First time since your childhood, I assume, you will be witnessing a downsized version of the Mukherjees’ iconic Durga Pujo, which is in its 73rd year. Every year, thousands flock to the North Bombay Sarbojanin Durga Puja during all the days of festivity. This year the celebration is obviously different?
Yes, it is different and a very low-key affair because as a community and society, we need to abide by the law, and if there is a rule for how all the pujas and festivities have to be done, it’s only for the safety of every individual. As it is a puja, we did not want to put a halt to it, so it is being done in a very low-key manner where only the main puja of Maa Durga is taking place, and anything else that happens around the puja, for instance, serving bhog, distribution of prasad and even the entertainment, which is an important cultural exchange program that happens during puja — all that has been cancelled. Looking at the pandemic situation, especially in Mumbai and Maharashtra, there will be only the puja of the Goddess.
What are you missing the most about the otherwise elaborate celebrations, which I guess is a close-knit family affair this year?
Actually, it won’t even be a close-knit family affair because all the family members and the puja committee members have been told that they can come for the darshan only if they are taking proper safety measures. And safety measures are being taken at the pandal as well, but it is not open to the public the way it normally is since it’s a sarbojanin puja. I think what we are missing the most is the fact that once a year all the family members come together under one roof, but this year that is not going to happen. We also enjoy feeding so many people who come to visit our puja with our own hands. I think the poribeshon (serving food to everyone) is also something that I will miss and, of course, the bhog, which is something that we look forward to eating every year. I think there is so much that has happened this year that to let go of one year of celebration is the most sensible decision that the family and the puja committee members have taken. We look forward to doing it next year once everything is better.
Did you still manage to buy some special saris just to mark the occasion and soak in the spirit of the pujo?
This is the only year that I haven’t done that. I will definitely be doing a small puja in my house, as my daughter is still very young, and I want to keep the tradition alive. So, I am going to do the Kanjak Puja on Ashtami, which I do every year. I have got new clothes made for my daughter, Adira, and I am sure that I will find a new sari for myself in my closet.
Like many others, will you also be viewing the pujo virtually then?
If any committee or family member wants to watch the puja, they can do so from the safety of their homes, virtually. I join in during the aarti and pushpanjali. We also might have the whole family to do a video conference call so that we can say our ‘hellos’ and wish each other Happy Pujo!
Given that you are so attached to your family pujo, is Adira now slightly aware of what the festivities are about?
She knows about it completely because for the last two years I have been taking her to the pandal. Last year, she spent a little more time since she is older now, and it is unfortunate that this year she is not going to see that and there will be a year’s gap. I will still see if I can probably do a quick darshan, and knowing me, I will feel the urge to go, and might do it. There are no concrete plans as of now, I will take it as it comes. During COVID times, making plans is not a very sensible thing to do; we have to take it one day at a time.
We are all finally coming out of a long period of lockdown. It has been a tough, but an introspective phase for many. What have been your learnings from this phase?
What has been keeping me really busy is my daughter’s online schooling for the past seven-eight months and since she is only four-and-a-half years old, I had to be around throughout. I also finished shooting the remaining work for my upcoming film, which was a different working experience during the pandemic. We have to take each day as it comes and we all have to be very thankful for what we are blessed with. We should be thankful for our good health, having a roof over our heads and being able to eat what we eat. These are things which we have been able to understand and appreciate more in a situation like this. We are now humbler about all the things that we would have probably taken for granted when this pandemic was not there. It has been a good phase in terms of spending quality time with the family, being at home and doing things, which we couldn’t do owing to our busy schedules. I have taken to baking again that I always loved doing. I tried to hone my skills as I had so much time in hand. I have also learnt how to make Indian sweets from scratch, like sandesh, rasmalai, rasgulla and kaju katli. I have been learning a lot of things and I feel that learning for every individual is enriching
I think what’s positive about the current situation is the kind of uninterrupted family time that many of us have got. It has also helped us understand each other better…
Well, it has let me understand my daughter completely because the time that she would spend at school, I would actually not know what she is doing in terms of her overall growth. So, just being there day in and day out has been a wonderful experience. I have always said that teachers are the most important community as they are the ones who lay the foundation for the way the next generation is going to shape up. A teacher’s contribution is so crucial, and going through these seven-eight months of the pandemic with my child and educating her at home has made me realise this. The news that we have been getting over the last few months about the difficulties that children in the world are facing has been the cause of my constant worry. Since my daughter is four years old, my concern has been for children of her age whose formative years that are spent in school has hit a roadblock because the most important aspect for them is to go to school physically, meet friends, play with them and interact with teachers… but that entire process has come to a standstill.
For adults, it has been a different experience, but for kids, it has been very different and difficult. I am experiencing this obviously because I have a child of that age. I think of all the parents who have children who are above two years of age and they are pretty much facing the same thing because you want your child to run around, go to the park, beach, school and have that experience of interacting with other kids. This is something that they are really missing out on. When the pandemic is over, we will have to see what effect it has had on them psychologically. Some children can’t even express what they might be feeling, and some kids can even block that feeling, so I don’t know how it will impact them. I am just hoping and crossing my fingers that all the children are protected and come out of this phase with a positive mindset. We have to work extra hard to remove the fear of this pandemic from their hearts and heads. Obviously, they know about COVID-19 and they know the reason why they are not being sent to school. The fear is instilled in them. It is something that we will have to work on to get rid-off. That has been my most worrisome thought during this pandemic. For me, it has been amazing, but as a mother, I am very saddened by the fact that my daughter is unable to do things, which she earlier could do. Parents have been communicating with each other and the teachers on how we can help our children to the best of our abilities.