It is as inevitable as the tradition that inspires it – feeling pangs of nostalgia while Kolkata1 gears up to welcome Maa Durga and her four children – Karthik, Ganesh, Lakshmi and Saraswati, worship and revel in her homecoming for the next four days.
Time to let off a small, silent sigh and think of the amazing energy, the electric (quite literarily) atmosphere, and most of all, the fun everyone is having back home during Durga Pujo, while I am several thousands of ‘saat-samudra-tero-nadip-pare’ miles away – waiting to transfect cells, run agarose-gels, attend technical seminars and other such exciting (not!) stuff. Time for the Inbox to be flooded with pictures of eclectic pandals and protima designs and the Shubo Bijoya messages in a few days…….
For the record, this is my eighth year missing a Kolkata Durga Pujo.
And this GreatBong post, ostensibly about suppressing the nostalgia, did not do much than to set-off an avalanche of emotions. GB writes:
Whenever I am away from Kolkata, I impose a total media ban on anything related to the Pujo……..
Which is why I refuse to do Protima Dorshon online (i.e. surf websites with pictures of pandals and images on them), do not appreciate being wished “Subho Mahalaya” and stay away from Probasi Pujos—–by blotting them out, I try to convince myself that Pujo does not exist and this illusion helps me to get over these few days. After all, as Durkheim demonstrated in Suicide, you feel miserable when everyone else is having fun, and you are not.
Mahalaya just passed us by. No I did not try to rake up an Mp3 of Birendra Krishna Bhodro’s endearing recitation of Mahisasura Mardini, a tour-de-force of raw, tremulous emotion where the interlocutor is reduced to tears at the end . Actually the only time I like to hear Mahisasura Mardini is during Mahalaya dawn, half-asleep, at home in Kolkata, awash with the the beautifully serene tunes of Pankaj Mallick, my own heart beating in anticipation of Pujo to come.
Admirable emotions and I agree with Mahishashur Mardini losing much of its endearing qualities when heard out of its regular space-time context. Yes, I would like to shut out Pujo as much as possible too – but when NPR’s Morning Edition (my radio indulgence during the morning commute) starts covering it, there is really no place to hide. So for today, just today, I am letting myself go – releasing some of the pent-up sentiments – all the sappy, seven colors of the rainbow memories…….
At different stages of my life, Durga Pujo has meant slightly different things. As a very young kid – it was mostly being amazed by the mythological stories of the creation of Maa Durga by the Devtas in heaven – the sum-total of divine powers to combat the evil of the Ashuras. It was about being awe-struck by the grandeur and the innovativeness of the pandals, the protimas and the animated (to some extent, kitschy) electrical lightings depicting current affairs or mythological stories. It was about making notes on how different Durgas were carrying different weapons and the relative fierceness of the different Ashuras. It was about nagging on any senior person in the household to take me to the local fair for another ride on the Merry-go-around (a hand driven carousel). It was also about getting new clothes (this was somewhat forced on me – later in my life, I convinced most relatives to give me cash in lieu of the clothes – cash that I used up to buy new books!).
Teenaged adolescent years Pujo had more to do with friends – be it pandal-hopping (mostly South Kolkata – Maddox Square, Ekdalia Evergree and such – but also some forays to famous North Kolkata Pujos such as College Square and Md Ali Park), a very different kind of err…..Protima-darshan (if you catch my drift), simply hanging out at the local Pujo, trying to impress the girls with your balloon shooting abilities (such innocence) at Pujo fairs at Triangular and Deshapriya Park………
But throughout my 20-odd years of stay in Kolkata, certain aspects of the Pujo always remained the same – listening to the radio on Mahalaya morning and triggering anticipation for the enjoyment to come in a week; the sound of the dhaak (drums) from very early morning on Shoshthi (that’s really the quintessential memory of the event); the pushpanjali on Saptami morning2; the dhunchi-naanch during the evening aarti; my dad, not being the most adventurous of spirits, taking us to see some of the more prominent Pujo pandals by car on Panchami day (since there would be less traffic on that day!), his trips on Nabami morning to Haji-shaheb’s meat shop in Park Circus for pantha (goat meat) and the wafting smell of goat-curry being prepared by Mom later in the day; the wistfulness of Dashami morning knowing that the funs has temporarily ended, the sadness somewhat alleviated by the abundance of sweets in the house that day.
Unfortunately the Probashi (NRI) Pujo in the US, with its condensed and accelerated weekend version, is a very different kind of experience. It is still a social occasion – but almost unbearably so. I attended a few when I first came to the US – even participated in a couple of plays for the cultural program that happens in the evening and volunteered for food distribution and stuff – but soon grew disillusioned with the whole thing. There was too much petty internal politics among various members of the Bengali community – factions, favoritism and what not (we Bongs just cannot leave out politics aside); too much showing off perceived social status (in a country where the middle class is largely homogenous) – such and such bought an new house, so and so bought a really expensive Saree from Dhakeshwari Bastralaya with matching PC Chandra jewelry (of course this was a show-and-tell) during their last trip ; a disturbing trend of trying to one-up each other by gloating about kid’s academic achievements – particularly which Ivy League college the kid got admission to; and most irritatingly, reluctant children forced to recite/sing/dance stuff that are really alien to them.
Thus I have gradually drifted away from the festivities and like GreatBong, largely try to blot out the occasion.
So till I start reminiscing next year……
UPDATE: Audio feed is now available for the NPR Morning Edition report on Durga Pujo. It is by Sandip Roy, a Bengali living in the Bay Area, so is not just a cut-and-dry narration – he puts a lot of feeling into the report. Certainly worth a listen.
1: Yes I know many people argue that Durga Pujas in other parts of India, especially at CR Park in Delhi, are equally enjoyable – but what can I say: I am a Kolkatan at heart and very parochial about this one festival. Pujos outside Kolkata just don’t cut it.
2: I am really an agnostic, but I used to do the Anjali for the sake of my grandmother – she would insist and I did not have the heart to disappoint her.