India is a land of festivals and festivities. There are so many festivals, big and small, celebrated across our diverse nation. The rituals, rites, traditions, legacy and celebrations associated with unique festivals are some of the factors that make us a vibrant country. East India celebrates many festivals with zeal and vigour and Bengal and Odisha reverberate with the spirit of Durga Puja.

As Durga Puja approaches, an air of festivity envelops the states and state of mind. Schools and colleges shut, signalling the start of the Durga Puja break. The advent of autumn, marked by the sight of Kaash flowers, stirs memories and excitement for the fun and blessings Maa Durga brings. People go on shopping sprees, buy new products, and plan trips with family or friends.

However, my Durga Puja itinerary is distinct. Despite a hectic work schedule, I always make it a point to visit my village. There is an indescribable joy in revisiting one’s roots. Meeting school and village friends, reminiscing about old times, and sharing moments of happiness has become a cherished tradition for me. A tradition I’ve upheld for 30 years.

During the two to three days of Puja, I reconnect with everyone in the village and offer monetary gifts. I have over a hundred batchmates from school. Back in those days, the school being in the remote village of Odisha, did not have its alumni placed well. By God’s grace, I have been able to take care of about 80 out of 100 friends over the last three decades. About 40 of them, or their children, are working at KIIT and KISS and are leading fulfilled lives. About 40 others receive monthly financial aid, which I fondly call ‘Friend Pension.’ The joy this brings is immeasurable.

The gratification I derive from helping my community is unparalleled. The bond of friendship, love, and compassion remains as strong as ever. I have maintained strong bonds, just like in the old days. Their reciprocation of love is my asset. Because I’m a simple and humble person, and my interactions with them have not changed even a bit. I talk with them about their sorrows and happiness. Their happiness becomes my own, and their challenges become mine. On the immersion day of Maa Durga, a day after Dusshera, all of us have a meeting, dining and discussion. It is a day that I look forward to every year.

I give Puja ‘Bakshish’ to thousands in our ecosystem of KIIT, KISS, KIMS and beyond. In my childhood, I never got chocolate or sweets from someone in the festive period, and I have felt the pain of deprivation while the world rejoices. So I give with full compassion and that gives me immense happiness. All I wish during Puja festivities is to spread happiness and smiles.

God, my mother and my life has taught me a simple lesson – to be grounded. Life has shown me the significance of remaining anchored. As the highest trees keep their roots firm, humility and simplicity are the guiding principles of my life. I consistently live by these tenets, holding dear the love and recollections nestled in the depths of my heart.