I have a confession to make. In my twenty three years of existence, I have never been to West Bengal during the Durga Puja celebrations. Believe me, I have wanted to, that too on numerous occasions but it hasn’t been possible as of yet because of various reasons. So, if not in the city of joy, where have I been celebrating Durga Puja for all these years? Well, I have been taking refuge in the city of dreams instead, aamchi Mumbai.
Over here, it starts almost a month before the actual occasion with extensive shopping. The closer we get to the dates of the puja, the greater is the increase in the excitement levels of the Bengalis throughout the city. There is a charge in the atmosphere, an ever increasing happiness amongst the people which has no bounds, no limits at all during this time. Due to the positivity in the environment, the days leading to the pujas are probably the happiest days that I spend during the entire year. There is this permanent smile on my face which you just can’t lift off.
During the puja, the mornings and the afternoons are mostly spent in the local pandal. Most of us fast dring the mornings until the “Anjali” and then proceed to devour the “Bhog” in the afternoon. The evenings are then spent pandal hopping from one place to another and exploring the various stalls put up. Each and every pandal that I had visited this year had outdone themselves. The pandal themselves were very creative and beautiful and the idols of the goddesses were simply spectacular.
The people in traditional wear are a sight to behold while the constant flow of our language is music to my ears. Mumma being an avid reader always makes a beeline for the book stall and picks up numerous books written in the Bengali verse. A book worm myself, there are times when I wish I could read Bengali properly but alas, I can’t write the language and my reading skills are very rusty. We do find the English translations of most Bengali classics but somehow I have always felt that the true essence of our writings and our culture is missing in those. Maybe some time, in the near future, I’ll learn the language and then pick up my first book from one of these stalls. My mother is also a little old fashioned when it comes to music as she still insists on buying CDs. So, that’s always our second stop while checking out the stalls. She has excellent taste in music and always spends a long time picking out the best CDs to listen to. It does get annoying waiting for her at times but waking up to the soothing music from the CDs next morning absolutely nullifies it.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Bengalis love their food. On numerous occasions, I have been called a foodie. Never have I taken any offense to that. I wear that tag proudly like a prized medallion. That’s just who I am. Needless to say, most of our time is spent in front of the food stall gorging on shingara, chop, fish fry, biryani, moghlai porota, loochi, aloor dom, mishit doi etc (the list is endless to be honest). There is no holding back, just me and Babai running around from one stall to another like five year olds who have been given endless candy supply while mumma looks upon us with a stern expression, silently communicating with us to behave ourselves (which we do eventually).
The rest of the evening is spent listening to the performance of the artists who have been invited to perform on that day. The five days during the puja are very pleasant. I only have a couple of wants to be fulfilled during the next pujas (fingers crossed). Firstly, I wish more number of Bengali artists are invited during the pujas to perform Bengali numbers next year. Over the years, I have just gotten very tired of listening to the same Bollywood numbers. So, every time I attend a concert by a Bengali artist it feels like a much needed breath of fresh air. Secondly, in spite of providing ample dustbins, I’ve seen people littering a lot around the food stalls. It is time people act more responsibly and stop dirtying the place. Maybe, I’ll get them to put banners promoting cleanliness outside the pandal for general awareness. Other than that I have no complaints.
This is how the celebrations are done in Mumbai. It is probably a little different from how they do it in Bengal. I’m sure we are miles behind them. It’s just that I am curious. I have seen the pictures, listened to the stories but never actually experienced any of it. I want to see myself if it lives up to the hype, to compare it with the images I’ve created from the narrations. Maybe next year I’ll finally go and feel the magic, soak up all the beauty, experience puja in its very traditional best……