The very first thing every year I do after I get hold of the calendar (the Roman and the Bengali one, both) is to check the Durga Pujo dates. You may call it a habit, a glimpse of joy or a routine…anything. But I am sure that I am not the only one. Bengalis are by birth emotional and the degree attached to my idiosyncrasies is wee bit more. I am the kind who would cry silently in the bathroom after watching a few pictures of my city getting all decked up for Durga pujo on Facebook and then walk out perfectly happy and sane after thinking about the ‘to do’s in a ‘Probashi pujo’.
Frankly speaking, this is not the first time that I am away from home during Durga pujo, the significance of which in the life of an ordinary Calcuttan (and by that I mean all Calcuttans!) can be only understood by visiting the city during the time of the festival. I have heard many comparisons about Durga pujo being almost like Ganesh Chaturthi in Bombay, Hyderabad or Pune or for that matter internationally the Rio Carnival in Brazil. Amongt these I have experienced only the Hyderabadi celebrations and so I may not be qualified to comment but deep down inside, as girl growing up in a South Calcutta neighbourhood where pujo meant the excitement of discussing plans about decoration of the pandal and collecting funds way before the celebrations started, I know that Durga pujo in a Calcuttan’s life cannnot be substituted.
I have no qualms in admitting that Durga pujo for me and for many like me who grew up in Calcutta had connotations beyond being just a religious festival. And there lies the spirit and warmth which makes pujo so unique. I have seen, in Hyderabad for instance, that only people who follow a particular faith as mine, Hinduism, participating in the celebrations for Ganesh Chaturthi and during the day of Visarjan a curfew is often imposed in the old city area just to avert any chances of communal tension. And to think that we Calcuttans mark the beginning of our Durga pujo itinerary by making a mandatory visit to Arsalan and by devouring the mutton biriyani! It’s a pilgrimage, just like the chelo kabab or the prawn cocktail in Peter Cat or Mocambo. And of course the bhog that is served during the pujo days in the neighbourhood. Perhaps the only vegetarian fare which seems tasty to the tongue to the Calcuttan foodie 🙂 Durga pujo is as important for gastronomical delights to be explored as hopping through the makeshift wonders which dot the cityscape for the 4 days. People visiting the city first time during the pujo often wonder that so much of creativity and thought has gone for the preparation…and that too just for 4 days. I think there are already reams of data available on the internent over how Durga pujo celebrations is almost a cottage industry in Bengal ( I am not making a point for Industrialisation in Bengal).
My friends often wonder how can we Bengalis, and also the Calcutta Marwaris, Gujaratis and Biharis, who have called Calcutta home for a long time now and that includes many of my friends who subscribe to the tought “ghar mein veg bahar non veg” (eating vegetarian fare in the house and non vegetarian outside”), eat non vegetarian food during the time we are celebrating a religious festival. My answer to the often remains that it is the same fervour with which we devour the Biriyani in a neighbour’s house during Eid or eat the plum cake during Christmas. And if I miss out on the Langar food during Guruparab (also Balwant Singh’s dhaba food in Bhawanipore) it will be almost blasphemy and I will not be qualified enough to call myself a Calcuttan. Calcuttans are often called a ‘hujugey’ lot. One who go by the wave. What else will describe the city’s euphoria in descending upon Park Street on the 24th December night every year? There are numerous flipsides in attaching so much importance in celebrating every festival, but somewhere I feel that it attaches a non communal flavour to the city’s diaspora. And the Durga pujo is the biggest among them all. That explains the Councillor of my ward, who practises Islam, taking active interest in making the pujo a success and never missing out on the Ashatmi bhog. That also includes the Sardars who stay near Bhawanipore being an active support in all the pujo planning.
