Pujo from the outside.

As I sip on my lukewarm coffee on a Sunday morning and scroll through the newsfeed on Facebook, nothing out of the ordinary for a post graduate student who has an exam the next week, I realise that this would be the first year that I am not going to see a single Pandal or be a part of the festivities of the ten-day long celebration – Durga Pujo. Photograph after photographs accompanied with quotes written by Neruda, J.D Salinger and the likes, that make no sense with the visual treat that my friends have to offer, make me crave for the unique smell that the air has right before Pujo begins.

I get off my bed to fetch myself some vanilla cookies. On the way to the shelf, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror- late riser, un-bathed, clad in my night suit on the day of Ashtami. The folks I was supposed to meet for the iconic ashtami’r anjali decided to spend time in an Ashram and hence, couldn’t make it with me. I am lazy. I was in a foreign land with no cheer for the bangali pujo. All I saw everywhere, not that I went out a lot the last week, was Navratri and Garba adveretisements. Same Goddess, different celebrations. I wanted to go out for Garba this year, break into my maiden dandiya venture with the friends I have made here, but alas. Everyone has exams and no one seems to find the idea as novel as I do. The only solace I have is that my festival doesn’t require me to be vegetarian! They get starry eyed listening to my rants about Pujo back at home and I return the look when they describe their Navratri escapades.

Back at home. If I were in Kolkata right now, I’d be fresh and bathed and Mamma would be putting a sizeable number of safety pins on the saree (and blouse) that I would’ve carefully chosen the previous night. The choice of apparel had to be a perfect blend of representing my inner Bangali and outer youth. Right now, on my bed, in the opposite side of the country, I can feel the outer Bangali in me ooze out as the youth dissipates into what should be done for a future that Maa Durga would be proud of. Either way, I digressed. Once dressed, I would apply eyeliner and lipstick, Ma would force me to apply rouge (Ema, ektu toh kichu gaal e lagie ja. Put something on your cheeks!) and then, she would ask me what I’d like to accessorise the look with. She’d punch in the code to the safe and take out the all-too-worn out jewellery box, with multiple shelves of gold beauty. There’d be one shelf with traditional chains and another with just earrings, the third level would comprise of the bangles and bracelets that she had curated and collected over the years. There is a particular turquoise beaded necklace that rests along with the gold chains. It stands out like a blonde German in a Deshapriya Park pujo pandal. Every time I see it, it takes me back to the time we were posted in Bikaner, Rajasthan. Ma and I (along with a few other Army wives) would take a long, sandy drive in a Jonga (back open army jeep) to reach a jewellery bazzar of the town where Ma would design her own necklaces and earrings and I would stare at the precious stones they had lined out for her to do the same. (Years later, the owner of the tiny shop would call Mamma to tell her that they had started making her design on a regular basis and that it sells like hot cake).

I would choose the least dressy bracelet, Ma would put on one of the necklaces (much to my chagrin) and then she would dress herself up in half the time she took to make me look like her (she wasn’t successful) and we would go downstairs to assemble in the community hall at our colony. Bengali or not, everyone participated in the Ashtami’r anjali. Batches of people were formed, and purohit thakur would read out the verses on the mic for everyone to hear and falsely repeat. Flowers would be passes in a jhuri and we would each take small fistfuls of the flower and those who couldn’t get to the basket of flowers would be handed some by the ones who could (Ma, give me a leaf as well…). We would repeat the Mantra paath three times, as was custom, and then break for what we looked forward to the most- BHOG.

A sumptuous meal of khichudi, beguni, aalu’r torkari, chutney and papad for the main course alongwith paayesh for dessert awaited us. We would form a queue, wait for 10 minutes to reach the buffet counter, hand in the token we had purchased a month in advance and then, finally take our thermocol plates, dishevelling under the weight of the food we had laden it with, into the pandal. Every pandal in Kolkata has a theme. I don’t even know what it is this year in Ekta, my colony. Irrespective of the theme, the ashtami bhog remains the same- the taste of which I can still imagine if I close my eyes and concentrate for a bit. It is usually too hot to eat immediately, yet we make the same mistake every year. All the kids would either sit where there are the most number of fans attached to the bamboo skeleton of the pandal, or venture out, on the grass lawn that is there in the centre of the complex. The girls, in sarees would sit on the granite structure that outlines the lawn while the boys would stand and finish their meals, rushing for a second helping (Ei, please get some more beguni for me). Beguni is the creation of magic. Even those who don’t like brinjal will feast on it. The crunch, the exact amount of saltiness to balance the sting of the brinjal- it is a mouth-watering delicacy that one needs to be in Bengal to enjoy.

