Its that time of the year; every Bengali ear can hear the drumming beat of the dhak, every bangali heart starts beating with the bol of dhak – and the beat to all Bengali ear sounds just the same – “Pujor Gondho Esechhe” (the flavor of Pujo is here). Like me, I know there are lots of Bengali heart that are far from the land – yet longs for those magical five days of festival. For most of us, it is a time when we want to forget all the pains of the year and indulge in just masti and adda. Adda for the uninitiated is that storm between the friends where it starts with mother Teresa and ends in the street dog. There are a number of hearts for whom these few days of laughter and enjoyment can charge the batteries for the entire year. These few blogs are for those- a few journey down the times flow; reliving a few moments which I am sure is going to rekindle a series of frames from the deep crevices of memory.
The first leg of the journey starts, long long back, when a kid used to wait for the month of Kartik to end, that signals the beginning of a month long Pujo Vacation. Waken up by Ammi in the early morning, while Babai adjusted the radio set for the Mahalaya. Lying beside babai, sometime used to fall asleep only to be awakened by the baritone voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra doing Chandipath or the familiar song – “Jaago – Tumi Jaago”, awakening ma. Its time Ma starts her annual journey back to her own house from her husband’s place at Kailash with her four children. Sometimes Babai will readjust the radio to connect to some other station that has started the Mohalaya late and catch up the parts we missed due to sleep.
Soon it will be the familiar packing of bags, the hold-alls and the water bottles. It was time to take the trip to Benaras. First a journey on local train to Howrah station and then waiting for the all-important train to come. And the empty red compartments will slowly come in and wait for the doors to be opened. A familiar smell of metal wood and unknown memories and journeys may be. It is a smell I can still feel if I close my eyes. Identification of births, sometime the prevailing confusion of births between two groups of passengers, and finally one group finding it’s the wrong compartment. And a dinner from the tiffin box, a night on the upper birth, and yes comics and books from the “Wheeler’s”. Chandamama, Shuktara, Indrajal Comics, Diamond Comics, Champak- the demand was endless, luck usually lasted till three of them. A morning awakening with the screams of Chai-walas and a long stop at Mughal Sarai; crossing the Ganga and trying to identify the ghats from far, and then the final stop – Benaras.
Argument with Rikshaw-walas, reaching Jangam Bari via Godhowlia and then walk through those narrowest of lanes. Marveling at the narrowness of the lane beside Bengal Typewriter, a familiar face of the halwai at the sweet shops and the very known “chabutara”. Most of the idols made by Prafulla-kaka has already left the chabutara, only a few covered in the plastic and tarpaulin waiting to get delivered. A familiar bara darwaja and familiar screams and welcome from inside. At times the rest of the gangs were already there, but mostly we were the first. The Durgapuja was the festival celebrated by the tenants at the ground floor, while we were there early fir the Kalipuja. The “ekchala thakur” entered the “Bairer Ghar” (drawing room) of the ground floor through the door that opened on the chabutara on sashti – the sixth day after Mohalaya.
The unending flow of devotees, practicing our hands on the dahk, and fasting till the anjali is over, the excitement of new clothes everyday, and fascinated by the shiny yellow full-pant I got to wear that year. The evening outing with Dada and Didi (grandparents) to all other puja’s in benaras, the blue plastic sunglass I get to have and the gas balloons that will rest on the ceiling of my bedroom during the night. The evening arati’ and the familiar smell of dhuno, deep and flowers all mixed together. And the debate with cousins over the ownership of Ma Durga’s weapons after the Bhashan (immersion). The Sindoor khela of all married women and feeding the idols with sandesh. The look of Ammi and all other ladies and the similarity they had with their own, “ma” afterwards. It was Dashami – the day ma have to go back to her own home. It’s the time to say good byes, tear filled eyes, yet there is that excitement of riding the boat with Ma, just before the immersion in the mid river, the weapons will be taken off, and as per the agreements will come to our hands, and we will return back.
For some it is the time to start their journey back home; for us it’s a wait of twenty more days, till Diwali – our Kali pujo and Bhai phota (bhai duj). It will be a time to quickly finish the vacation school works as fast as possible during the morning and then a freedom to roam the rooftops with Ghuddis, cutting the joints of index fingers with manjha, and scaring off and getting scared of by the notorious monkeys. Those were times that rushes back as soon as I close my eyes – the streets, alleys, smell, rooms, courtyard, garden and the faces – so closely associated with Benaras and Durgapuja decades back.
Next stop will be about the decade later – venue Kolkata – Golfgreen…