My family relocated to a posh South Kolkata locality during my early teens. And with that was gone the idea of what Pujo was to me, personally.
I missed parar Pujo (neighbourhood Puja). The no frills pandal, the traditional idol, the Ashatami bhog with all and sundry; khichudi and labda on sal pata and water poured in matir gelash; The dhunuchi naach competition, the smell of camphor, the endless addas; and the sound of ‘cap-bonduk’. I was least interested in Pandal-hopping, jostling against the crowd, or eating oily rolls and biryani – momos came much later – from make-shift joints.
After shifting, I could never quite become a part of the local Pujo. To be honest, ‘21 Pally’ is not really a parar Pujo. It can safely be categorized as one of those atypical Pujos vying for prizes and media coverage. And it’s situated right in the middle of a busy junction. People don’t sit in there idling away time. Neither do they serve bhog inside the pandal.
Sometime later, I made enough acquaintance to go a little further down and spend Ashtami and Navami evenings at Durga Bari (Ballygunge Place). Even then, I always felt somewhat of an outsider. Eventually, we even started the ritual of ‘North-er Thakur dekhte jawa’ on Shashti nights. When South Kolkata Pujos started going bigger and better, our itinerary changed accordingly. I can’t say I didn’t like these little sojourns, but I wasn’t particularly amped up about them either.
Late teens and college also meant I was cajoled into experiencing the Maddox-er adda. I am not really sure why, but I was always loath to the idea. However, I did go once – with a few casual friends – sat on a newspaper, amidst a sea of people cackling among themselves, or ogling at the opposite sex. After 20 minutes or so, I withdrew, as politely as I could. Thankfully, during post graduation, I made friends with people who preferred adda at home, than the dirty and/or muddy Maddox grounds.
And so I spent Pujo in Kolkata – for 10 years – neither anticipating, not resenting the ‘greatest festival on Earth’, as many Bengalis would like to believe.
In 2011, I spent my first Pujo out of Kolkata. Delhi it was. Parar Pujo, bhog with all and sundry, dhunuchi naach, endless late night adda under the shamiana with new friends and acquaintances. I even managed to offer proper Anjali after ages. It was like those good old days. As an adult, it still remains one of the best Pujos of my life.
Yet, I couldn’t deny that I did miss Kolkata. Even if I was not part of the crowd, even if I stayed home, even if I was not particularly fond of the increasing commercialization…there was something about the dhaaker awaj, Durga Mantra being chanted out of the loudspeakers, the incredibly decked up streets, the smell in the air. It suddenly dawned on me, those intangible elements were how I thought and felt about Pujo. Yes, I missed the simplicity and warmth of parar Pujo. But it was not just that. Pujo never was. I had to be away from the City to realise how badly I missed the eclectic atmosphere.
Last year, I spent my second Pujo out of Kolkata. In addition to bhog and anjali on Ashtami, homely adda over kosha mangsho with fellow Bengalis on Navami, I also managed to perform all rituals of Thankur Boron for the first time, without much incidence. Something all married women are supposed to do on Dashami. Honestly, I do not think I would have done that, had I been in Kolkata. But it’s never quite the same.
This year, while visiting Kolkata barely a month away from Pujo – mostly because of impossible flight fares during the festive period – I tried hard to reason with myself. The frenzy, the crowd, the long waiting hours at any and every restaurant, not to mention the serpentine queues at pandals. I wanted to be far away from all of that. Didn’t I? So I flew down just about a month before the madness.
Had it not been for the – now famous – 1.2 km Alpona on Lake Road, the numerous pre-poja posts on FB, friends and close ones swooping down on the City of Joy, I was mostly successful in being content with my reasoning and the food I had gorged on recently, back home.
Instead, we (the husband and I) started checking air fares with barely a few days to go for the festivities to begin and luckily enough found the fares within our reach. At the cost of sounding a little cheesy, it almost felt like ‘Maa-er Daak’!
On Shashthi evening – September 26 – we were in Kolkata. Finally, I couldn’t quite reconcile to the bhog, anjali, lacklustre adda, and the possibility of my second Thakur Baron. Pujo to me, has become more about atmospherics, family and friends – and food by virtue of being away from Kolkata – than the para of my childhood.
And I can’t keep denying that….