Tired after a long day’s work, we would all break for the day, but only after deciding what time we would be meeting in the evening (and what we’d be wearing). The evenings had a meticulously planned event schedule. There was something for each of the five most important days of Pujo- starting with Anadamela (where the residents would open stalls and sell chaat, an aunty would bake insanely gooey brownies, another would steam momos and someone would sell Avon makeup. There would even be stalls with games), dramas, dance shows, guest performances, a DJ night with no DJ for the kids, Dhunuchi dance and conch-shell playing competitions. We would practice for a month to put up a decent show. The evenings would comprise of us kids sneaking out to buy alcohol before the FL shops closed for the night or because some of the Pujo days were supposed to be dry ones. We would walk till Balaram Mullick and gorge two to three Malpuas, some would smoke a cigarette in the by lanes opposite to our colony while some ventured to look at the tiny pandals that the lanes held.

That’s the beauty. The size will not matter. Every housing society, Every complex, Every group of lanes will have a pandal with a beautiful idol of Maa Durga adorning it. The Jamini Roy eyes, the curly hair, a serene smile on Her face- that is all that matters, after a while. And this clutter of Pandals is what we enjoy. All of us would go out at 1 am, take a local bus till the nearest ‘big’ puja that was there, usually at Gariahat, and make our way back on foot, hopping from one pandal to the next, walking with a sea of people equally enthused by Puja, surrounded by amateur photographers, street hawkers, aunties who almost lost their children in the crowd, Uncles who would stop for Phuchka, lovers who have told their parents they are actually with friends, newlywed couples, tourists amazed at the footfall per square inch and the Police who are have the responsibility of maintaining the flow of people. The entire city gets barricaded like Eden garden before an India-Pakistan match, traffic gets streamlined to allow pedestrians the priority, much to the chagrin of those who have work to do. After reaching back, We would all sit near the swing, chit chat till 3 or 4 am and then, our mothers would start calling us frantically (Come home now, enough is enough).

Pujo is an entity in itself, not just a festival. The centrality of the Goddess with the peripheral activites that make her homecoming so special for even those who don’t believe in Her powers, is enough to sway the most strong-hearted. One cannot help but miss Pujo. I had never thought I would say this, and I am a firm believer of enjoying what the place you live in has to offer, but I miss Kolkata right now, at this very moment. I miss the thrill of clicking a hundred photographs per day, I miss dancing to dhaak beats as Mamma gets teary eyes watching Ma Durga’s face on Dashami and as the idol take a few rounds around the complex perimeter before finally leaving us for bishorjon, I realise that She smiles with a promise to return the next year.

Holi thhi!!

It was Holi today. The festival to celebrate the beginning of a season and also, to make sure no one resembles themselves but smothering them with colours. WoOt! It is the best festival EVER. I love it. I wait for it, earnestly every year. A lot of my friends aren’t pro-holi, given that the colours (called abeer in bengali) aren’t herbal or organic, so there’s the huge issue of skin rashes… and then, people start slinging mud and eggs, rotten tomatoes, the entire mass of things-we-don’t-want-on-our-face.

But I love it. More because, I don’t mind a few rashes and acne on my face. I have so many, anyway, what harm could a few more do, right? And there’s children running around with cute little water guns (pichkarisand uncles and aunts boozing away, halfway down till Sunday, everybody’s hands are pink and faces are red, nails are filled with colour which refuses to come out and there is bhaang everywhere. Bhaang is the best Indian concoction of an illegal (?) drink, and even children gulp it down, cause well, Burra na maano HOLI HAIIII  !

