Thankfully, Durga Puja is over and I am back to my routine. Even though I love Durga Puja, I find it too chaotic. Each year it leaves me exhausted. Before I got married I used to spend Durga Puja in a relaxed way. Usually, my Dad and I used to go out of Kolkata and enjoy a nice vacation in some beach or hill station. Or else I used to go to one of my friend’s house and spend the Puja days enjoying the quintessential Bong food and adda (conversation). However, things changed after marriage and now I hop from one Puja Pandal to the another in Suburban Mumbai, thanks to the better half who loves “thakur dekhte jawa” (pandal hopping).
My earliest memory of puja is in Gangtok. Back in those days there used to be only one Durga Puja in Gangtok. The venue used to be West Point High School. The idol, priest and puja materials used to come from Siliguri. In the morning I and my mom used to get dressed and go to the puja pandal. We used to board either a military truck or if fortunate a jeep to go there. The whole day used to be fun. Mom and other women used to be busy doing the puja rituals while we kids used to play behind the pandal the whole day. Lunch used to be simple khichudi (puja food) and vegetables. In the evening Dad used to join us after the office, and all of us enjoyed the cultural programme and then have our dinner and come back home. On Dashami, there used to be sindoor khela and I always loved to see my mom’s enthusiasm in smearing other women with sindoor.
When we shifted to Kolkata, puja took a different turn. For the first time, I saw more than one puja pandal. I was overwhelmed and excited. Soon it became a ritual to visit pandals on Saptami. In the evening we used to board a bus and reach Gariahat. Our pandal hopping always started by visiting the “barir pujo”( puja at home, ideally Durga puja is a community affair) of my mom’s cousin near Hindusthan park. It was an erstwhile jamidaar bari (rich landlord) but when I saw them they had lost their previous grandeur, however, the pride and elegance lingered in an indiscreet way. I always loved the Prasad there. It used to taste ethereal.
We used to walk a lot in those days. I always counted the number of pandals I visited. In school we always had two things to discuss (boast about). They were the number of new clothes we received during puja and the number of pandals we visited. In both cases, we used to take the liberty of exaggeration. My Dad and I used to finish our puja parikrama with a nice moghlai parotha at a small restaurant in Bhowanipore. To this day the taste of that heavenly parantha lingers and whenever I eat moghlai paratha now I search that taste and in most cases, I am left disheartened.
When I grew a little older and entered my teens, I was allowed to go out with my friends. One of the puja days I used to go out with my school friends and another day with my para (neighborhood) friends. Gradually, puja became synonymous to newfound independence and liberty and also the opportunity to stretch my boundaries. With adolescent hormones on the rise, puja became a time to experience the forbidden. This was the time when dad allowed me to stay out of the house beyond sunset, when Mom never objected when I used her lipstick, this was the time when grandma gave me handsome money with a grin “pujote fuchka khaas”, this was the time when Kaku never scolded me when he saw me gulping down more than 10 fuchkas. My Kaku (uncle) was dead against us eating outside. So we, including my mom and dad, always used to eat outside secretly, however, during puja I could boldly eat outside because I knew he wouldn’t object.
Things changed the year Mom passed away. That year my entire puja was spent sitting next to her bed in the hospital. The sweetness of puja was replaced by the pungent smell of hospital medicines and for few years that followed I literally hated Puja. It made me feel lonelier. Therefore I used to spend puja mostly sitting at home or visiting a friend’s house where they used to hold barir pujo.
Time is the best healer and a few years later I again got engrossed in Puja. I started choreographing and simultaneously dancing for my para pujo. The fun-filled days used to pass in rehearsals, arranging for costumes, planning make-up and stage decor. The day of performance used to be the most hectic. I remember on one hand I used to dress up the kids while arranging my saree’s pleat with the other hand. This was also the time when I started taking part in Visarjan (idol immersion). We used to dance like crazy in those processions.
Things changed when I got a job. Then I started utilizing my Puja leave to go on a vacation or spend the time at a friend’s or cousin’s place indulging in good food, drinks, and quintessential Bong adda. When I became a probashi bangali (non-immigrant Bengali) puja became different. This was the time when I started longing for Kolkata puja. When I lived in Hyderabad puja used to be like a regular day with the occasional visit to the Keyes puja.
Nowadays, Puja has become more hectic. This year Mumbai was sweltering at 40 degrees during puja. Imagine wearing a heavy saree and gulping hot khichudi in 40 degrees. Irrespective of the heat, working day and mad traffic we managed to visit quite a few pandals.
Now the madness is over and I am back to my routine, however, I miss the chicken roll and mutton biryani. Yes, we Bengalis unapologetically eat non-vegetarian food during Durga puja and do not keep any fast. If you enter a Durga Puja pandal be rest assured to be greeted by the aroma of chicken-roll and not agarbatti. We love our chicken rolls, mutton biryani, fish cutlet, prawn pakora, egg devil, moghlai parotha with minced meat and our Goddess approves that. Period.
Linking this post to #MondayMusings hosted by dear Corinne.