Next week begins the biggest festival for Bengalis the world over – Durga Puja. It’s the perfect time to rejoice and make the most of the five days with great food, traditional clothes and hopefully a spiritual bent of mind. Wherever Bengalis go they never fail to organise the Durga Puja and simultaneously create a cultural fervour along with it. Judging from the innumerable Bengalis who reside on the Western shore of India, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Bombay and its suburban areas surrounding it, organise close to 150 Durga Pujas.
I am curious and fairly excited to go pandal hopping among the glitz and glamour of the Bombay Durga Puja celebrations. However, something feels amiss here in this land so far away from home, Kolkata. The smell of the Pujo is not in the air, the fields are not covered with the kashphul, even the clouds in the sky look different here. I don’t hear announcements on the approaching festival on microphones a week ahead of the Pujo. Here it seems like no one is bothered that Durga Pujo is almost knocking at the door. No reverberation of the countdown to the occasion is heard here and there. At the market places no one gets involved in animated conversations about how grand their para Pujo is going to be. Pujo will happen in respective pockets but the mainstream will not be affected in any major way. I like Facebook the most this time of the year. I think it’s the platform which brings me the closest to Durga Pujo. I get to see the photos that my Kolkata friends upload on the social media site. Back in Kolkata, the bringing in of the Goddesses’ idol used to be filled with so much fanfare. I remember we kept comparing our’s with our neighbour’s idol and always were super confident that our’s certainly overpowered in all possible angles those in the entire neighbourhood.
I remember the cultural functions during the five days of Pujo used to be so important back then when I was young. The dance and drama programmes at the local stage were nothing short of the Broadway shows in our estimation. How religiously we kept rehearsing for days together for the big day when we were to perform before our neighbourhood uncles and aunties who have seen us being born and growing up into adults!
Now in Bombay I am very bothered about my appearance, my matching accessories with the saris and salwar kameez. I also bought make-up so that I stand out in the crowd and create quite an impression in my social circles. In Kolkata during Pujo these things never mattered. I knew everybody and they were people who had seen me in all stages of my life. So creating an impression in front of them seemed trivial and I never used to put in an effort. I did dress up though and did that quite unpretentiously.
Pujo for me used to be Ma’s home-cooked food – her delicious chanar danla, cholar daal, egg curry, hilsa with mustard, sweet pulau, kheer and many other delicacies. In Bombay I eat a lot from fancy restaurants. Though the dishes taste awesome, however, the food fails to have that magical aura of Ma’s touch in them. I feel Pujo is incomplete without my mother’s food.
Kolkata’s festive fervour is unmatchable in all possible respects. In fact, the passion with which Bengalis celebrate any occasion in the Bengal heartland, be it Christmas, Diwali or predominantly Durga Puja, is unparalleled. And the best part about Durga Pujo in Kolkata is that it’s an occasion in which people from all religions participate – maybe not directly in the rituals but in the festivities for sure. No one seems sad, even beggars become gay and cheerful in those five days. The city transforms and becomes a paradisiacal land which knows no sorrows or heartbreaks. Such is the magical aura of Kolkata or more precisely Kolkata during Durga Pujo.
Durga Pujo reminds me of my maternal grandmother a lot. She was the first woman who had introduced me to the fanfare surrounding the festival, its madness, excitement and scintillating joy. Since the time I had consciousness I remember her to be awake before sunrise every day and clean the house as the first ray of the sun filtered in through the cracks in the windows. And during Durga Puja the cleaning process used to be even more extensive. Then after bath she used to begin her Pujo rituals. And that time she could go really loud. However, strangely enough even though sleep is dear to me I never used to get irritated when her mellifluous chants woke us up very early in the morning. Even though she was quite a vociferous woman to others, to me she was the gentlest soul possible on the face of this earth. After her Pujo she used to go out for her morning walk and visit a temple before returning home. There I was her constant companion and she enlightened me with stories and myths of Gods, Goddesses and certainly Durga Pujo, our favourite festival. The walk had an ethereal charm of its own since we walked over the fallen shuili and katchapa petals. The combined smell of these flowers is so soothingly beautiful that I fail to know of adjectives that can describe it best. And the fascinating part is, till today nearly after a decade of my grandmother’s death, this is the smell that I attach with her whenever she comes to my mind.
Times have changed now. Some people are dead and gone to a land from where there is no return. There were friends with whom I had spent magical moments during this fantastic festival, but with time we have ceased to remain in touch. I have also moved on to a zone where celebrating festivities has attained a different dimension. This year I am surprised at my lack of enthusiasm. No new clothes, no major plans. Durga Pujo is in my mind, the memories of the yesteryears are so prominently etched that I find it hard to look for its alternative. My ears yearn for dhaaker awaj, I want to get lost in dhunor gondho.. I close my eyes and feel myself transported to my years of childhood, years of celebrating Durga Puja the way that I want to. As the Bengali bandwagon heads towards Kolkata to celebrate Durga Pujo, somewhere in Bombay, I decide to get lost in my own picture-perfect dream world.