Monday, October 17, 2016

After Every Durga Pujo A new Child Prodigy is Born

Image courtesy - SantaBanta

It’s that time of the yaar again when sweaty Bengalis converge under makeshift tents and try to clog their arteries with cholesterol from Moglai porotas, kobirajis, cutlets and bhaja bhuji fried in oil as old as the dinosaurs. Since it’s strictly for religious purposes, they expect Maa Durga to vanquish acidity, loose motion and clogged arteries just like that dark-skinned Mahisashura. As you daintily nibble off the meat from the kosha mangsho, you can feast your eyes on sombre looking men sashaying in panjabis embellished with smiling owls and boudis in stunning dhakais and blouses as deep as the Grand Canyon.

Durga Pujo is a Bangali’s own Woodstock. It’s a non-stop 4 day binge-fest where you sleep little, eat lots and hop from one pandal to another like a Duracell charged bunny. While evenings are a happy mishmash of hogging, ogling, lovingly pushing each other to get a closer look of the protima, soaking in calchaar as you tap your feet to latest hits by Miss Jojo and doing adda till the wee hours, mornings are serious business when you actually offer prayers to the Goddess. Also, this is when you get to observe the Bangali Maa (BAM) unleash the Durga(the warrior goddess) in her as she puts the chomchom of her eyes on the stage, where he can stun his paraa(neighbourhood) with his many talents.

We Bangalis are not content with being good at just one thing and this is firmly ingrained in us right from the time we are born. As a toddler if you loved tearing pages of the books from the shelves, you were promptly declared a Tagore in the making. Your baby gibberish was unlike anything your parents had before – it had a haunting lyrical quality to it. Your Thamma had the gut feeling that you’ll be as graceful as Ananda Shankar as she bounced you on her tummy while chanting dhei dhei nachhe nachhe. By the time you picked up the pen on your annaprashan, it was a forgone conclusion that you’ll be a world renowned scholar. Then they name you ‘Hablee’ ‘Godon’ ‘Natoo’ ‘Goga’ and you have no choice but develop a sense of humour to survive this cruel world.

How long can you hold back this child prodigy who can paint like Jamini Roy and lisps the most profound observations about life! So, he takes his first baby steps dressed as a clock for the fancy dress competition on shoshtee during Pujo. His Mom who spent days foraging for cardboard and turning into a grandfather clock is an anxious wreck as she watches her Hablee recite tic toc, aami clock that she composed especially for him. She’s always known he’s the best. It’s time the world accepted it as well. Just like her own Mom had known. She spent her growing up years proving her right, bent pensively on stage as Chandalika, reciting Nazrool’s poetry in a quivering voice and won the first prize for it.

Now here lies the catch. All BAMs are convinced that the chomchom of their eyes deserves to win a prize if not the first. After all she has been preparing him for months! By the time Hablee finally learns chronicles of Hatimatimtim by heart, the whole house including Cecelia, their hired help from Jharkhand can recite it in her sleep. If you dare deny his Mom the coveted prize, you risk having her do a surgical strike, her eyes flaming with unbridled fury, her back glistening with sweat from the exertion of having to push so many women to grab the second prize at musical chairs. The last time Rana Chatterjee, cultural secretary of Pujo committee tried to reason with her, he saw her explode like Samsung Galaxy Note 7 right before his eyes. He could sleep normally only after several visits to his therapist.


Singed, the Pujo committee people smartened up and came up with as many contests as possible to give Hablee a chance to win. If he still didn’t manage to bag a prize for recitation, painting, one-legged race, nritya natika, Hablee was given a Camlin colouring set for serving bhog with a smile.

Meeting a Bangali without a history of participating and winning prizes at the many talent contests held at their local Pujo is as rare as meeting a bhodromohila who hasn’t put up with ‘Bai god, Bong women are so hot!’ From age 3-16, we are engaged in the arduous task of proving our non-Bengali brethren right who insist ‘yaar, you Bengalis are so talented and bright. It must be because of all the machhi you have.’ By the time we are grown-ups, we have a formidable collection of Nazrul geeti or Robindro shongeet up our kurta sleeve for every occasion and mood. It’s not unusual to come across a bunch of Bongs having a perfectly normal conversation and then break into a soulful rendition of ‘Purano sei diner kotha’ without even batting an eyelid.

