Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Magic of Durga Pujo

“Ya devi sarvabhutesu saktirupena sansthita, namastasai namsatasai namastasai namoh namaha….”- its that time of the year again! Yes, I’m talking of the Durga Pujo- the opium of Bengalis all over, especially in Kolkata, and a time and occasion which is to be seen to be believed!

Now why am I writing a blog entry on Durga Pujo, you might ask. Especially given the fact that 90% of the people who will read this (hopefully!) are not Bengalis. But, I would say to that- hardly matters! In fact that’s more of a motivation for me to get typing and share my feelings with everyone here, because I truly and honestly feel everyone should come to Kolkata once in his/her lifetime during Durga Pujo. Yes, everyone, irrespective of region, religion, caste, creed, sex, sexual preference, culinary disposition etc. etc., and why exactly would be my endeavor to get across to the readers in the next few paras, as I look forward to going home tomorrow for the pujas!

What is so special about Durga Pujo? A friend had once asked me “I don’t understand what you Bengalis like so much about Durga Pujo. I find it hard to believe that an entire city can come to a standstill for 4 days continuously, suspending all activities!” Yes, that’s exactly what happens during the 4 days. Huh, big deal you might say, Kolkata comes to a standstill half of the year, owing to reasons ranging from trade unions agitating against their employers to employers agitating against their trade unions, political parties agitating against each other, auto rickshawalas agitating against the government who ironically once paid them to agitate, and common people in general agitating against all these agitations! Its an agitated city, I say! Yes, all this does happen, but the suspension of work for these 4 days is different, and very so.

Well, let me help you picture this- streets decked up with lighting of various hues and shades, colorful puja pandals depicting handicraft works from various corners of Bengal vying with each other, inside those pandals huge idols of Maa Durga and other gods and goddesses prepared and painted in a beautiful way, lakhs of people walking the streets day and night for a glimpse of the pandals and idols, small kids staring with wide-eyed amazement at the crowds around them to elders who have seen it all but still somehow come back every year for the experience, the best dresses being brought out and worn around by everyone, furtive glances thrown by the desperate neighbourhood romeo towards the pretty lass standing in front of the idol (and vice versa as well!), songs playing in numerous mikes around the city-right from the melody of Rabindrasangeet to the nasal cacophony of Himesh (somehow most of his songs always remind me of a hungry cow mooing away) , the smell of camphor in the air, the occasional noise of cap pistols being used by small kids in the neighborhood pandals…well I can go on and on, but by now you get the point!

Durga Pujo, especially for someone like me, who has been brought up in Kolkata, is very much a part of our childhood memories, our growing up and an integral part of our soul. Its actually a bit like being in love - you feel it inside you but its difficult to describe it to others! Its actually much more than a puja, and extends much beyond religious affiliations. It’s a celebration of life- of everything that’s good around us, and a reminder of the simple pleasures of life. When you walk the streets of Kolkata during this time, whoever you are or wherever you are from, you just cant escape the mood, the music in the air, the swaying of the “kashful” (a white flower) to the wind, the purity everywhere in the atmosphere and the overall feeling of joy, happiness and colour around you that is bound to bring a smile in your eyes, lips and heart!

Of course, in recent years, pujo has become more of an industry, with politicians getting actively involved in setting up huge pandals in their constituencies in order to garner votes, and budgets of pujas often looking that of a mid-size company, the entry of corporate sponsors into the pujas, and the consequent commercialization of the entire thing.

However, that doesn’t take anything away from the feeling I have right now when I am preparing to go home for the pujas, because, like a bioscope, I can see fleeting images of a ten-year old boy playing and running around in the puja pandal of his family home, holding a small cap pistol in hand, with his friends and relatives and family around him, and a beautiful idol of Maa Durga watching over him. The boy looks up, laughs and starts running again- he is still running, to reach home tomorrow in time for the most magical place on earth during these 4 days- Kolkata! And while doing so, he invites everyone he knows over to Kolkata for these 4 days to feel the experience, to get a slice of life, to see Durga Pujo!