Yes, I pray every year…and piously give my Ashtami anjali, fasting for the first half for the day and planning where to eat in the night. That is in between popping two gelusil tablets (Bengalis and their acidity!) I make wishes before the Goddess and participate in the ‘Sondhi pujo’ where I see thousands gather to pay homage to the mother who saved mankind. The magical moment of celebration all women kind when the 108 lights bloom in full grandeur to express their gratitude to the power of a woman. That is religious for me, extremely religious. That moment often defines the understanding of me being a “Hindu”. A practitioner of the “sanatan dharma”. For me, it is not remotely related to anything including eating non vegetarian food, chowmein, carrying mobile phones, going to pubs and parties, wearing what I feel I look beautiful in, being confident about myself or being friends with people of other faiths or inviting them to share the Bhog.
Calcutta, I have heard and seen, is incrasingly becoming intolerant towards the fairer sex. A year ago also I could take pride in the fact that my city is one of the safest in India, not anymore. But Durga pujo every year gives me hope. A hope that the same people who put up posters about “praying in front of the Goddess” will learn a thing or two about how not to make snide remarks about a woman wearing something you find “sexy” in the crowd. Let her enjoy the pandal hopping or the adda ta Maddox square just like you do. Or to jostle inside the Pujo pandal just to grope her. Interestingly, it is also the time of the year when a significant number of eve teasing cases are registered in Calcutta. I do not claim I have never faced any during Pujo.
This year, I will be celebrating pujo in a faraway land. I will attend Germany’s biggest Durga pujo and one of Europe’s biggest pujo, in Cologne. I am looking forward to the excitement here…very much palpable among the ‘probashis’. The cultural program, the arrangements, the self cooked bhog….but deep down inside I know I will miss the crowds, the lights, the chant from the balcony while welcoming the daughter when she comes home a day before “shoshti”- “Thakur eshe geche” (“Look the deity has arrived”) and the spirit that is called Calcutta.
Pujo, for us Calcuttans, will always remain a celebration of life- food, friends, adda, nostalgia and planning for the next year 🙂
“Ashche bochchor abar hobe”
মেয়েগুলো হয়তো তার পদমর্যাদার কদর করে “ঠিক আছে” গোছের উত্তর দেবে হাসিমুখে। এরকম স্তাবকতায় সে অভ্যস্ত। হয়তো বা পরে সে সদ্য বিবাহবিচ্ছিন্ন শুনে তার গায়েপড়ে আলাপ টাকে “আলুর দোষ” বলবে। এ এক আচ্ছা মুশকিল। আগে জনমত নির্বিশেষে অফিসের সবার সাথে আড্ডা মারত অনিন্দ্য। পরে দেখল নতুন জয়েন করা কিছু মেয়ে একটু বেশীই কদর করছে তার পথচলতি ছবি আঁকার। কয়েকজন আবার বলতে আরম্ভ করল সে নাকি বিশাল ফ্লারট।
These days Bengali films are nicely publicised and packaged. Goynar Baksho was no different. That coupled with the assurance of an Aparna Sen’s finesse was enough to guarantee the connoisseur Bengali a nice evening out. Needless to say, I was not completely disappointed.
‘Not completely’ since I went with my mom, dad, sister and my husband and the cumulative verdict was different. What I admire about every Sen movie till date is her adept portrayal of a subtle liberal/feminist approach which is sometimes unimaginable in the situations depicted. Goynar Baksho is no different. The story chronicles the journey of three generation of women of a family which traces its roots in erstwhile ‘purbobongo’. Set in the time when India had just gained her independence, this erstwhile wealthy landlord family from Faridpur had to transfer base to West Bengal and are shown as still getting accustomed with their now non existent ‘aristocratic’ habits.
Moushumi Chatterjee portrays the role of a child widow who vehemently guards her box of jewels…even after her death. She is worried about the fate her ‘500 vori’ jewel and entrusts the newly wed Konkona SenSharma with the responsibility of protecting her jewels. But she is not the benevolent image of the elderly ‘Pishima’ we get to see in the movies. Moushumi, as the abusive, venom spewing, strict taskmaster ‘pishima’ is a revelation. And that ‘bangal’ accent…this movie makes me realise that overtly beautiful women have often remain hugely underused in our cinema.
