Tuesday, October 06, 2009


During our stay in New Jersey for a period of 13 months, we happened to visit the pujos at Ananda Mandir and Bharat Shevasram Sangha, the closest we could hope to approximate in terms of pujo porikroma in 2008.On the evening of Shashthi, after a sumptuous lunch at our friends’ place, a film at Regal Cinemas and a bit of grocery shopping at Patel's Cash & Carry in Somerset, we finally sauntered into the pujo at Ananda Mandir. The milieu was entirely akin to that of a ghorowa pujo, my perception owing much to the thinner but quite-at-ease crowd and the friendly banter that floated to and fro, across the hall when we ousiders entered it for the first time. It was rather chilly that day and the warmth of the gathering was infectious. We left after paying obeisance to the goddess and the ubiquitous round of photography. A tall gentleman in a rust coloured panjabi politely solicited us to partake of bhog. We said we would come back. We had other plans, none of which included paying $40 per head for a single night's dinner. More so when you still haven't outgrown the habit of calculating the rupee equivalent.

Bharat Shevasram Sangha was a pleasant surprise for the senses. It had already distinguished itself from the other pujos by its determination to rigidly adhere to the Indian time of worship. That was a feat, taking into account the fact that US pujo takes place only on weekends, auspicious time or not. But now, apart from that, there were other novelties. I wondered at the presence of so many Bangalis when I had already reconciled myself with the significant absence of the commmunity from the locality where we lived, Somerville. We were greeted by a crowd that jostled but did not push, where sarees and skirts, dhutis and jeans shared wardrobe space, where the infectious rhythm of dhaaker baajna intersected with the American accents of NRIs and an announcement of the "recitation of a kobita", where patiently queueing up for choronamrito, proshad and vegetarian bhog ( jeera rice, alur dom, chholar daal, papad, chaatni ) did not deter the public from generous donations in dollar notes and where traditional christmas tree decorations cohered with colourful hand-painted thermocol cut-outs of dhaakis. I was impressed at the disciplined mass that offered pushpanjali to the goddess and stood eating a spartan bhog in open spaces around a makeshift tent, respecting the spirit of the festival and the essence of the gathering. The volunteers were simultaneously friendly and firm, the children playful and difficult, the worshippers devout and doubtful but the atmosphere was indubitably peaceful and pious. My heart went out in reverence for the monks at the ashram who were managing so many and so much with so little help and so much humility. Tomosho ma jyotirgomoyoh.

What struck me most about Durga Pujo 2009 was the fact that it was the presence of our friends and family in Kolkata and the re-igniting of familiar sensations that made our homecoming so special for us. There was nothing very radical we did this year as a matter of fact. We did the routine rounds of Maddox Square, Dumdum Park, Labony Estate, Ekdalia Evergreen, Ballygunge Cultural, Paddapukur, FD Block, Bosepukur, Bagbazar etc amidst the usual maddening crowds and uneasy humidity. We did not cook at home, eating out instead at a couple of new restaurants and a few old favourites (by default, mindlessly opting for the standard Chinese and Bengali fare), totally oblivious to the mounting calories. We wore what the media impressed upon us as very unique and trendy attire this year and muddled up our aantel intellects by trying to make mental notes of the latest fashion dos and don’ts. We devoured the latest sharodiyo shonkhya of the traditional pujo magazines. We kept aside our most expensive and arresting attire for the Ashtami-r anjali and waited irritably for the pongkti-bhoj to start so that we could soothe our growling stomachs and disappear soon after for some wholesome adda and the indispensable diba-nidra. We sat fidgeting, only half-attentive to the nrityogeeti and natok at our respective para functions, wondering where the lady in the next row had bought that awesome dhakai jamdaani (damn it, she was looking so irresistibly glam) and who the neighbourhood heart-throb was spending the time of day with on such intimate terms !

What then was unique about this pujo ? Maybe it was the sheer creative spectrum embodied in each pujo mondop, big or small, defiantly countering in art the lurid political panorama looming over our deceptively stable social microcosms ? Maybe it was the relief at being able to sense anew what every Bengali feels during this festive season : that these sacred five days will pass by all too soon and then there shall be the entire one year (of endless bandhs, bypass surgeries and bland jhol-bhaat) to endure before we are all together in spirit once more, celebrating our culture and our lifestyle. Maybe it was the realization that this one time of the year, we manage to forget our mundane existences and live on in a trance of dhaaker badyi induced psychedelia, certain that we can garner from the auspicious montro and the blessed bhog the shokti to metamorphose the humdrum into the hallowed, the chaotic into the cosmic.

Otherwise why was it that after a whole year of absence in my motherland, my pujo reconciled me to all that I had missed in a whole year and made me feel that it did not matter after all : I was home at last ? Ma Herself had accompanied me here and although she returned to her husband’s abode all too soon, she did leave me a happy human being : Madly Bengalee !

1 comment:

amit said...

Very lucid writing!


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