Diana. She responded by taking a small pinch of sindur and putting it gently on Soma’s hair parting. Then she wiped the remnants of sindur upon her fingers by making deft strokes on Soma’s cheeks.
Soma lovingly reciprocated by applying a little bit of sindur on Diana’s hair parting and made a little bindi  on her forehead, and quickly wiped her finger on Diana’s long nose turning it red.
“Hey!” protested Diana.
“There you go Rudolph.” chuckled Soma, and immediately wiped Diana’s nose with her anchol . “No need to go crazy. Getting some sindur on the nose is considered auspicious.”
“Even when put deliberately?” enquired Diana, with a doubtful frown.
“Well, the specifics are a bit unclear. So you never know.” shrugged Soma.
They greeted a few Bengali acquaintances at the pandal and engaged in sindur khela with the women. When it was time to leave, they bid the Goddess goodbye, and Diana gave a short wave and wished them a safe journey back to Mount Kailash. The couple left the pandal and walked towards their car. Both of them were tired but contented.
“Ah, so it’s all done then.” sighed Diana while opening the car door for Soma.
“Not entirely. We still have to get shanti jol , eat some mishti and wish each other Shubho Bijoya .” replied Soma while getting into the car.
“Oh right bijoya! And that’s my cue to give you a tight hug.” reminisced Diana happily while taking the driver’s seat.
“Or, you could touch my feet since I am older than you.” Soma suggested with a twinkle in her eyes.
“Please.”, replied Diana dismissively. “A difference of four months means nothing.”
“How about a foot massage then?”, bargained Soma while wearing her seat belt.
“Only if you reciprocate.”, Diana negotiated as she started the car. “My feet hurt too.”
“Deal.” assented Soma as they drove home.
 Dhaak – The elongated drums played by the dhaakis during important rituals during Durga Pujo, and to create a festive ambience
 Kashor-Ghonta – A round shaped, metallic plate which acts as a musical accompaniment to the dhaak, and is played by striking it with a wooden stick.
 Dhunuchi – A special variant of incense used during Durga Pujo. Dhunuchi is an earthen cup with a stand. The cup is filled with dry husks of coconut and camphor and is then lit.
 Boron – The ritual performed by married Bengali women before the departure of Goddess Durga.
 Ganesh – The eldest child of Goddess Durga. Among other things, Ganesh is the God of wisdom and prosperity.
 Karela – Bitter gourd
 Lokhkhi – Lakshmi. One of the two daughters of Goddess Durga. Lokhkhi is the Goddess of well-being and prosperity.
 Mukut – Crown; elaborate headgear
 Saraswati – The other daughter of Goddess Durga. Saraswati is the Goddess of knowledge and the Arts.
 Kartik – The younger son of Goddess Durga. Kartik is an astute warrior and is admired for his good looks.
 Bindi – A round mark made with vermillion at the centre of the forehead.
 Anchol – The long, loose portion of the saree that dangles behind, a portion of which is pinned onto the blouse.
 Shanti Jol – Water from the river Ganges. Shanti Jol is sprinkled upon the devotees by the priest after the immersion of the idols.
 Shubho Bijoya! – The greeting exchanged by Bengalis after getting shanti jol, to celebrate the triumph of goodness over the forces of evil.