Thursday, September 25, 2008

Of drum beats on lazy afternoon…

It struck me on a very normal, ordinary day, while I was walking down the street on a usual afternoon and suddenly sun decided to show up after 7 day long hiatus… and I realised…its Durga Puja time! Well not really, by calendar it was still a full month away, but then ask a Bong if he ever cared about the hard facts of life… well I guess not! At the risk of over simplifying reality, I would say that Bongs by nature are either poets or 'wanna be' poets. One* of us once called moon an over baked 'roti'(chand ta jano jholshano ruti), may be without realising that nothing would ever be the same again since those words. Those lines have not lost its relevance or beauty; in fact it has grown much more beyond probably what the poet had ever expected…. It stands for all the abstract, meaningless, crazy, adventurous, emotive, drastic things we do in the search for that poetic expression of life and its by products…yearning for 'Durga Puja' time... missing it already when it was still to come was one of them!
Well a disclaimer before you end up thinking I am the religious types, well- I am not! In fact so far I can remember, I was never really religious minded. I mostly dozed off during aartis etc, and used to enjoy puja primarily because of 'shinni' ** When I was old enough I started questioning various rules and rituals of religion, and concluded in my mind that it's mostly a farce. For God however, am still in the process of questioning and looking for answers. But anyways more of that later…what I wanted to say was, for me Durga Puja was never a religious thing. In fact as the days went by religion went out of the window, Durga Puja became more of a concise, power packed and without the usual boredom of- a summer holiday!
For kids, Durga Puja is the time for annual bonus- mostly a well rewarding bonus for all the hard work they put in, by the 'senior managements' (plural- keeping in mind the various relatives who chip in)! In most cases however bonuses are much higher that what we deserved…but then who would ever complain for that! This sparked off a rare streak of consumerism across all the bongs, surpassing demographic or geographic boundaries. For days bong women haunted shopkeepers never satisfied with the designs or the quality or worse- price. Men are more subtle but equally demanding. For the category which I belonged to until recently- students; it's about figuring out what was the 'in thing' and then plan out with utmost care which outfit will give the maximum impact while impressing the ever elusive bong women. While we were busy with all this suddenly 'mohalaya' came- 1st day of puja.
My mom used to wake me up at 4 am in the morning just as the recitation of shlokas and songs used to begin on radio. It continued till morning 5:30 am when we switched to Doordarshan, which telecasted the televised version of the same recitation. Till I joined engineering college these were the only days when I saw sunrise...but there used to be something very strange about those mornings… they were always so calm… so serene…so beautiful…that even if for a fleeting moment you will feel the presence of something divine in the surroundings.
Finally the day came- panchami, when we used to go get the idol from the idol makers. Then and there… that event marked the beginning of the sheer enjoyment, fun, madness… which characterised the remaining 5 days! Sashthi & Saptami are like the starters- you enjoy it but never have too much of it…and by the end of it… you are just about prepared for the main course- "Maha Ashtami". On the Maha Ashtami morning every bong- communist, non-communist, atheist, agnostic, believer, rich or poor… put on their best traditional dresses and came dutifully for morning 'anjali'. For teenagers and slightly older junta it had totally different relevance. That is one time when all the girls in the society, however 'ghissu' she might be or however strict her parents might be, would come down dressed in traditional dress giving furtive glances here and there, while guys stood there looking and not staring, hopelessly losing their heart while her parents maintained a very strict eye on them. Score 1-0 (read: 1 love) in favour of the Women's team. Guy's team gave up their wicket even before the first ball was bowled.
Nabami also quickly passes by, as you try and cover most of the critically acclaimed durga pujas of the city while also tasting delicacies all across the city. If it had been Chinese on sashthi, continental on saptami, and traditional bong food on Ashtami, nabami – you can't afford to miss the biryani at Shiraj, park circus.
Nabami nights are like those moments when you are ordering deserts- you know that the good times are coming to an end… while you loved the food so far…you want to make the most of what is left… and desert goes a long way in turning a good dinner to a memorable one!!… umm.. sorry I got slightly carried away… coming back to Durga Puja… Dashami is the day when most of the idols from small and mid sized Durga Pujas in various societies etc are taken for 'visarjan'. While lot of people choose to visit the bigger puja's on dashami there are people like me who are more kicked about 'vashan' or 'visarjan'. So in the evening as the 'dhaki'*** picks up the beat, the road side romeos, the incorrigible nerds, and the all-rounders of certain society will join the vashan procession, dancing so out of rhythm without any grace or clue as what the next step will be… in short so obscenely that the likes of Prabhu Deva will have heart attack seeing it. But then apparently, as confirmed by trustworthy sources, this is the day that the girl's team had been waiting for. And though being true to their tribe, they don't give up their wickets so easily… but for all the practical purposes the score is – 1:1 (read: Love all).
As the night gradually takes over, and all the celebrations are done with- a strange sadness takes over… not just because that the holidays are over… or because even this time Joyita didn't say 'yes'…also because 'ma fire gelo' (Mother went back home)… but then there is hope in the end – 'asche bochor abar hobe' (next year… once again!).
For me Durga Puja has more significance than just celebration …I believe it stands for lot of things which are critical to our today. In these days when religion is more often than not soaked in politics and other 'higher needs' of certain individuals, to look at Puja as a mean to chill out and get together without the excess baggages of life, sure is inviting. It is also intriguing to notice that of all the several Gods and their avatar we chose – Durga, the lady who plays the female protagonist's role in an epic battle between good and evil , where even the mighty super Gods like Shiva and Vishnu look like mere sidekicks. Now you know what inspires bong women and what has probably lead to the current deplorable state of bong husbands!! But jokes apart I am mostly very proud of bong women, (excepting few Ms Banerjees here and there) but more than that of my forefathers who helped women get such social status!!
Days are fast approaching…Ganesh chathurti went by last to last week… I now see idols of devi Durga being made in Lalbaug and I can imagine the electrifying excitement in the streets of Kolkata. But as I sit here in my room missing Durga puja, I don't miss the puja as such… I miss my friends, my parents…shopping… PYTs (pretty young things…)… food…excitement…pandal hopping…night long drives…blaring music…beautifully decorated streets of Kolkata…a mad rush to visit the maximum number of pujas… to end my day at 6 am and start at 4 pm…school and college get-togethers at Maddox Square… in short…I miss the 'bong' in me!

* That will be one extremely renowned Bengali poet- Sukanto
** An amazing Bengali non-typical sweet dish, made specially during pujas
*** A fairly large form of a drum, slung on 1 shoulder and played with 2 sticks