She threatens Konkona with dire consequences if she even thinks of touching her jewellery..including killing her husband. And what follows is mayhem. Hillarious picture sequences and characterisations make the first half an enjoyable watch.
The second half is the part where Sen leaves er mark again…albeit with the hilarity this movie is conceived with. Konkona, as a first generation entrepreneur..probably the first of the working women of our society sends a message and so does Pishima. ‘Pishima’s’ words of wisdom about all that thoughts we have about sin, lust, benevolence is just a sham- is the high point of the movie. ‘First hand experience’ as she puts it. And there comes the fiery expression of suppressed sexuality and celebration of womenhood. Sen has a knack of portraying feminist discourses in the relationships you least expect. Be it the timid housewife in ‘Paroma’ or the mother in law and daughter in law relationship in ‘Paromitar Ekdin’…she finds the bond of being a women, a reason to celebrate.
The initial portrayal of Moushumi’s character makes you least expectant of the bond that a ghost will share with her daughter in law…but even more surprising is her words of encouragement for Konkona to pursue a love affair and not be trapped in a marriage where her husband can have a mistress but she cannot afford to have a male companion. The subtlety with which she points out the intellectual difference that she has with her husband, or her openness of Srabanti’s character smoking when the film shifts base in the 70’s is well scripted and portrayed.
To think that a women who belonged somewhere in 1920’s could have a mind which thinks and how, is definitely encouraging for a society which still tells it’s women to dress up properly or not to wear that short dress when you go clubbing. My juniors have recently faced the wrath of moral policing in Hyderabad and that has been the shoddiest of the shows ever. But Goynar Baksho gives me faith.
There are a lot more layers to the story which needs to be discussed, but I thought of writing this post to jot down these points since while coming out of the theatre my father expressed his disappointment and so did my mother. They expected the apparently carefree mood of the first half to continue. I disagreed. Thank you Sen for making this one…..because we need more of pishimas in our lives and in the society where we currently live in.
Go and watch. My husband does not watch many Bengali movies. But he for one enjoyed the movie, may not to the fullest but glad that he appreciated the subtext of characterisations. There lies the success of the storyteller. Shirshendu Babu, I have not read the original story..but after the portrayal, I will surely do so 🙂
Shubho Noboborsho 🙂
There have been umpteenth attempts to chronicle the life and times of the city on numerous occasions before. I will be humble enough to not compare them with my choice of stories. But as they say..every Calcuttan is born with words they want to share with the world…I am no different. So what stories does this city tell when you first meet her in an unknown landscapes…..the portraits we term as the ‘North Calcutta gullies’.
I feel ashamed to acknowledge the fact that I had never witnessed North Calcutta in her full glory before. The sounds and sights of that part of the city which witnessed the historically accounted ‘Babu culture’ at its crowning glory. I feel ashamed that I discovered the hawkers of Hatibagan Bazaar so late. All my life I had been this pucca well bred South Calcuttan who could never outgrow her posh neighbourhood. My visits to the Northern parts of the city were restricted to admiring its museum like atmosphere. The ‘Mohunbagan Row’ near Shyambazar reminded me that how much of this city is still enamoured by football and the ghoti bangal divide…but it was only recently I discovered the legacy of the fight when I came across a hoarding of ‘Telengabagn sarbojonin’ painted in ‘sobuj maroon’ (green and maroon) colours. It made me realise that Calcutta is not just called a city for everyone by fluke. It has something for everyone. While I could not stop laughing at the rival colours, it made me realise that it is also a walk through a time warp. The city which loves to have its ilish-chingri debates on their iPads. Whoever told that Calcutta is a city of the past should think again. Yes! we love to preserve our privilege, but there is no harm in that….why should there be if we love to talk about our ‘Culture’..since we have one…..then why not flaunt it. And we do it far more subtly than other. But the presumption that goes with it- we cannot accept change….a newer wave, is horribly wrong. We are a city who love to dance on the beats of the dhaak during Durga Pujo at Maddox square…but we also love to listen to the bets of the music at Someplace else. Yes! we are a city who can successfully balance the both. We love food. We love to try everything new…..so in case we try out Italian at the newest and the costliest place in town (and don’t forget to let the world know about it ala FB check in app)…we never fail to appreciate the Kobiraji cutlets and the biriyani from Arsalan. It’s a huge crime if you don’t. Calcuttans are a happy bunch…because we live to tell stories of our joys, dreams, heartbreaks and pining(s). The pining for the city of love when they are away…..you can never get enough of the city when you are our…. so when the page on FB (Kolkata Tips) rationalises a meme saying something to the effect that when you are in here you curse the city…but when you are out…you long to be here…..they are actually true. You miss the city most when you are away. That’s when you realise how much you love the gorgeous greens of the Golf club road, the pestering heat and the newly turned Bonga localised Kolkata metro. Its everywhere. Ask me!
