I have never quite been able to explain why Puri holds such a special place in my heart.
May be it’s the lazy languorous summer vacations spent in Puri as a child.
The first brush of a wide-eyed me with infinity, the arrogant vastness of space.
May be it’s the allure of the ageless expanse of the Bay of Bengal.
The symphony of sun and sand.
The gorgeous sunrises. An invisible genius frivolously painting the canvas of the heavens in splendid shades of crimson and scarlet.
Or the sublime full-moon nights. The pristine orb of a luminous orange moon arising from a Stygian dark sea.
(It’s much later though that I fell prey to the beguiling seduction of new moon nights in Puri.
A haunting world of ebony darkness, cradled by a million pin-prick diamonds above.
And the shimmering-silver phosphorescent crest of the waves, wave after wave lashing the earth with the monotonous frequency of a beating heart.)
Or may be it’s the magnetic charm of the Lord.
The imposing ancient temple, the stunning architecture, the awe-inspiring ambience of the holy precincts.
Whatever the reason might be, Puri continues to beckon me even to this day.
To return to the Lord.
The narrow alleys. Where cycle rickshaws and cows jostle for that last available square-inch of space.
The delectable prasadam at the temple.
Or the to-die-for chhana pora at the numerous nondescript sweet shops that dot the town.
So it’s wistful nostalgia for me on this auspicious day of Rathyatra, the chariot festival when the Lord and his siblings are all set to take a jaunt to their aunt.
Memories of years gone by.
Of Puri and the Lord.
Of the rother mela in our sleepy town in Assam (annual fair on the grounds by the river on the occasion of Rathyatra) Maa would religiously accompany Dada and me to.
Where Dada and I took turns to aim at balloons, arranged in disciplined concentric circles on a faded no-longer-white backdrop, with a long-nosed antiquated gun.
And went round and round in a ferris-wheel inspired wooden contraption, pushed with youthful gusto by two barely-out-of-teens boys, till our heads spun dizzy and our stomachs belched with peals of laughter.
And gorged on beguni (eggplant fritters) and pnapor-bhaja (fried papadum), generously seasoned with salt.
It has to be beguni then to relive those honey-sweet childhood memories around Rathyatra.
Mind you, not the usual dipped-in-a-spiced-besan-
Today it has to be Grandma’s special beguni, reserved for only those rare celebratory occasions. Or when Dada and I begged her for them.
Eggplant slices encased in a moong dal paste. Spiked with ginger and chillies. Perfumed with fennel seeds. And fried to a sinful golden.
Guaranteed to light up your Rathyatra evening for sure !!!