As I was going back home last week, sitting beside the driver in an auto,it rained cats and dogs.The driver grumbled and said. "The rains have no business spoiling the pujas for us at the last minute, look at all those shoppers, they wait all year just for these five days of happiness, and now the rains are spoiling the fun..I will just pray that the pujas aren't disrupted." His true feelings made me feel for him, and as I looked around I found out that these were the very sentiments shared by almost all the people in the city,as they scurried for cover in the maddening rain.Turns out, the Gods did listen to him and sunny days are back again.That little interaction though,made me relive my own association with the Durga Pujas as well.Though am not a Bengali,and am no expert as to what rituals are followed on those five auspicious days, but am as much attached to the pujas as anyone else is, for my very own reasons.And its for the very reason that I write this, for am sure all my Bengali friends already know a lot about the pujas and its history,and am certain it would be of interest to them to hear the other side of the story, i.e; on how a non-bengali looks at the grandeur of the pujas.
When I was in school,the coming of the pujas meant an extended holidays running up-to Diwali, so naturally it would be awaited with great anticipation.But more than anything else,the first thing that comes to my mind whenever I think of durga puja and my childhood, is Lights.I still remember quite vividly,how excited I would be to see those light bulbs being strung across our whole locality.Those little shinning bulbs would mark the actual arrival of the pujas for me.And then there would be famous figures(Like Rabindranath Tagore) and famous events(like the WTC attack), which would be made out skillfully with small bulbs, making for an excellent viewing.Then of course there where those larger than life hoardings decorating the pavements, screaming out things like "Bantuli tel"and "Chandralok chnaachur" and what not.And how can I forget the soulful rhythms of the 'Dhaak', it still makes me tap my feet instantly,(more than any Dj can) and truly takes you to another world. I have to admit here that,spending a good part of my life in the lanes of Shovabazar, did help me get accustomed to the pulse of Durga puja, what with famous pandals of Banyatola and Ahiritola nearby, virtually the whole of Bengal would throng to have a look at them.Which brings me to another fond memory.My pujas in those days would be mostly spent sitting at the corner of my balcony and gazing at all the different kinds of people passing by.Trust me, its an experience in itself to look at the different antiques of people.You could sense their excitement.Some would come out with the most atrocious and vivid clothes, some children would be crying hoarse,while girls as usual would be giggling madly, and the elderly would quietly trot along,holding their grandchildren with firm hands.It would be such a large and striking canvas, no painter can ever put it in his paintings.
The other miscellaneous aspects that comes to mind is of course the loud,blaring music outside every pandal.Songs like "Tum to tehere Pardesi", " Dekha hai pehli baar", were the order of the day, and I must admit they did sore my eardrums and made me hate Kumar Sanu for no particular fault of his.And then there were those never ending announcements in extremely broken Hindi, for all the "Bapi da s" and 'pontu s",who kept getting lost in the crowd.It would keep up the amusement all night and not to mention with it my sleep too.
And then came the pandal hopping itself.Now I can go on and on that but I know that most of the people who will read this already are accustomed to the magnanimous proportions the pandals and the lighting take the city to.So keeping the astounding creativity aside, what I loved most was holding my father's warm hands and strolling around the crowd, eating all those street side food without any guilt, looking at so many different faces, and just soaking in the "Puja air"..Yes that is one term only Kolkatans can comprehend.
With all that also came the heart-wrenching prospect of seeing all the madness coming to an end.I remember sitting outside my balcony at Navami almost till three in the morning, just gaping at the crowd, listening to those soft Bengali tunes,taking in everything as much as I could, just to not let the moment get away.But sadly it does. To see the bulbs going off one by one, the billboards being removed; would almost bring me to tears(to hell with 'almost', it did).And I can swear that the people who would be removing it would be just as distraught.Years kept passing by, but that one emotion that I cant change is the one that I face on the night of Navanmi.Hell why does it hurt so much?
Over the years lots has changed the world over, but the pujas in Kolkata always remain the same.The people still are as anxious about it, the crowds still throng to see the best pandals throughout the night, the last days in the run up to the pujas,are still spent in shopping overdrive and the songs still keep blaring out of the speakers.(Though Himesh has taken over Sanu).
Like that auto driver said to me, its the very thing I find the most intriguing about the pujas.People here wait the whole year for these four days, forgetting all their sorrows and joining in the festivities with such vigour, its simply amazing.The rich colours of the crowd, the smiling faces, and the same ruthless devotion for the goddess,its almost infectious.Though am not much into deity worshiping it fills my heart with immense joy, to see the people maintaining our rich culture and rituals with such aplomb.The crowd you will see, has no division, the street urchin walks beside the rich zamindar, with the same strut,and both bow their heads before the goddess to seek her divine blessings..Its that time of the year you see..Where the city comes to an absolute halt for those very special four days.
I have had my differences with Kolkata, I have severely criticized it for its wayward ways.But when it comes to the pujas, I wont have it any other way.It is the one thing that I, as a Kolkatan am supremely proud of, and always boast about it to my relatives living in other states."Come and be astounded". I would declare. They don't understand whats the fuss all about, They never will; that feeling, I guess,is reserved for us Kolkatans only.Come the pujas , Kolkata is the place to be.
Happy Durga Puja all my dear friends...Its time to get submerged in the puja magic.You see, its that time of the year again!!!