With only few more days to this year’s Durga Pujo, I found myself wondering what it is about Durga Puja that makes me long for ‘Kolkata’ more than any other time of the year. While I sit down to pen my feelings on a cold night in London, I find it hard to put it in few sentences, I feel overwhelmed by rush of emotions. I question myself, what is this ‘Pujo Pujo’ that we, Bengalis, keep referring to each other just before the grand Durga Pujo.
Durga Pujo – the moment this is said to a Bengali, their heart will leap in joy. Their minds will instantly draw pictures of kaash phul (Kans grass), neel akash (Blue sky), dhunuchi (an earthen pot filled with burning coconut husk and camphor) and dhaaker taal (sound of drums). Over the years, I realised the feeling ‘Pujo Pujo’, although has a lot in common yet the differences are how one has absorbed the feeling of Pujo during the growing up days. Durga Pujo is what every Bengali’s life orbits around. The excitement around Pujo has not changed through eons, but how they celebrate it has varied as one grows up and grows old.
Durga Pujo during childhood meant ‘achieving freedom’, 4 days of unadulterated freedom. But the definition of freedom changed with age. I grew up in a Bengali para (neighbourhood) in North Kolkata, where the essence of Pujo started much before the Pujo itself. The entire calendar of a Bengali planning revolves around Pujo.
For Bengalis, the ‘Pujo Pujo’ feeling kicks off from ‘Mahalaya’ – folklore associated with the day, people believe that on this day, Goddess Durga officially begins her journey from Mount Kailash — where she resides with her husband Lord Shiva — to her maternal home on Earth. The ‘homecoming’. Our childish imaginations would relate that to- us, as kids, visiting our maternal uncle’s house or ‘mamabari’ with our mother and the unlimited ‘mamabarir ador’ we used to receive during our stay there.
When the devotional chants by Birendra Krishna Bhadra filled the air, we knew countdown has started. In few days, the ‘parar pujo’ would pile bamboo poles and other decors in a corner of the street. That sight had boundless joy.
Afternoons, after coming back from school was all about staying glued to ‘Pujo Barshikis’ – Bengali magazines timed during the Durga pujo. Smell from those pages were delightful. It was a common picture in every household then, where the elders in the family were hooked onto ‘Desh’ and we, as kids, used to be engrossed into the pages of ‘Shuktara’,’Anandamela’ . After a certain age ‘Anandalok’ formed a major secret attraction, providing us with the sauciest gossips.
As kids, we used to dutifully fill up our piggy banks for the whole year – savings for these 4 days. More the savings, better the treats. Depending on the money collected, we used to treat ourselves to egg roll or egg-chicken roll from the Pujo street-food stalls. If we had any ‘dada’ or ‘didi’ assisting us, we might even have a ‘Gold Spot’ or ‘Thumbs Up’, as a bonus.
Another very important aspect of Durga Pujo, during childhood days, used to be the cultural programmes. Growing up in a middle class Bengali family, one is bound to acquire multiple skills including singing, dancing, drama, recitation. The days leading up to the Pujo was supposed to be serious rehearsals at some ‘kakima’s’ (local aunty) house in the neighbourhood. As kids, we used to look forward to finishing off school homework and rush for practice sessions. Groups of kids practicing ‘Rabindra Sangeet ‘or ‘Adhunik Pujor Gaan ‘and dance performances or ‘Natok’ (drama), all lined up for Durga Pujo evenings.
What is Pujo without Pujo shopping in New Market or Gariahat, depending on which part of Kolkata you are from. 4 or more fixed dresses for 4 days – the best always reserved for Nabami evening. And a pair of new shoes, which I always ended having painful shoe-bite experiences, after a night of pandal hopping. Up to a certain age, strict Bengali mothers would always decide which dress to wear on which day and we hardly had any say on that.
I still remember – the year the movie ‘Bazigaar’ was released, I had bought (had to really try hard with my mother) the colourful jeans SRK wore in the popular song “Ye kaali kaali ankehin” and oh boy! I was super popular amongst my friends!
As we grew up, Pujos got bigger, freedom took a different shape. As a teenager, permissions were expanded to be with friends for the whole day and late evenings. The time of return was always a point of negotiation. Thanks to the traffic during the Durga Pujo, excuses were not difficult to make.
Years passed by, mere hanging around with friends and counting the number of pandals hopped each day changed to love interests. A major shift of topic happened and the focus was on “Chele ta ke re? “Or “Meye ta ke dekhechis”? (Who is the guy? / Have you seen that girl?) Girls by then had the permission to do their first eyebrow threading and boys perhaps had their first shave. This was also the phase when we witnessed our crush for the first time in a saree or a white Punjabi. Our heart skipped a beat at the ‘Astami Pushpanjali’.
SRK’s colorful jeans took a backseat in the wardrobe and I picked up Maa’s ‘dhakai jamdani’ with the wish to impress my knight in white Punjabi.
Over the years, life has taken lot of turns. The meaning of ‘Pujo’ has also changed. Home is now London yet every year during Durga Pujo, the memories of ‘Pujo Pujo’ from growing up days in Kolkata, become even more vivid and prominent. The heart becomes heavy yet the mind can play the cacophony of ‘dhaak’ and ‘dhunuchi naach’.
In the end, on ‘Bijoya Dashami’ it reminds me that every good thing must come to an end. It reminds me that life and death are inevitable yet we celebrate days that we live on this earth. Durga Puja reminds me that – what ends, marks the start of a new beginning ushering new hope.