I was shaken out of my slumber by the sounds of “ghanta” and “shankh” very early this morning. It was drizzling all night and the cold winds made me long to get back to my covers, cuddle the pillow close, and go back to sleep. As I tried to shake off the last remnants of sleep (I am a very early riser) and to bring my world into focus once again, I remember that Durga Puja is just a week away. Seems Ma Durga and her clan of Gods and Goddesses (and Mahisasura as well) are busy getting spruced up for the pujas.
The whole city seems to have suddenly come to life again. The scent of pujas is in the air. And I see it everywhere. I see it on the faces of people. I see it in the scaffolds of the still incomplete puja pandals. I see it in those craftsmen working diligently to add the final touches of paint on Ma Durga. For pujas is not just a 5 day event when you wear new clothes, gorge in kilos of sweets, and go pandal hopping. It’s emotional, and it's a celebration that starts weeks before and lingers like sweet nostalgia even when it is all over.
Kolkata is a city with a soul. I hardly liked it when I first came to live here 8 years back. But with time, the city grew on me. There is an undeniable magic, an aura that emanates, a feeling of being home that begins to grow on you with time. For a city is not merely impressive buildings and shopping malls and prospering industries. It is essentially the people.
And God knows I still get goosebumps at the sounds of the dhaak. It seems as if my blood rings and my soul sings to the drum beats. And you have to be a pretty insensitive pachyderm not to feel the magic suffusing the air when dhaakis play the dhaak (for the uninitiated, watch Parineeta).
Being a “Probashi Bangali” (one who is not born or brought up in Bengal), Durga Puja wasn’t any different to me than say Christmas, or Eid. I had seen Puja outside Bengal, and it meant all the same to me.... decorative pandals, people in new clothes, cultural functions, and loudspeakers honking with the recent hindi movie songs. So I could never comprehend why people said, “You have to be in Kolkata to get the real feel of the Pujas”.
But I got this real feel when I came to Kolkata. And from then on, I’ve waited each and every year for the pujas to come. Right now, the whole of me is awash with joyous anticipation. There is something in the air that drastically enlivens me. Though there are so many things I am equally scared of.
I am so scared of the Q factor. And these days, I find it everywhere. I see queues in metro station ticket counters, in front of shops, in restaurants, in pandals. I do not see the logic why people would like to stand in queues for hours to buy a pair of shoes or to get into a pandal. And the metro has never been more crowded. It is funny seeing people carrying half a dozen packets of clothes and sweets and what not. And even cranky children screaming out for attention or complaining husbands cannot deter the spirits of the Bengali woman on her shopping spree. I do not see people stinting and scrimping on their shopping budget. Every body seems to be basking in the imperial glory despite the financial strata they belong to.
I see the shops dazzling with lights and people, discount boards hung everywhere, food joints filled to capacity, thousands of people laughing and shopping and eating, the kids dancing and screaming around. I see the passion of the cheerful crowds, the warmth of being together, the joy of celebration, the pride in artistic expression. And I see the bacchanalia everyday, everywhere, on every face, be it a kid or a 70 year old. Every body seems to be thriving on buckets of Bournvita that gives them all the energy and enthusiasm for a celebration of this level. Even the bad weather during the last few years and the low pressure and the constant drizzling and water logged streets and traffic snarls has been unable to dampen the spirits of the Calcuttan.
And then you see love birds exchanging hushed glances and sheepish smiles. So many love relationships are made in the meeting grounds of Maddox Square by the grace of Goddess Durga every year. Never mind whether they make it to the altar or not. Sometimes, an innocuous fling is good enough a change from the dull, drab life, that leaves sweet memories for years to come.
On that note, happy puja.