Phuchka, Mahalaya and First Love

Posted: September 8, 2016 in For a thought....

What do I miss about Durga pujas? ( What do I miss about that undefined fragrance in the air? Or the stacks of bamboo poles strewn around every street corner, sending out a message that the magic is here?

What do I miss about the pujas?

After spending 42 years in Kolkata during pujas, this is the first time I am not only out of Kolkata, I am out of Bengal, I am out of the country, I am 12,535 kilometers away on the other side of the planet — in Canada, for good. Ever since I changed country of residence last year, I had dreaded the thought of spending a puja away from Kolkata. And now I am asked, what do I miss about pujas!

Where do I begin? From my days in frocks, when pujas meant clay being brought in from the Ganges and heaped onto the thakurdalan (raised platform exclusively maintained for the festival)of my ancestral home? We would be running back from school to see how much had the construction of the goddess progressed. From strips of bamboo being tied to form the scaffolding, to chokkhudaan (painting of Devi Durga’s eyes), to 108 alighted lamps flickering on the Durga’s amber face on Asthami, to bhashaan — when I stood leaning on a pillar and sobbed — what should I talk about?

In such a short column what should I speak about? Should I talk about our night-long rendezvous while in college and the overpowering aroma of phuchkas? (a fried road-side delicacy) Or about my first love, the momentum of which amplified during the ‘whole-night video shows’? Or how our eyes conversed during those four euphoric days?

Should I talk about how my son got his first colic pain due to the sounds of dhaak (drumbeats) or about how he spent the rest of his childhood jumping up awake in glee to same beats? Or should I talk about the moments of Mahalaya, ( the chants trickling in through my groggy sleep?

Ma Durga had been through my real and unreal. Through my childhood, my unsteady adolescence and my uneasy youth. She is a part of my beliefs and my atheism, my revolt and my acceptance, been a witness to my struggle and success. She has been my wings, when I flew into foreign lands alone with my son, with nothing but a stamped piece of paper… and no return tickets.

Here in Canada, no bamboo poles herald the ascent of the Devi. No lights adorn the streets. I do not get that familiar smell anywhere. Durga Puja is held in its own ‘big’ way among the Bengali community.

Even though it’s a hot pot of melting cultures, many in Canada do not know anything about Durga Puja. Or even if they know, they know it to be one more festival from Asia.

I do not feel sad. That’s it! I do not feel sad. I am happy that Ma Durga will visit the hearts of Bengal and light up the land once again. I am happy my motherland will remain unchanged. I am happy that whenever I can, I can return to my soil and inhale the puja air. Till then, I can always take a deep breath and smell that familiar lingering fragrance from inside my 43-year-old soul drenched in puja spirit.

  1. alka says:

    Very well written!


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