You can take Pujo out of Calcutta. But you can’t take the feeling of Pujo away.
“But you’re not Bengali right? Then how is it your Puja?” my colleague asked.
My laughter stopped. I was having a conversation in Bengali with the boy at the counter at the
Lokhandwala Puja. I was trying to persuade him for some extra kasundi (mustard sauce) with my fish chop. Turned out he was from my para (neighbourhood) in Kolkata and we started a conversation about 'our' pujo back home. My colleague’s question jolted me back to reality.
How is it my Puja?
My grandmother from Lahore would have an appropriate quote for this. 'Begaani shaadi me Abdullah deewana' - an outsider masquerading as an insider at a private celebration.
The Lokhandwala Puja. Image source: YouTube.com
No, I am not Bengali. I’m a third generation Punjabi raised in Kolkata and like many third generation non-Bengalis in Kolkata, it’s the only home I’ve known. My Bengali is more fluent than my Punjabi. I prefer Ilish maach over tandoori chicken. And Durga Puja is not just a festival for me. It’s a feeling. But how do I explain this to people?
Illish maach. Image source: grabon.com
How do I explain waking up at 4 in the morning on Mahalaya, rubbing sleepy eyes while listening to Biren Bhadra’s Chandi Path on the radio, invoking the Goddess to descend on earth? How do I explain the hours of rehearsal to 'Aye re chute aye pujor gondho esheche' (Come hither all, the smell of pujo is here), wearing white and red sarees with Shakuntala-esque flowers around the wrists for the grand performance on Navami night?
Painting the town red with ‘sindoor khela’. Image source: indianexpress.com
The ‘emergency kit’ packed by my mother with band aid (for the shoe bites from brand new shoes) and Gelusil (for the acidity from puchka, jhaalmuri, churmur and fish fry at the stalls) before I left for 'pandal hopping' with my gang?
The goosebumps on my arm at the sound of the dhaak?
The pujo, pujo gondho that I breathe in with my eyes closed and just know that it’s September?
The excitement, the anticipation when Durga and other idols are brought in to the pandal every year with their faces covered. And the gasp of awe on Panchami morning when Maa’s face is unveiled.
Beats of the ‘dhaak’. Image source: 4to40.com
Why do I shed a quiet tear like everyone around me on Dashami when she leaves, consoling myself with 'Aashche bochor abar ashbe' (she will be back again next year).
Why do I feel all this? For a Devi that I don’t even worship? Am I an outsider here masquerading as one of their own?
Durga puja is not just a festival, it’s home. Image source: india.com
“Apnar extra kasundi, didi” (your extra mustard sauce, sister).
I broke out of my reverie and handed him Rs. 150 for the fish chop. And an extra Rs. 20 for the kasundi that I now felt embarrassed for asking.
“Na Didi, lagbe na” (no sister, that won’t be necessary).
The boy at the counter refused my money and folded his hands in a nomoshkar. “Shubho Shoshti” he wished me and I thanked him, handing the plate of fish chop to my hungry colleague who immediately started devouring it.
From the corner of my eye I saw another boy behind the counter nudging him about the money. He just said, “Onar theke ki taka nebo? Amar parar didi” (how can I accept money from her? She’s from home).
And I was home.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101india.com
By Smriti Dewan
Cover photo credit: freepressjournal.com