Durga Puja- The most awaited, the most colourful and the one of the most joyous four days in any Bengali’s yearly calendar. And, if you happen to hail from the eastern part of the country (like me who has spent all her life in Kolkata and Jamshedpur, barring the three years in Mumbai), you will realize that being a non-bengali, in no way, comes as an obstacle to partaking of the merriment during Durga Puja.
Durga Puja to me has meant different things at different points in my life. As a child I remember spending my month long Durga Puja breaks at my maternal aunt’s place in Jamshedpur and spending the Puja evenings sitting at the Aambagan maidan buying gas balloons and not understanding an iota of the lively 'adda' that the adults indulged in. A few years later, it was during the Durga Puja that I savoured the first taste of freedom, being allowed to go pandal hopping with my friends and entering the hallowed portals of Maddox Square* signalling my first steps into my teenage years. Dozens of new clothes, the heavenly ‘bhog’ of ‘khichudi’ and ‘labda’ (a mixed vegetable sort of a thing made with the most unappetizing of vegetables like brinjals and pumpkin, but you only have to taste it once to crave for a second helping and a third), the inimitable sound of ‘dhaak’, the glitzy pandals- this and many more are recurrent images of my Durga Puja.
Back to durga Puja 2011. I was looking forward to it for a number of reasons. No. 1- It was going to be my first Durga Puja in Kolkata after a span of three years (when I was away in Mumbai). No. 2- A week-long break from office, meeting friends I had not met in a long time, spending time with family and so on. However, the moment I saw my first idol of this year, I knew that something was amiss. It was a day or two before Panchami when I was heading back from office that I saw a group of young boys bringing in the idol on a matador. Surprisingly, the face of the idol was left uncovered**. Not thinking much about it, I decided to enjoy the sights and sounds of the city that I had come back to after a long time.
But this random image set into motion a chain of thoughts even when I went on all-night pandal-hopping spree on Panchami night. Trying to give competition to my cousins who looked resplendent in their Puja finery, I donned a silk salwar kameez only to realize that both the fabric and the heavy dupatta were gross errors given the humidity in the air and the throng of pandal enthusiasts. Again, talking of pandal enthusiasts, I could not help but roll my eyes at the sight of toddlers (ranging from six months to three years perched on their father’s shoulders) as well as octogenarians being pushed (and pushing) - all to catch a glimpse of Maa Durga. But no...I think I was mistaken again. The tug of war was not so much to ask for the blessings of the goddess as it was to admire and gape at the ‘Kashmir in Kolkata’, the ‘Graam Bangla’ (villages of Bengal) right in the heart of the city,l the floating Mahishasura, the ostentatious glass chandeliers on the pandal ceilings (pandals made of aluminium wares, biscuits, bottles, safety pins...the list is endless). Here, I can’t help but recall a particular pandal that was made of SHOES a couple of years ago!!!. However, one must remember that what I just said was in no way written to undermine the craftsmanship of the hands that laboriously toiled for months to create these marvels. What is questionable is the way these marvels get marketed in the Great Durga Puja Bazaar.So, the real success of a Puja gets determined by whether a Prosenjit or a Mamata graces the inauguration of the pandal (by the way, even my para puja boasted of the likes of Jogen Choudhary and Shuvaprasanna this year, since the theme was M.F. Hussain!) or whether the footfall at Pandal X exceeded that of Pandal Y at 2.36 A.M. by 150 people. Well, you could also have the likes of local Devs (Dev is a huge Tolly superstar FYI) gyrating their hips to ‘Paaglu’ even as you religiously go on playing Rabindrasangeet in the background commemorating 150 years of the birth of the bard.
Well, it is sad. But the sight of the Swastikas, the Srilekhas and the Junes (for those not in the know-how, they are our hot Tollywood celebrities) dressing up as Maa Durga in a Kiran Uttam Ghosh or a Sabyasachi outfit and gracing the pages of t2 (a Telegraph supplement) every single day of the Puja is really not something I would like to wake up to. It is not my concern either whether Pandal A, B or C won the ‘Asian Paints Sarod Samman’ Award or whether it was Oh!Calcutta or Bhojohori Manna that served the best ‘Ilish Maacher Paaturi’ during Durga Puja.
Is it my lack of enthusiasm or my age (25 is a sad number, it seems) that is making me irritable, if not cynical? Only time can answer that one. Till then, like every Bengali would say at the end of Durga Puja-‘Aasche Bochor Abar Hobe’.....kintu......
*Maddox Square is where the entire ‘cool’ crowd of Kolkata gathers during the pujas
** Traditionally the idol’s face is kept covered till the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ takes place on Shashti. ‘Pran-pratishtha’ means infusing life into the idol. This is done through a detailed ceremony. Once this is done, the idol becomes deity. (Ref: www. riiti.com).