It is hardly few days left for Durga Puja and like a typical Bong, I have gone into the puja mode. I have started cleaning my house and shopping clothes for the entire family. I am also preparing the pandal hopping schedule and making a mental note of things that I am going to eat during those four days of Puja. Food is any Bong’s Siamese twin.
Durga Puja is a special occasion for Bengalis all over the world. A Bengali anywhere in the world starts preparing for Durga Puja much in advance. As a child, I remember that Ma used to start preparing for puja almost two months ahead with the quintessential puja shopping. First, she used to buy the clothes that were to be given to relatives. Shopping for us took place one month ahead of Puja. That day Bapi (my father) accompanied us. I wouldn’t be able to sleep the previous night of shopping out of sheer excitement.
Those were simple days before shopping malls. At 10 am we used to board the public bus and reach New Market. After that, Ma used to go on a shopping spree hopping from one shop to another looking especially for my clothes. She usually bought clothes from Rehman’s, shoes from Bata and accessories like wallets, bags, table clothes, curtains etc from Hog Market. Shops were fixed and the shopkeepers knew us well. They used to genuinely share greetings and ask about the well beings of family members. They never called my Mom, Madam but Boudi (sister-in-law or bhabi in Hindi). There was a certain warmth that I miss in today’s designer stores.
Lunch was always the yummy Biryani from Aminia. My parents unlike our generation considered eating out sacrilegious. In the entire year we used to eat out only thrice, once during Puja shopping, once on their anniversary and once on Christmas day at Park Street. My mom would have got a heart attack if she had seen the number of times me and my husband eat out, or get take-aways. After lunch we did the remaining shopping. We usually wrapped up by 4pm. Before boarding the return Bus, Bapi often bought me a kulfi from Rallis or an ice cream cone from Scoops. Sometime we used to go for a movie after shopping, only, if my parents found the movie suitable for my viewing. Once, when I threw serious tantrum they made an exception and went to watch Rocky V (they were scandalized as it had few “scenes”).
After the shopping part was over the distribution part started. That meant we went to the houses of various relatives and similarly relatives visited us. I used to look forward to what clothes I would get from my umpteen Uncles and Aunts. Well, there was also little bit of recycling involved. If one dress was not particularly liked it went to someone else. Only, we had to be careful that if something came from my maternal side it shouldn’t go to the same side but to my paternal side, otherwise it would be a huge goof up.
Before wearing them on the puja days, I used to take out my new clothes and shoes everyday out of the cupboard and have a look. The smell of crisp new clothes makes me nostalgic even today. I made plans when and how to wear them during the Puja days.
Things have changed now. We do not go to Rehman Chacha’s shop but do them online or from some retail store in a fancy mall. Shopkeepers do not speak to me in my native tongue or call me Bhabi, rather they speak in fluent English. Neither they remember me nor I remember them after the shopping is done. Unlike Rehman Chacha they do not get worried if I am late to visit his shop. His worry was not that he lost a customer but that his customer maybe unwell. We do not buy clothes for relatives rather we send them gift cards because we are now scattered all over the globe. Yet, the only thing that is still unchanged is the smell of puja or pujor gandho. I am sure my Bong readers would agree.