Joie de vivre of Durga puja comes alive on South Masi Street
When everybody is excited about Diwali and making purchases, I am on ‘rewind' mode. I can still hear the beats sound of dhaak in my ears. The image of Goddess Durga, which no Bengali can erase from their minds, is like a flitting frame.
No, I am not really missing Kolkata. It's not my hometown. I have neither been an active participant in the ‘sarbojanin durgotsab' for the past 11 years. Yet, during each of the years gone by, when I have been far away in Madurai, I have felt the pang… the isolation… the loneliness of an outsider, especially during the autumn.
During those five days of exuberant ‘pujo celebrations', my father would unfailingly call me to remind: “Its ashtami today.” A silent prayer to the Goddess was all that I managed. But, hardly a year has passed without remembering my childhood days spent in different residential areas of Delhi, where we would be actively involved in every aspect of the celebration.
The excitement always started with the school closing for autumn break and my working mother finally finding time to take me and my sister to the market. We never returned with less than three pairs of new dresses and sometimes we would also receive an extra one from maternal and paternal aunts and uncles. Next, came preparation for various competitions – from different types of races (100 metre sprint, sack race, lemon-on-the-spoon, three-legged race…) to recitation (mostly Tagore's poems), drawing, skit presentation, dancing and singing. We took all this seriously and invariably returned home with loads of prizes on ‘vijay dashami'. Much later in life did we realize how all this helped to connect the ‘probashis' to ‘Bangla' culture.
We kids would be there in every dance-drama or play, doing some role for the cultural programme daily evening. Professional artistes, well known bands and troupes or cine stars from Bengal would take centrestage little later followed by all night screening of Bengali films.
Eating the ‘bhog prasad' at the pandal on all the days was something we all looked forward to as kitchen in the house would literally be closed. We went home only to change into a new dress if we were lucky enough to have more that year. Parents would allow us to be on our own at the pandal with all neighbourhood ‘mashimas' (aunts), ‘dada-boudis', and ‘didis' (elder brothers and sisters). Queuing up for the ‘khichuri (rice and lentil cooked together with vegetables) bhog and payesh (payasam) and then having it as many times as one wanted was an excitement unmatched.
Durga puja to every Bengali brings in assorted sentiments – from religious to bonhomie, it is quintessentially about bonding with an inexplicable pride of being a Bong. All these years, I ended with trips down memory and sharing my childhood Durga puja stories with my children.
This year turned out to be unexpectedly different.
As always, my father called: “Do you know its navami today?,” his tone was admonishing. “There's no pujo here,” I mumbled. At office it was work as usual till an enthusiastic colleague dragged me out. Manoeuvreing our way through congested lanes around the Meenakshi Temple, the moment we turned into South Masi Street, I skipped a beat. Unbelievingly, I heard the feeble beats of the dhaak which grew rhythmically louder as we approached the Patcharisikara Mandapam.
With my heart beating faster now, I stepped in. In the drone of dhaak beats, I could hear the brass gong, the pundit chanting the ‘Durga stotra', the cacophony of Bengali conversations, the rustling of crisp cotton and shimmering silk saris. The glowing face of the Goddess loomed above the devotees gathered around to offer ‘pushpanjali'. The ‘dhunuchi' dancer swirled the flaming incense burners above his head. I could smell the powerful garam-masalas going into the khichuri bhog from a distance.
I turned gooey-eyed by the vignettes of mini-Bengal in Madurai.
“There are 2,000 of us living here for last 12 years. Only this year, we were able to raise donation and welcome Goddess Durga to Madurai” – the organizing committee president Rabin Chattar, could not help beaming. I gathered facts -- hundreds of goldsmiths along with their families have been arriving in Temple Town from Medinipur district of Bengal, making Madurai their home. They all live and work around the famous gold jewellery market.
With all humility I ended my 12 year drought of offering ‘pushpanjali' during Durga puja. This year I owe it to the 20-member team of Rabin da and the numerous Bengali and non-Bengali families who donated generously for conducting the first-ever Durga Puja in the city.
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