But then that’s the beauty of Durga Pujo celebrations, especially the ones that are celebrated outside of Bengal. It’s one of the rare occasions when the Probashi gets to assert his/her ‘Bangaliness’ that gets lost in the cosmopolitan khichdi. We dress in our finest of handlooms including violently coloured Panjabis and assert our foodie supremacy by hogging non-stop. Since we talk culture, walk culture, laugh culture, no revelry is complete without its generous phoron (tempering). And it’s up to the Bangali Maa to shoulder this responsibility. Just before Pujo she sprouts ten arms. She multitasks between scripting and directing a play for paraa kids, frying shingaras for the hungry parents who land up for rehearsals (read adda) and then rushes off for rehearsals for the play where she plays Chitrangada. Of course, who plays the leading role has a lot to do with your proximity to the powerful’uns of the Pujo committee.

This is how she stakes her claim to divahood. Her paraa is her domain, where she and her chhanaas(kids) get to assert their supremacy. Who’s Rana Chatterjee to say otherwise? Pujo committees may come and go, but the BAM will be there forever. From her sprightly youthful days, svelte in her sleeveless blouse, to her senior years, amply proportioned, blouse crying for some coverage, she continues to reign supreme.





30 comments:

  1. Laughed a lot reading this one

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  2. you lampoon the BAMS with such humour and affection. As always a great read Purba. I have always been a regular at Pujo Pandals. More for the food than anything else !

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    1. Yep, that's me as well. Haunt the pandals for the greasy treats.

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  3. Awesomely funny insight, Purba! so enjoyed it!

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  4. Super. As a Bangali I also agree to the fact that in spite of all the humour and satire that we do at ourselves, (My son incidentally went for his first sit and draw competition this year during Durga Pujo), Durga Pujo is the best talent hunt reality show of ours :-) and it also helps in an all round growing up of the kid...

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    1. Since our lives around the Pujo and we start getting excited from April onwards, we might as well make full use of the revelry.

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  5. Haha,great read.There are so many master strokes in here-from the Grand Canyon to Galaxy Note 7.

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  6. Can you believe I've never gone Pandal hopping. *hang my head in shame* Your account was hilarious. Now, I need to experience this. :)

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    1. I am so disappointed in you, Rachna! You have no idea what you've been missing.

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  7. This is such a fun read! I went for a couple of pandals last year and this year too and enjoyed the flamboyant array of colour. I did hear a few 'prodigies' on stage and winced visibly. Luckily I was outside the pandal so nobody noticed :)

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    1. As long as one of the BAMs didn't see you wincing, you are safe :p

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  8. This was a hilarious glimpse Purba. Compels me to attend some of the pandals next year.
    Fun apart, it cannot be denied that Bengalis are blessed when it comes to fine arts - singing, painting and of course writing.

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    1. The grooming starts pretty early, Alka. We have no choice but to fall in line.

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  9. I have never been to a pandal before and I would badly want to, after reading your hilarious account of Durga pujo. I have to wait another year to see it. Sigh!

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    1. And you better not miss it next year!

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  10. An apt post to celebrate the festivities and who knows bettter than you about " Bongla bandhu and caltar' than you:) Almost missed this post due frantic traveling but enjoyed reading every bit. Wishing you and family belated Pujo greeting though a bit early for Kali pujo, Purba:)

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    1. Thank you, Rahul. Diwali greetings to you and your family.

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  11. All hail BAM :) I need to start eating the Macchi I tell you :) :)

    Bikram's

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    1. What! All these years in UK and you haven't had fish and chips?

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  12. That was a kaleidoscopic glimpse into the slugfest of Durga Pujo and the inevitable portraiture of the Bhadra Lok, with special focus on 'BAM'. Although, I suspect the moms are nearly the same in most other desi societies and diaspora.

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    1. Absolutely. You don't need to be a BAM to be convinced that your child is the best.

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  13. Hehe.I have always loved going to the Puja and all the revelry it entails. Have gone to a lot of them when I was a kid. Your beautiful narration brought all the characters alive :)

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    1. As usual the post came as an afterthought post the Puja celebrations.

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  14. haha always good for an outsider to read bout BAM during the celebration from a true blue Bong. Hope you have a feast with Pujo and now Diwalis, popping sweets and delighting hearts.

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