The scene changes, the location too. The ground floor tenants of D 34/60 Ganesh Mohalla have left. And with them the Durga Puja of the house left too. Hence the venue shifted to a new city, the city where we landed in 1983, and the location Golf Green – Kolkata.
The modest Pujo started couple of years back slowly gained ground. Soon it was a Pujo of three phases; phase 3, 4 and 7. Nearly 800 flats were part of the pool. And it was 5 days of freedom and gaiety, for which every Bengali wait through out the year. The preparation starts much earlier with the rotting smell of the Kadam flowers in July as the Puja Sale begins; The well planned opportunist will rush to market to buy the best and cheapest then, and slowly the market will star picking up, till it ends in a frenzy even during the Saptami. Even on a Saptami day, one can find ladies arguing with the roadside hawker, if they are open the next day too.
The Puja Committee will meet early in August to start the plans and preparation, and rthe children will find reason to escape the studies during the evening, in the pretext of rehearsing for the play or the dance drama. Some first task among the committee members will be for those in charge of collecting the “chanda”; the familiar rounds made by those collectors, weary after office faces in the evenings, moving from door to door. Some young members will always accompany them, as they will get some chance of sneaking a look at the beauties. Who knows when one can get an opportunity to strike a deal for an evening out during the Pujo.
The Mahalaya didn’t change its flavor. The vain efforts of some other people trying to take Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s place as he expired never succeeded; and Akashbani was forced to revert back to the recorded version of the Mahalaya – restoring its original glory. The days between the Mahalaya and the Sashthi always seemed the longest. For most the shopping was already done. Some households had to wait for the Puja Bonus to come. The days will see the bamboos getting delivered for the Pandal, the speculation on which pandal is going to look the best, and which Pujo is going to pull maximum crowd for its cultural functions. The stalls in the pandals were sold. And Ammi used to get one for her. A familiar stall of Chats, Phuchka’s and all those UP stuff used to get dished out; Babai being in charge of the cash, and occasionally when he had to assist Ammi, it will come to me. Such a prestigious position. Everyone interested in those lip-smacking plates and have to come to me to get their payments made. Even our unforgettable phuchka-wala Joginder-bhai won’t complain. He usually used to bring another partner from the village and still complain of palms burning from all the lal mirch he had to handle through the evening; oh yes he used to have a plate of dahi phuchka before our stocks for the day ended.
As soon as the evening stocks are over, its rush to the pandal seating area, to garner one of those folding chairs. The problem will arise when one needs to get up for the dinner or answer the call of nature. If you are fortunate you will have a partner to keep it reserved for you, otherwise you have to forgo it. So people starts generating ingenious ideas, and you can see people carrying those chair home on their back or someone sitting on it while drinking water from a tube-well. The familiar song and dance and drama of the evening will take us to wee hours of night. The slightly elder children will get the allowance of watching them till the end while the younger batch will be packed back home.
The mornings will be heralded by the familiar sound of dhak and the gathering at front of ma to offer the anjali. Men (including the growing ones) in Pajama and Kurta (amazingly those kurta’s are called Punjabi / Panjabi by us), and females of all ages mostly in Sari – preferably white with red border. Then the day at the pandal – familiar groups; somewhere males only, somewhere females only, both speculating over the other group, and devising pretext of going to and talking with the other group’s members. And then there will always be a group of mixed gang. Not to mention the group of guys who plan how they are going to spend the nights and the Dashami.
Sashthi used to see a pair of guys – opposites, one tall – the other short, one stylish – the other not, one well groomed – the other rustic, one shouting – the other wining the debates, Sudip and Indrajit, both planning and then climbing the terrace, when all family members are asleep. They have a plastic bag, which reveals a candle, a pair of glasses, a bottle of booze and two plates of Shami kebab – the celebration of beginning of Puja. Asthami evening marked by the Sandhi Puja will see the Dhunuchi Nach – dance with the earthen pot holding the dry fibres from Coconut simmering and blowing huge amounts of smoke under the effect of Dhuno sprinked on it. The hot earthen pots will be held in bare hands during the dance to the beats of dhak; sometimes the skilfull one havin one in each hand and one held between their teeth. The most skilful and daring ones, like the curly haired short guy – will be doing this wearing a dhoti.
