Alas, during Dussehra 2021 too, we are still ridden with the risks of COVID-19, and large gatherings cannot be organised the way they used to be pre-pandemic.
Still, people carry profound memories of Dussehra in their hearts -- all that joy and celebration -- hoping to relive them once again.
Sonakshi Naveen, who is currently pursuing her MBA, still remembers vividly how as a little girl she would eagerly wait for her father to come home in the evening so that the family could go to their nearby Ramlila.
"My parents used to be very busy with their jobs when I was a kid. But when the Ramlilas were organised, we used to go there every day and it was a very happy time," she told ANI.
Some of her favourite memories revolve around the mouth-watering food in the melas and the thrilling jhulas.
"My mom especially used to go there just to eat her favourite tikki-chhole and rabri-jalebi, every single day. My favourite memory is sitting on the Giant wheel with pink cotton candy in my hand, with all those beautiful lights and decorations around me," she spoke in a nostalgic tone.
The members of the Ramlila committees also shared their disappointment, since organising the Ramlilas is very close to their hearts.
Pramod Jain, Leela Mantri of Shri Keshav Ramlila committee NSP, Pitam Pura, talked about the current scenario of Ramlila performances.
"This year Ramlila performances are usually happening for only a day or two, and that too in personal indoor spaces, temples and Dharamshalas, with a restricted gathering," he said.
He further shared that people of many professions have suffered financially since the melas are not happening anymore.
"Those who organised the melas, the caterers in the food courts, those who set up stalls for different games and rides have all been financially affected," he stated.
He also shared that everyone was looking forward to Ramlila this year, longing for a time to enjoy as well as to reconnect with their religious beliefs.
"Ramlila is not just a source of entertainment, but our emotions and religious beliefs are also connected with it. Earlier, we used to enjoy ourselves a lot and feel great during these days. This year, the festival of Dussehra feels incomplete without grand-scale Ramlilas," he added.
Harsheen Kaur, who played the role of Surpanakha at Shri Keshav Ramlila NSP, Pitam Pura in 2018 and 2019, reminisced about performing on the Ramlila stage.
"Acting in Ramlila is completely different. The poetic dialogues, the gorgeous costumes and the bold, dramatic makeup transport you to that era of Gods and mythology. I really miss performing," she shared.
She strongly feels that there is something magical about Ramlila, that even though we already know the entire plot and characters, we still eagerly keep coming back to it.
"Every single character in the tale is important and special. Now that the entire Ramlila is performed in a single day, it is practically impossible to do justice to all those characters. I have not been able to perform this and last year because Surpanakha's part was unfortunately cut to shorten the performance," she added.
It is not just the artists who played different characters of the Ramlila, but even children used to dress up as various characters of the mythological saga and participate in various events and activities organised in their schools and neighbourhood.
Since now children are restricted to online learning at their homes, schools are attempting to carry the cultural activities on the virtual mode of learning.
Priyanka Sharma, who is a Primary teacher at GD Goenka Public School, Rohini, talked about the various activities planned to introduce the little ones to this festival of the victory of good over evil.
"Earlier before COVID, we used to have a grand event for Dussehra in which parents were also invited. All preparations used to begin a month before Dussehra. We'd hire professionals to teach the children dance and music. A separate team used to work on the decorations. It was a grand event," she recalled.
But now things have changed, as teaching has shifted to the virtual mode, so has these cultural celebrations.
"Post-COVID, things have clearly changed but thankfully the zeal has not faded off. Now, we are trying to shift all those activities to the virtual mode. We recently conducted a competition in which children could dress up as any character from the Ramayana and enact a particular scene. They did a great job and I could see the efforts their parents had put in," she said.
She also shared that they are conducting new activities based on Dussehra every day, such as storytelling, making crafts -- like bow-and-arrow and Ravana's 10 headed face mask, and they also have a virtual live dandiya session planned in which all students, teachers and parents would dress up and participate on-screen.
However, Priyanka admitted that though they are better prepared this year, it was in 2020 that they had a rocky road in juggling virtual teaching.
"Last year was a bigger challenge for everyone. No teacher was prepared for the changes that the pandemic would bring. But we learned how to become tech-savvy, and yes there are still a lot of hardships in connecting with children who are sitting at their homes, but we are making sure we do whatever is possible, as at this tender age it is only by participation that they can learn about their culture," she said.
While everyone is trying in their own ways to revive the festive spirit in the 'new normal', deep in their hearts, people are hoping for their good-old joyous, memorable and crowded Dussehra festivities to return, perhaps next year. (ANI)