Fearing crowded places, Hyderabadis celebrates the festival with picnics, family dinners and compact house parties
After a half-hearted year, there is again a distinctly familiar festive buzz in the air as Dasara approaches. On traffic-free Sundays, the Tank Bund gets ready as sidewalk stalls selling fast food, clothes and crafts give it the cheerful vibe of a mela. In the cheerful crowd, cannawalas woo buyers as they compete with mirchi bajji stalls.
Shopping malls are teeming with shoppers juggling multiple shopping bags as they make their last stop at the popcorn stand. People seem to be celebrating a return to normal with a sense of relief. However, with children yet to be vaccinated and the pandemic not over yet, people are finding safe ways to celebrate, from family dinners to long car rides.
The popular puja pandals are back in place, Bangiya Sanskritik Sangha, Hyderabad Bengali Samiti, Kalibari and Attapur Bengali Association. All puja pandals have restricted the number of entries to avoid overcrowding. Checks will also be carried out on vaccination certificates. The Bangiya Sanskritik Samiti changes the location from Keyes High School to Mahbub College on SD Road, near the Secunderabad Clock Tower. Shifted time slots for darshan and bhog take-out are some of the other measures tailored to reduce crowds and keep celebrations safe this year.
Rakhi Sarkar, a consultant to a law firm has decided to stay away from puja pandals but will compensate by ordering Bengali food. Several Bengali restaurants organize gastronomic feasts. Restaurants like Aqua at The Park, Sarkar’s Kitchen and Hyatt Place have special puja menus. Rakhi says, “Durga Puja stands for great food, laughter and meeting friends. So my friends divided the four days of house parties between us, each getting together with karaoke, card games, and good food.
Restaurateur Sarita Sarkar makes sure pandal Durga Puja food is on the menu for this festive vibe. Sarita is the owner of Sarkar’s Kitchen which opened a month ago in Banjara Hills. A cancer survivor who fought COVID-19, Sarita had to close her restaurants in Kondapur, lost her father and was surprised to find an opportunity to open a new branch in the heart of the city. So this year, she celebrates Puja to express her gratitude. Sarita says: “I offer a menu combined with favorite Puja dishes like khichdi, luchi, pulao, manghso, ilish, mishti and more. I want to celebrate this puja because when everything seemed dark I was able to start a restaurant all over again.
Aiyan Bhoumick, a teacher, says he is throwing a party for his son and his friends. “The kids will go back to school after a year, which is a big problem. I want to celebrate the moment. He plans to take the group of six children aged 10 to 14 to visit the famous banyan tree in Chevella, 45 kilometers from their home. “I treat it like a field trip with homemade sandwiches, fries and chicken rolls for them to remember the official end of the lockdown,” he adds.
The absence of the government-hosted celebrations of Bathukamma (a flower festival in Telangana to celebrate the goddesses Gowri) has sparked nostalgia for people swapping videos and YouTube links of past great celebrations. “Now that we are all vaccinated, our ladies are regrouping in the Bastis can’t wait to go out, ”says Janaki N, cook and owner of a Kirana store.
The women of Kukatpally flock to Anjaneya Swami temple to celebrate Bathukamma, decked out in their silk saris and jewelry, making sure they don’t miss this festival.