“Pujo Pujo Gondho” is not a phrase but a feeling.
Come Mahalaya life seems to be flooded with “Ma Aschen” (Durga Ma is coming) and the faint strains of ‘Mahishasura Mardini’ in Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s propitious voice. These sounds are ever present in the air (and in our hearts) as is the Pujo Pujo Gondho.
This is the very first year of my life that I am away from home for the entirety of Durga Puja. Perhaps the feeling is more unsettling and alienating today compared to what I felt when I left home for higher studies. The truth is you take a piece of home away with you and Pujo takes such a grand slice of that pie. Even if you take the Bangali out of Pujo you cannot take the Pujo out of the Bangali.
Pujo means so many things to me. The truth is the grandeur of Lokhandwala and large screen of Shaan singing sad songs at the Tulip Star Hotel Pujo cannot lure me the way the raw smell of freshly brewed cha in a clay pot can. Nor can the possibility of shaking hands with Rani Mukherjee make up for the heartening cacophony that I grew up listening to at the very subdued Durga Bari Pujo.
The oh so luring bhander cha. Image source: newsindia.com
On Shoshti I wore something kind-of-Indian and went to a pandal very close to my house in Versova. I will not lie that despite being a Muslim who has a hard time turning off a John Mayer song when the Azaan comes on and the faint-hearted faithless soul that I have become, seeing Ma Durga in a land I still struggle to call home did extract a few tears.
Pujo is more than an occasion and even much more than an obsession. Pujo to all of us from home is larger than our faiths. My father who is an orthodox Muslim pays a few extra bucks to our chauffeur every year on Saptami. After dinner and his last Namaz he knows Ma will be waiting to check out which idol really deserves the first prize. These are the kind of humble pretexts bigots (like me) and nay-sayers (like my father) use, to explain to people why we still step out on Pujo. The reality is that it is so ingrained in our nature that the other day when I called him and said that “I really needed to buy a saree for Anjali on Ashtami,” he just heaved and agreed in familiar acquiescence. Pujo is infectious. It’s more community than communal.
Of ashtamis and dhunuchi dance. Image source: tripoto.com
I read an article about how Durga Pujo this year has become a “Sarkari” festival, which talked about the politicizing of the event by the Trinamool and the BJP alike for vote banks vis-à-vis its clashing with Muharram. This article did make a lot of pertinent points but badgered on for a little longer than it should have with a lot of pedantic shit. I have realized that journalists and writers are perhaps the most invested in public opinion, coming a close second to politicians. I honestly wanted to tell the guy who wrote the article - “Dude, nobody cares! Can you please pick up enough Old Monk on Saptami Night because everyone knows Ashtami in Kolkata is a dry day”.
Then I remembered I am not home.
But that's the thing. Come pujo nobody has the time for any arguments except those concerning “who is going to be the human alarm for Anjali” or “who is going to take charge of sneaking whisky into the pandal when Mashi Ma is not looking” or “who is going to help Kaku with distributing bhog while the rest of the gang takes off for a quick spliff”. Except newspapers, nobody cares about anything but having fun. So the only confusion that lies behind understanding Durga Pujo is understanding the myriad specificities that have almost become cultural underpinnings of each day of the festival. Be it in terms of food, clothing, companionship or intoxication.
Bhog shenanigans. Image source: timesofindia.com
Shoshti is post-work-jeans-tshirt pandal hopping with distant relatives. Saptami is salwar-clad afternoons of finally engaging with the older women in pointless gossip and evenings of sneaking out to chug some rum at the corner of the street to be buzzed enough to pass out but not enough to stay up. Ashtami is saree-adorned early mornings of waking groggily up to give Anjali, and nights of taking the chill uncle’s car out without informing him to haul booze in black. Nabami is indo-western Fab India type dressing up and getting shit-faced. Doshomi is waking up to the sound of dhaak that beats rhythmically to the tempo of your heart. Doshomi night is suppressing tears in a drunken jubilation and dancing barefoot till the waves of the Ganga crash against the shore jolting you back to normalcy and bidding a painstaking adieu “Aasche Bochor Abaar Hobe”, till you find someone you trust to finally hug and cry.
No party pack, no pujo
Everyday, every time of the day means something different and special during Durga Pujo. Battered, borrowed or bought, I will NOT step out without a Saree on Ashtami. I will not respond to mails tonight because Nabami is for Adda; and I will NOT wear kajal tomorrow because I know I will cry when she leaves.
These are our idiosyncrasies. This is what Pujo means - Pujo mane ei shob kichu (Pujo means all of this). And read as you may a bunch of articles online; see as you may videos of “when a Bengali is born” and “Bangalis during Pujo” mockumentaries, the essence is something you can only truly feel when you realize that “Pujo Pujo Lagchey” (It feels like Pujo).
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 Suman Quazi
Cover Photo Credit: flickr.com