I live in a colony, so the mud slinging and tomato throwing remains contained to a minimum and there is just a lo of water and colours and drying up in the sun, while lying on the grassy lawn, tripping a little on the bhaang that you were given by the adults of the colony, all of this while really bad bollywood songs are blasted on the hired speakers and you’re so thrilled, you actually dance to them like there is no tomorrow. And then when the body begins to ache, you slug back home to sit under the shower, trying in vain, to get back the normal complexion. It sounds dreary and scary but it is double the amount of fun than what I can possibly describe. Imagine, running after your buddy to paint his/her face a shiny golden or a smoky green…which all, in the end, turns to black cause all the colours get mixed up.

It is a day to make amends and forgive, forget and hug things out. It is a day to make merry, to drink openly, to eat great food and visit relatives, cousins, friends, the shizz. It is a day where being dirty is accepted. It is a day where being high is the norm. It is a day where there is colour everywhere… happiness, joy and rainbows being farted out at every corner. How cool can a festival get? Yes, I look like a red-faced bozo right now but I loved every moment of getting painted and thrown water balloons at. It hurts like crazy (that’s the only minus point), but then again, we pay good money to play Paintball, which also hurts life crazy. Tomato-tomaato, then?

Here are some really ugly photos from the day that was, and will always be the day I look forward to every year.

 

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Deepawali!

It was the festival of lights, many years ago. Then, in somewhere in time, whe I was a gawky teenager, diwali had turned into a monstrous shadow of what it was supposed to be. It zip-zap-zoomed from being the beautiful day of lights to a cough-full, noisy day of really loud decibled crackers. And you know what amazes me the most? It is how all the semi-clad females on the cracker cardboards have not changed ever since I first saw them. They all resemble ladies from right out of a circus; green bikini thingies with Alcazar like beads, and always SO happy, I doubt that they have all been tripping (shhh)!

I don’t enjoy this festival- partly because I dont believe in the absurd idea of bursting crackers just for the heck of it, and partly because I sneeze the hell out of my brain when I’m around that much of smoke. I am like a frikkin’ choo-choo train on steroids for sneezes. Either way, I never let the opportunity to dress up pass:

The Salwar Kameez

The Salwar Kameez

The Salwar Kameez II

The Salwar Kameez II

Anyway, I hope you all had a fun day. I did. Despite a small spat with a friend, I managed to have two days of good productive twenty-four * two hours. I did some work on my Paper presentation which is due this month, clicked tonnes of photographs and I am going to meet the best friend tomorrow! ^_^

Exhibit 'A'

Exhibit ‘A’ of photography skills

– de tangled today!

Diwali: Festival of LIGHTS.

Notice how I have kept ‘lights’ in capitals? That is what it was and has always meant to be. Lights are to be the prime focus of this darn festival and not sound, bombs, scaring poor animals and hell, not pollution! I don’t like this festival and I don’t agree with how it has been manipulated into this concoction of smoke and really bad gunpowder. Diwali was supposed to be the celebration of Ram returning home, he was ushered in by the ligthing of Diyas in all the homes. I don’t think we give that man a second thought while bursting the thousand patakas. Shaa.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not a party pooper, a festivity spoiler. I love the sweets and diyas (or candles) that adorn every window of every house of every alley of every city of every state. I like the whole taash playing atmosphere of winning some and losing more. I like how people meet their relatives after just a week of meeting them on Dashami. Brings the family together, yes but do we really need the smoke? It makes me sneeze and the birdie in the sky goes blind (and thus you have bird poo on your newly purchased clothes)

I like Holi. Yes, I waste water and yes, the colours are synthetic but March is the month of my birthday and therefore, Holi rockzzz, er, rocks. I like the colours and the SINGLE day of celebration. Diwali gets prolonged into a week-long smoke fest just so that people can finish all the baarud they purchased. It is never ending, I mean come on already? India won the world cup ages ago and you STILL have those crackers left or what? Save money, save paper, save trees and don’t burst those nasty things. Okay, maybe a few just for fun cause we are all allowed that much. Right? Like I waste water on holi, you can blow off some rockets into the night sky but when the sky falls, when the drum rolls (or does she say when we crumble?) lalala laaaaa.

Anyway, the point of this post is that I don’t celebrate diwali and I only make a rangoli and light some lights and clap along with the rest of the people and ihaveaboyfriend and that Holi is awesome! HAHA, gotcha. Now read the last sentence again. I have to get milk+bread off of my face now. This is a regime that my mother makes me do to get rid of the tan I am not-very-happily boasting of.