That time of the year…

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It’s that time of the year all over again!

It hardly matters that the heat is driving people insane…we Kolkatans do not fear the heat anymore. Can it be a deterrent strong enough to dampen our indomitable spirit and love for this mega annual event? Ask any Kolkata and the response will be a resounding NO! We, as a race can endure anything to be assured that Durga Pujo waits right there where it always does, like the light at the end of a tunnel.

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And no matter if it’s early September or late October…Durga Pujo personifies the famous dialogue by Mr. Bachchan, “Hum jahan khade ho jaate hain, line wahi se shuru hoti hain“… Whenever there is Durga Pujo, it is Autumn. Shorot, to be precise…we are very particular about these few days being very Bangali. We start feeling cold at nights imagining the “should have been” dew or “heem” that must be there since Robi Thakur had written “Eseche shorot heemer porosh legeche hawar pore.” And since swaying white Kaash flowers are a clear indication that the Pujas are just round the corner. We can even smell “Chhatim” from somewhere although our urban lives have rendered these trees to near extinction at least around the city because Chhatim Ful is supposed to be around in “Shorotkal”.

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We start lamenting about our unfinished shopping, although thanks to the year-round offers belted out at Malls and Retailers, we shop all the time. But “Pujor Marketing” can only be done just about a week before pujo starts, preferably from Gariahat, New Market or Hatibagan, or is left incomplete…a void that cannot be filled no matter what and how much we buy the year round. We buy at least 10 strips of Band-Aid…two for each day as newly bought shoe bites combine with an incessant urge to tick off “must-see” pandals from one remote corner of the city to another. Oh, and Selfies are a must, it’s a proof you see…and a point to prove.

It does not matter whether or not we even leave our homes, get up to even cook food, see a single idol, attend any religious function, or do the puja ourselves – it is criminal not to allow us these 4-5 days of life. What I have been trying to do by saying all this is to salute the spirit that makes Durgotshob an annual event for which we start counting down from the day the idols hit the water. Durgotshob is not just a religious festival for us. It is a culture. A way of life. A festival. A romance!

This romance is with the concept of Pujo more than just the four days! The build-up seduces our souls almost sensuously so that we develop a natural ability to ignore or overlook everything irritating, problematic, or just about stupid!

We impassively maneuver ourselves almost precariously through impossibly crowded streets where walking, leave aside driving becomes a nightmare. Sudden roadblocks en-route an important meeting created by an under-construction pandal does not elicit half the irritation it would otherwise do. The heat that dehydrates us by the time we reach home at the end of the day seems bearable since it is not actually summer heat – it is still autumn!

We don’t even mind looking at the same repetitive message in rows and rows of same colour a few feet above the ground in banners or hoardings. It would either be a three-eyed goddess wanna-be smiling holding 10 gifts in her ten hands for buyers, or with the most quintessentially Bengali-style saree clad lady smiling, visibly enchanted by the smell of the whole range of incense burning on the plate on her hands. And that is just the start. The next row would show some hunk with apparent six packs standing tall in either just a pair of briefs or a vest and jeans with the most idiotically-tried manly look on his face. Or another lady (Durga is the epitome of Women Empowerment in this part of the country, especially during this time) having the most satisfied smile as she holds a pack of spices she had used to cook the most amazing meal for her entire family! And then of course you have good old Thumbs Up to burp it out with a certain bengali pleasure!

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And then, of course, a Pujo is hardly over without a customary trip to Kumortuli! Just before the idols start moving towards the pandals, there needs to be a trip to Kumortuli with a whatever-size-camera (the bigger, the better), just to make sure it is ticked off with a few clicks to prove, never mind the inconvenience caused to the potters who are running against time to complete their work. Nowadays, very high end mobiles have made life relatively easier for all of us. And they can take selfies too! It is actually smart to make this visit for even if you end up being a new age Bangalis who enjoy their house parties over the pujo and do not really end up going out anywhere, at least 10-12 “Thakurs” are done!

The Idol Factory

Having said all this, let me now add what I really wanted to say! No matter how much I blabber cynically about the various “pseudo”s of the festival, ask me to live away from all this madness during pujo and I will probably ask you to buzz off! My cynicism, my skepticism, my irritation, my satirizing is all at the cost of my own wee little self. I have put down what I do, because, however much I love Kolkata through the year, this month I love it so much more!

The hop-over walks over bamboo poles lying carelessly waiting to form the royal home for the next few days… the desperate peek trying to catch a glimpse of the idol inside from the bus or car… the strings of LED strips hanging from buildings on both sides of the road forming multi-coloured waves of light… the sea of people in the most beautifully coloured clothes putting on their best show… the innumerable fuchka, roll, momo, biriyani stalls that crop up almost everywhere and out of nowhere… the incessant and ever-increasing traffic, crippled by teeming pedestrians, that takes at least two hours more to reach a destination… the balloons, masks, plastic toy sellers who display their wares and hope for a good sale… the blaring loudspeakers that play “Bhakti Sangeet” during the day and “Jhatka Sangeet” after sundown… the unbelievable interest every year over “Bonedi Barir Pujo and myself never tiring to pose… The beat of the dhaak with their white kaash plumes reverberating not just in the neighbourhood but through our veins morning, noon and night… The silent tears that are wiped off with the end of the “anchol” and the skipped beat of the heart as the object of affection starts her journey to where she came from…

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It is Pujo time…again!

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