Friday, June 21, 2013

Durga Puja-Thoughts & Afterthoughts....

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.   


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Rambles under the Dubai Sun

Scene 1: Abu Dhabi, 01:30 PM, 45 degree Celsius

Women (and all those metrosexual men out there) beware! In climatic conditions such as the one mentioned above, neither your Raybans nor your sunblocks can be of much help. I had already lost enough colour having traversed the deserts of the Sahara (not really, just a fun desert safari) to have discomforted my long-dead grandmother (who boasted of the most gorgeous milk white skin tone) and my ‘at the end of her wit’s mother’ whose primary concern after my return from Dubai has been the restoration of my skin tone by applying layers of curd, peels of tomatoes besides other elements of nature. It’s not a great idea to have a daughter of marriageable age (I had'nt yet met the 'sheikh of my life' till then) looking like the latest Fair and Lovely model you see(the before version, just in case you were confused).  Anyway, having battled the excruciating heat on the hills of Jabal Hafeez, we appeared before the hallowed portals of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in the UAE. Knowing my love for posing for the shutterbug, my fellow colleague (a very talented amateur young photographer) had zeroed in on the most flattering angle to capture my moderately pretty face against the silhouette of the grand structure when I was ‘politely commanded’ (how oxymoronic) by one of the mosque sentinels to don my headscarf before I could continue my endeavour at being Miss Photogenic Face of the year.   That taken care of, I now proceeded to make my way towards the main mosque building when Commandment Number 2 was issued to me: Please put on your ‘abaya’ before proceeding further. Now, where was this mentioned? No signboard pointed this out anywhere either within or outside the premises. With thoughts such as these in my literally ‘garam dimaag’ I put on the ‘abaya’. Not the best thing to do for the following reasons:

Reason No 1: I was a puny little 157 cms sized woman donning a piece of garment meant for a Naomi Campbellesque or atleast a Deepika Padukonesque frame.  Besides, grace has never been one of my favourite companions. Result, I end up personifying ‘clumsy’ like only I can in the midst of some of the prettiest women that I have been ever surrounded by.

Reason No. 2: The entire notion of the oriental versus the occidental is slowly making my insides irritable. While I am struggling with the heat, the abaya and the thought of my wheatish complexion turning into a dark chocolate brown, I hear stray phrases such as ‘This is so exotic’, ‘I feel like the Queen of Sheba’ doing the rounds amongst my Western counterparts.

Reason Number 3: I see all my male colleagues walking around without a care in the world. No ‘abaya’ business for them. No headscarf either. One of them refuses to recognize me for around 30 seconds before realization finally dawns that I am not Salma Begum but their very own Sreejita Basu. Another colleague of mine questions, “Is it really uncomfortable? . “No”, I replied with a wry smile around my lips, “It’s the comfort of Levi’s jeans, the style statement of Versace and the ethnic elegance of Ritu Kumar all rolled into one”.

Scene 2: Jumeira Beach Park, 4:30 PM, 38 degree Celsius

A complete contrast to Scene 1, Jumeira Beach Park is the ideal destination in Dubai for a dip in the sea. Add to that, the chance to catch a glimpse of the beautiful sunset while being surrounded by gorgeous men and women from almost every part of the world. After my experience of donning the ‘abaya’, one would have thought that the idea of sporting a bikini (you have to be dressed in proper swimming gear to be able to take a dip, no salwar-kameez business here) would have been my perfect idea of empowerment (even I thought so). But wait a minute...what about those ‘larger than life’ love handles? Or the untoned torso?  The not-quite-perfect arms or the chicken-pox scars on my back? While I was still pre-occupied with such insecurities, I noticed a 70 something white woman heading towards the beach. Wrinkled skin, sagging breasts.  Like any other 70 year old. Beach-hat and bikini in place, her wobbly legs displayed the most confident strides I had seen in a long long time.  Although I did manage to take the dip (in my modest swimwear, no bikini business), I had not quite been able to shake off the self-doubts in my head.

So, here I was, not quite sure of my own stand. Not quite comfortable covering up my body in the flowing abaya. Not quite comfortable showing it off in the bikini. And I am not too surprised.  In a society where the chance occurrence of your bra strap playing peek-a-boo from your top still raises eyebrows and your clothes are the biggest catalyst for you getting raped, I cannot help getting drawn towards the middle path.

I had always propagated the idea of feeling beautiful and appreciating my own self in spite of its imperfections. I still do. Like any other woman I crave for the perfect body (although I make no efforts in that direction). I like receiving compliments and I know when men are checking me out. I hope I can say the same things with the same amount of confidence when I am 70 something. And feel stunning in spite of the wrinkled skin, the grey hair and the not-so-perfect waistline.

At Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi.Don't miss out on the green sneakers playing peek-a-boo from the abaya

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Musings: 1305 Kilometres Away……

Attachment does not come easily to me. I am not attached to the city that I was born in and spent a relevant few years of my life. I do not think I am attached to Calcutta either (or the non-anglicized Kolkata if you please) where I predominantly grew up and experienced the first woozy syndromes in the head and the stomach often considered to be love. The city where I completed my graduation and ate my first phuchkas (golgappa, panipuri are supposed to be synonyms but not quite the same). The city that gave me my first salary and kudos for a job well done. The city that surprised me with its poetry, exasperated me with its pace. The city that howled with me during my first attack of gastroenteritis.  The city of yellow and black. And red. Of taxis and Marxists. Of bandhs and gully cricket. The city that serves biryani with potato and eggs. And bakes cakes like nobody else does. Of Flury’s and Kookie Jar. The city that taught me to lose my way. And still not be afraid. The city where coolers do not work. The city of sweat, the city of ‘kalbaishakhi’*. The city where I could afford movies at just 30 bucks. The city that made me look beautiful. And feel even more so. The city of Durga Pujo and ‘dimer devi’**. Of bookfairs and idle summers. And winters and monsoons too. The city that prompted me during my debates. And held my hand when I crossed roads. The city of Satyajit and understated taste. Of Mamata and boisterous beings. The city that gave me a thumbs- up when I first met my future husband. And nodded disapprovingly when I coloured my hair purple. The city of Howrah Bridge and Park Street Cemetery. Of unending entries and unnoticeable exits.

 Attachment does not come easily to me. Yet, I write for you. I write to you.

* ‘kalbaishakhi’: Rains brought by the Bay of Bengal branch of south-west monsoon accompanied by    thunderstorms during the summers in Bengal.

** ‘Dimer devil’: Popular Bengali snack made, a cutlet made with egg and potato