These days as I leave after work, the time is the same, but it is darker. In the northern hemisphere, the day is getting shorter, as the sun is closer to the Tropic of Capricorn. Somewhere in the distance winter lurks. But before winter comes autumn, the best season in Delhi. Autumn that normally spans mid September to November is awaited not only for the awesome weather, but also because it brings the festive season. As I drive home, many shops, entire roads and many houses are lit up, heralding the festive season. What is it about a festival that permeates the entire air with a sense of anticipation and happiness?
October is normally the month, in which the ten day long festival of Dusshera/Durga puja falls, followed by Deepavali, the festival of lights. The manner in which festivals are celebrated has changed a lot, and yet a lot remains unchanged too. Earlier, celebrations were more local. Neighborhoods presented small ‘Ram Lilas’ – a ten day story telling of King Ram’s battle with Ravana. On the last day, when Ravana’s effigy was burnt, it invariably gave a sense of vindication of good over evil. Diwali was about lighting the house with candles/lamps and bursting crackers, with meeting close family thrown in. Not to mention some evenings spent in small time gambling in card games!
Festivals these days are heralded by the e-commerce sites. Their sales are aggressively advertised, and shopping is the main focus. The lights that adorn houses are all electric, and lamps are decorative! Ram Lilas and Durga puja pandals are bigger and more ostentatious. Everything is larger than life and more dramatic. Traffic jams deter from moving around, and most of us desist from bursting crackers to prevent pollution. The festive spirit however remains the same, it catches everyone in its wake and sweeps us along. It even makes one forget for the time the sense of melancholy that autumn often brings.
As the days get shorter, in colder countries, during the fall leaves change color and make the landscape a breathtaking kaleidoscope. From burnt red, to maroon, bright yellow, to grey and darker hues, the changing colors of autumn create an unfathomable atmosphere. I remember in Japan, ‘momijigari’ or travelling to see the autumn leaves was an integral part of culture. The myriad hues stay in the mind long after the leaves are gone!
In Delhi, autumn is marked by the smell from the blooms of the Alstonia scholaris or the Scholar tree. An evergreen tree with white funnel-shaped flowers.(Named after Professor C. Alston, a Scottish botanist). If you are lucky enough to live or work in the greener parts of Central Delhi, the heady, enchanting smell hits you every autumn evening. For me, the first whiff means that winter is round the corner.
The slight nip in the air, dark evenings, carpets of fallen leaves that line the sidewalk, the maddening scent of the scholar tree – all add up to a melancholy feeling. It is that time of the year when one yearns to sit and sip a cup of tea with an old and dear friend. Hold a hand that promises comfort and engagement. It is a time when longings and desires seem to stir deep within and seek fulfillment. Everything that seems to be left behind in the passage of life seems to reach out and tug at the heart strings. Autumn is the season of moving on. In nature, it heralds change and makes space for the new. There is a lot to learn from the passing of autumn.
As winter claims the city, the yearning and whispering of autumn evenings calms down. Spring seems to be around the bend, and life goes on.