Homesick, Maa Aschen etc.

The azure sky of the slow evening of the ‘Gujjuland’ is filled with the festive spirit. Today as I sit down with a cup of coffee and my laptop, I can hear the sound of drum beats as people celebrate. The generally silent and disciplined neighborhood around my apartment is in a festive frenzy, children screaming in joy, prayer bells ringing and the scent of the incense all around .There are celebrations overnight. The drum beats seems like Dhak to my ears and dawns a sudden realization in me, Durga Puja is right in the corner.

The changing colour of the autumn sun in the far away skyline subtly touched my chord of nostalgia,  taking me back to my ancestral home in South Kolkata, the smell of Sheuli and Chatim at the back of our Uthon- backyard of our house. The Gariahat road and the New Market must be bustling with crazy shoppers, a fine blend of friends, family, cousins, lovers and ex-lovers relishing every second of the upcoming pujo. The taste of luchi, alur dum, khichuri bhog and payesh seeped into my savory glands as I started reminiscing. No matter where one is located, the feeling of ‘Maa Ashchen’ invariably transports us to our homeland - Bengal. I realize something is surely missing here!

Just like always, whenever I am away from Home, I impose a total media ban on anything related to the Pujo, taking a leaf out of our Indian Government’s Ostrichian principle that if I bury my head in the ground and restrict the flow of information about anything, then it ceases to exist anymore.

That’s the reason I refuse to do online Protima Dorshon , which majorly comprise of innumerable pictures of Durga Puja on my Facebook and Instagram “friends” walls followed by several other websites. I do NOT appreciate being wished “Subho Mahalaya” and stay away from Pujo by blotting them out, I try to convince myself that Pujo does not exist and this illusion helps me to get over these few days. After all, as Durkheim demonstrated in Suicide, you feel miserable when everyone else is having fun and you are not.

Mahalaya just passed us by. No, I did not try to rake up an Mp3 of Birendra Krishna Bhodro’s endearing recitation of Mahisasura Mardini. As a matter of fact, the only time I like to hear Mahisasura Mardini is during the dawn of Mahalaya, half-asleep, at home in Kolkata, awash with the beautifully serene tunes of Pankaj Mallick, my own heart beating in anticipation of Pujo to come.

Listening to it at any other time is severely unsatisfying—that’s the exact reason why I hate it when they play it during any other day day—it’s like hearing the ting-a-ling of the ice-cream vendor when you know that there is no ice-cream in his cart.

Admirable emotions and I agree with Mahishashur Mardini losing much of its endearing qualities when heard out of its regular space-time context. Yes, I would like to shut out Pujo as much as possible too – but when the Bengali in me starts reminding that it’s another Pujo that I will be staying away from home, I just couldn’t stop. So for today, just today, I am letting myself go – releasing some of the pent-up sentiments – all the sappy, seven colors of the rainbow memories.

Time to let off a silent and envious sigh thinking of how my city might now be throbbing with exuberance, the electric (quite literarily) atmosphere and most of all, the fun everyone is having back home during Durga Pujo, while I am several thousands of miles away – waiting for some kind of tele-transportation to happen just like a sci-fi movie. It’s now the time to prepare myself and not to be sad as my inbox starts getting filled with pictures of pandals and protima followed by Shubo Bijoya wishes in a few days.

Quite like many others, at different stages of my life Durga Pujo has meant slightly different than the previous one. As a kid, it was mostly the amusement of the creation of Maa Durga by the other Devtas in the heaven to combat the evil Asura. It was the time for pandal hopping, protima dorshon and to some extent, the kitschy animated lightning of the pandals and the area surrounding them. It was the time of nagging my elders to take me to the local fair for another round of merry-go-round, phuchka and ice cream. And it was the time for getting new clothes which was somehow forced on me; later, I would convince most of my relatives to give me cash instead of clothes that I used to buy new books! My pishi- my paternal aunt, somehow knew about my love for books, because she will always be the first one in my family to gift me Anondomela Puja Barshiki.

The adolescent years spent more with friends, new love and “eye-spice” mostly the south Kolkata are of Maddox Square, Ekdalia Evergreen and such. However, there were also some forays to the famous North Kolkata gastronomic wonders and a very different kind of erm… Pujo (if you can catch the drift), or a simple adda.

But throughout my years spent in Kolkata during the Pujo, certain things always remained the same. It started with listening to Mahishashur Mardini on radio, the smell of Chatim, the sounds of dhaak from the very early morning of Panchami and my dad who not being much adventurous like us on Puja Spirit taking us to see some of the famous Pujo Mandap by his car on a Panchami evening to avoid the rush, the smell of my mother after the morning Sasthi Pujo with her red big sindoor bindi serving us the prasad , late evening gossips  with friends on Saptami , the dhunchi-naanch during the evening aarti at my mamabarir’r pujo. Ashtami was the day of grandeur and on Nabami; baba will take his car to the Haji Saheb’s meat shop at Park Circus and get the best of mutton for home. The smell of the mutton curry and pulao made by maa later of the day still lingers in my taste buds. The feelings of all these funs will take a temporary halt starts dawdling in my mind. The sadness of Dashami, somewhat alleviated with the abundance of sweets in our house on that evening.

In all the years I have been outside Kolkata, I have never attended that staple of the probashi bangalee Durga Pujo which gets its actual momentum specially on the weekends. The reason I have not is simply because if anything, Pujo means being at home, in the company of the people you know and whom you care for - I suppose the sense of belonging a cat gets when it curls up on its favorite rug! And for me the Probashi Durga Pujo would not be that. I wouldn’t know anyone there, would just go, pay, see the Durga idol, overhear some puerile conversation about the recent Sabyasachi’s Jamdani sari and Dolly’s special tea, eat and leave. That’s not Durga Pujo, that’s a circus and a free dinner!

Just like a Diet Coke, pretty asinine and burlesque!

And so I am prepared to face another Pujo with brave heart…with me denying its existence…cheating once in a while by reminiscing about times gone by ,mumbling to myself how far away I am from home and promising maa and myself once more that I will be in Kolkata next year.