“ASHCHE BOCHOR ABAAR HOBE!” (the culture of Durga Puja in Kolkata)

– By Joyona Medhi

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Come the first few weeks of August, and one can actually hear the heart of a bong thumping faster and sometimes even skipping a beat or two in anticipation of the coming of his Maa- the coming of Pujo!

The air is absolutely thick with the feeling one gets just before the starting, the unraveling of something extremely huge…, the feeling you get standing near the wings of the stage with just a few minutes left for your performance to begin.., the feeling you get just before reaching the peak of a much awaited climax.

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If energy, passion, paranoia, madness, mania, hyperventilation, hysteria, red bull, glucon-d and chaos, could all be personified into one single being on this planet…-it would have to be the all grimy and sweaty bong, who under the concentrated two o’clock sun, sits in an auto patiently stuck in a huge jam in the heart of a buzz-filled gariahat , clutching onto innumerable bulging shopping bags of different shapes and sizes. After managing to strike up a heated argument with the autowalla over the fare, with eyebrows crinkled up in determination, he now contemplates about the ‘buy-2-get-1-free’ offer in the new mall and how to best avail of it!!

Who cares whether it’s school time, college time, office time, and that people have their peaceful daily lives to carry on with? It’s Pujo, and everything must come to a standstill! Otherwise how can it even be called pujo or even feel like pujo? –That’s bong logic for u!! Pandals built right in the middle of roads. Traffic somehow haphazardly diverted. Red, green, yellow -who’s ever heard of them? We make our own traffic rules here! Epicenters of the city blocked, taxis refusing to go anywhere (if you get them empty i.e), people refusing to do any work (if you get them not pretending to be all busy i.e) –this is what the festive season entails. “Pujo ashche toh! apni pujo’r por’e ashben!”-goes the universally accepted excuse which almost seems to imply that putting the words “pujo” and “work” in the same sentence is nothing short of blasphemy! The snakelike auto lines extend till god knows where and one seems to wonder why ‘flyovers’ were even named such! You start having second quadruple thoughts about stepping out of your house…Capitalism, pouncing on this very opportunity of pujo, with its hidden handmaidens of price rise and inflation, seeking to lure the Bengali customer, greets you with a smile an advertisement at every shop you pass by.

The peaceful and quaint little footpaths, with a series of distractingly colorful junk jewellery shops running parallel to them, which used to be a stroller’s paradise before, now seem just the opposite. You have to take in a deep long breath, summon all the forces of the universe, put on the face of a sumo wrestler,(if possible even start believing that you’re one!),and scream out a war cry!! Only then can you…push, and pull, and kick, and bite, and hit, and tickle, and squeeeeeeze your way out of those very same but now claustrophobic footpaths, filled with, boudis enthralled by anything remotely sparkly in the smallest of shops, engrossed in bargaining, and absolutely refusing to budge an inch from rendering the ‘footpath’ completely unworthy of being called one! After accomplishing THAT, when you feel like you’ve created history, you definitely deserve a bournville!-because now, you’ve actually EARNED it!!

Pujo comes and it is as though a large maniacal ‘cut-loose’ monster, finds incarnation in the whole Bengali community! A monster which has an irrational undying thirst for visiting every single pandal in Kolkata starting right from the day of panchami only ,come rain come shine! A monster whose eyes become absolutely hypnotic throughout the entire pujo season! A monster who will, pull and tug and grope, (if need be even kill), to have a 5 second glimpse of the deity! A crazy, multiple armed (to do everything that can be possibly done during pujo) monster, who seems to have chugged down 5 to 6 red bulls at one go. A monster whose, sometimes impulsive, sometimes high-on-life, sometimes tipsy, and sometimes fierce i-can-kill-for-pujo mood swings, drive the entire community. I think it hides in the d.n.a of every Bengali -runs in their very veins. A little chromosomal monster that rears its head at the slightest mention of the word pujo!

A Hindu woman smeared with "sindhur" on the last day of the Durga Puja festival in Chandigarh

Even though to an outsider, pujo seems to run on the policy of ‘live, (to the fullest) and don’t let anyone else live peacefully’, what is important is that it is the celebration of ‘life’ and the joy of ‘living’ more than anything else …and including every possible one in it (irrespective of whether he or she wants to be included)! It’s like all the joy of this ‘city of joy’ is out on its very streets during pujo. So much so that pujo becomes an expression of the city itself. It is almost as though the city bursts into laughter during those few days. If the true innate essence of the city were to be corked up inside a small bottle, labeling the bottle ‘pujo’ would be just apt.

So to truly understand pujo and what is it that people loose their sleep over, you’ve to understand the city, understand Kolkata first. By walking down its lanes and by-lanes, and its every nook and corner everyday, you slowly start feeling the pulse of the city. It is a reverberating rhythm which amplifies and resounds in the manic dhak-dhaking of the million hearts during pujo. You can not only hear it, but feel it …, when you get goose bumps when the dhakais first begin to play their beat, when your hair stands when you hear the dying echo of the shankh, or when you get creeped out by the unnatural eerie quite after dashami

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Kolkata has a soul, a soul that died and became one, because its heart’s arteries became blocked with too much of mishti doi laden sweetness …but is a soul nonetheless.
And in being driven crazy by it, and hating it from the core of your heart, you know that somehow some part of you has already fallen in love with it.

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