The evening will be marked by the gathering of a group of 5 two wheelers and about 8 – 9 guys, armed with Dunlop guide of Puja pandals from the daily newspaper, and will begin their night long journey through the city. From the very south till the northern most ends – bag bazaar. In between there will be numerous identification of know faces, some snacking, giant wheels and aiming at balloons with those guns, which are always crooked to make you miss. Then all the way back through the other arterial road, in between missing one or two members in the night crowd, without a cell phone to trace them, yet knowing that they can be found at the next stop – as all are following the same Dunlop road guide.
Rising sun at Jodhpur Park, and sipping the bottle of Cola, waking up the half asleep stall owner. Dragging the weary sleepy body to bed for a sleep till noon, yet fully contend. Navami used to be the culmination – Tahqiq will arrive with is famous Biriyani Degchhi, Indra will vanish in the pretext of answering the nature and coming back after about one and a half hours. Everybody new, it’s a meeting with someone very much alive, with the permission to stay out, they might be found in the shadow of one of the trees, just beyond the pandal and watchful eyes of the elders. The preparation of Dashami will began from the Navami noon; collecting the siddhi, which will be kept to soak overnight at Sudip’s place, with a copper coin. From Dashami morning, there will be two groups, at his place. One on the floor – taking turn on the grinding stone, making paste of the siddhi, and the other on the bed, emptying the cigarettes and filling them back with ganja; some of them will be marked with a red dot – the booby trapped one with red chilly, or matchstick powders. Then the siddhi paste will go into a large milk drum, milkmaid tins will be emptied, kalakands and milk added, and finally mixed well. Satisfied the gang will break for the lunch and sleep before the grand finale in the evening.
It’s a time to say goodbye; not an easy task. The wooden benches and stools set. Its not the ekchala thakur, to reach the face of ma you need assistance. Sindur khela – and all the married women will sport those familiar face, smeared with sindoor – growing men’s dream, to have someone like them one day, coming back home after sindoor khela and bending down for a pronam. The gang re-assembles at Sudip’s place, the cigarettes distributed, and queue made. The short guy with curly hair from benaras will take charge of the “gowala haata” – a small pot with a long handle and a steel glass. Will fill the glass for the first man in the queue, who after finishing it will go back to the end of the queue. As the first man reaches back to the server, the curly haired guy will treat himself with a glassful; the ritual will continue till the drum empties – a friendly caution to all – “don’t have sweet after this”.
Rituals finished the idols are heaved onto the vehicle. The band parties arrive, the lights are carried on shoulders and the dhakis will take their position. The bisorjon Dance will begin – and a familiar cry – “aschhe bochhor abar hobe” (it will be happening again – next year). There are no rules, no pattern for this dance – anyone and everyone can; there will be one expert – famous for his “Ghushi nrityo” – boxing dance, sending 90 punches in a minute – of course on air. There will be chauvinistic guys and men – creating a circle of safety to let the females dance in peace. Some males will always take that chance to mingle among them, only to be pulled out by the elders and “responsible” ones. The cigarettes will come out, some non-gang members will ask for one, only to be duped by the booby trapped one. A fore warning given – “very powerful manipuri stuff, don’t think you can handle”, and then establishing the claim when the guy starts coughing helplessly smoking the red chilly. At the end of the dance sessions, some people will be found clapping and laughing incessantly at imaginary crowd in front of them, One sitting atop the bonnet of a truck – announcing aloud himself as Ho Chi Minh; another one with closed eyes – inn padmasana – middle of the road, asking if the plane has landed; while yet another trying to smoke an empty pipe with all his strength.
The Puja has ended, but not the celebration. It will be sweets all around (throwing the caution of not to have them to air), and kolakuli (hugging) and greeting all Shubho Bijoya. And preparing for the grand function the next day- where all the puja’s will compete by its invited artistes. The function with the empty part of the pandal – where till yesterday Ma was standing, the chandelier glittering, the armors shining; one have to wait for another year for her to come.