A nostalgic Calcuttan’s Durga Puja

How do you find out if a person is from Kolkata?  He / She tells you.
And how do you find out that person is a nostalgia-driven lover of the strange cultural hullabaloo that Calcutta was and is ?
Well, from posts like these and self-proclamations!
Plus that person prefers Calcutta to Kolkata when writing in English, official names be damned! The reason being that Kolkata sounds better in Bengali, not so in English. Plus, the sonorous baritone of Satyajit Ray saying “Calcutta” and the numerous connotations that come with it – her colonial past and her current situation, her numerous contradictions and her resilience, her liberal attitude yet lackadaisical response to change, her welcoming bosom for all her children and lovers and her occasional cruelty towards the city dwellers. But I digress, forgive me, from both the topic under consideration as well as from the reasons of my liking of the word “Calcutta” in English and কলকাতা in Bengali.
This digression itself serves to highlight the point I am going to dwell upon. A nostalgic Calcuttan’s Durga Puja. It has been some time since the Durga Puja, as I had forgotten about this draft of mine. But now that some time has found its way to me…
Sharadiya 1420 (Durga Puja time, 2013). Home after a somewhat frustrating half-semester at IITK. But painstakingly before the fateful four days and with the nagging thought of having to return back before the end of Navami. Notwithstanding the new facts I was acquainted with during the trip from Howrah station to Klantisheshe (my home!) a lot of which were quite depressing, I couldn’t help but notice how Calcutta had grown without me. EM Bypass had lost so much of its greenery. The Writer’s Building appeared deserted! I felt the slightest tinge of “obhimaan” – a word I cannot translate to English. It seems that my Banalata Sen is not mine anymore! The one who gives me a brief moment of peace on my eternal journey. My Purbashalokol. But I can forgive her, rather I have to! She is in her breathtakingly beautiful avatar after all – her “Sunabesa” for my “obhimani” Lakshmi ! Yes, Durga Puja was in the air.
I have given my feelings about Durga Puja quite some thought, as an interwoven web of my thoughts on religion, existence, nationalism, mathematics, abstraction, politics and history. I have not come to any conclusion about it, but I believe my thoughts have matured.
This year, more than anything else, Durga Puja turned out to be a reminder of my childhood – of the days spent with family and friends, of the 18 odd beautiful cycles of bliss in autumn. To me, it served as a reminder of my roots. It represented the past, enchantingly beautiful and the blissful innocence of the times. It turned out as the quintessential ‘for-old-times’-sake’ meeting of friends, busy in their academic pursuits throughout the nation. Exchanges of smiles, college-stories, school-stories and what-not! Soaking in nostalgia.
At home as well! When your parents don’t get to see you for months at a stretch after keeping you under their loving care for all your life, they too tend to get possessive with a streak of craziness on discovering your loss in weight… But that reeked of nostalgia! Every single reprimanding glance from Ma (usually concerning my eating habits), the pet-pujo and the Pujabarshiki Patrikas , the stories of my first outings during Pujas, on Baba’s precious old Kawasaki, of the boat trip across the Ganga over to Belur Math for their unique style of Pujas. Every single sight, every thought, every pandal brought back a memory for me – my endless sketches of Durga idols on the days preceding the Pujas, the “Holiday Homework Assignments”, the Kathi rolls, the one-time uniformed special trip to “judge” the Pujos as part of the “Puja Utkarsh Samman” of my school…
But even among all this emotional upheaval, among these scenes flashing across my inward eye, even as I walked the ever familiar path from Ekdalia (always call that my ‘para-r’ pujo – I spent the best times of my life close by, at 16, Mandeville Gardens and 82/7A, Ballygunge Place!) to Maddox Square to meet old friends, or as I rushed past numerous pandals across the city in our car, I was often forced to tear myself down from the ivory towers of my emotional reminiscences to the harsh realities that sometimes general revelry brings to the front. The appalling condition of some people on the streets. A lot of them younger than me, begging for money. In front of them, the ‘external’ Durga Puja I feel so bullish about seemed to be a celebration of cruelty. The same goes for the artisans who make this great festival possible, the traditional murti-makers, lying in poverty and negligence and in the background, the people who depend on this narrow timeframe to work out the means for the rest of the year, whose Pujo might only mean the city getting decked up while the darkness inside remains.
Are these thoughts irrelevant, incongruous? Not keeping with the mood? The nostalgia? The thoughts have been troubling me ever since. This year’s Durga Puja has landed me at this crossroads of sorts, should I remain immersed in my romantic nostalgia-ridden outlook about the special time or should I go on with my troubled thoughts of the conditions of people, so starkly contrasted in this special time?However, I do sincerely believe that Durga Puja has got its charm in ameliorating, at least for the time being and in a more non-physical way than usual, the down-trodden, but does it do anything substantial?
I again boringly reiterate that I haven’t got my answers. But one thing is for sure, Durga Puja has got this intangible charm, this great power of making one nostalgic and romantic; to allow temporary happiness to some; and at the same time also providing ample opportunities to be thoughtful observe realities. One thing is for sure, Durga Puja, Calcutta and the Bengali ethos – these shall forever remain a thought and emotion generating trio!
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