People termed me a fool when I left my big fat pay cheque and whims of a corporate life at Hyderabad last year. They warned me that Calcutta will not provide me enough of opportunities to explore. But did it really matter? What is an opportunity if you cannot share it with your loved ones? May be that is how I look at life and I longed to be back here….the only place in this whole wide world that I call ‘home’.
And I am happy I stood by my decision….even happier because Deep saw my point and supported me throughout. It took time, but Calcutta gave me an opportunity to explore in my career which I would have probably not got if I had decided to stay somewhere else..somewhere I don’t belong. I always had this dream of calling the shots..and I think I am getting there. And I love the fact that it hugely helps my bank balance too. I really want to make this perception clear that myths like money is less in Calcutta is hugely overdone. You really want to be exploited in the corporate world…bingo! they will give it to you anywhere…Calcutta to Colorado. Why blame this city only?
(To be continued)
Secondly, I am no movie critic.
It’s just that I am overwhelmed by the cinematic experience called ‘Kahaani’. What a movie! What a city! and what an actor(s)! (sic.)
There is absolutely no doubt that I am a devout Calcutta fan. Needless to say there are many more in the blogosphere or for that matter, in this small place whose mystery is still being investigated by a certian Sheldon Cooper ;), but ‘Kahaani’ has shook me…after a long, long time.
Nobody, and this includes the over emphasis of the Howrah Bridge, the phuchka in front of Victoria and Moulin Rouge in Parineeta, has shown my city, the only city in this whole wide world I call ‘home’ so beautifully…unadulterated, pure, charming, graceful, pregnant with expectation, warmth…and lethal. The women organisations may debate on and on…but Kolkata and ‘Calcutta’ you are truly ‘sexy’ and a ‘siren’. A ‘sex-bomb’ I say.
The best part about the film is the fact that in doesn’t show Calcutta in that very stereotypical mould of the city of the past. It is about today. It is about the constant optimism that we Calcuttan’s live with…..probably the only city that balances of its ‘korchi na korbo na’ tradition with the new found lingo of Sector V and Rajarhat. (It’s completely different that I find Camac Street a class apart :))
You know what? I think Sujoy Ghosh is a pucca Calcuttan….not any other non resident Bong…he doesn’t make that stupidest mistake that anybody commits nowadays and which makes Calcuttans like me turn back and retort- “Salt Lake is not Kolkata.” I know you will cringe but the fact remains- it’s still a satellite township which doesn’t fall within the limits of the city. Sujoy Ghosh actually moves ahead and don’t fall into that beaten formula of showing yesteryear’s Kolkata means- Victoria Memorial, Park Street, Trincas and Cabaret. Today’s Kolkata is- Victoria Memorial, Howrah Bridge and decorated pieces in some sleepy neighbourhood of Salt Lake. That mould is broken! Most importantly, Sujoy Ghosh and the DoP, Setu, thank you for showing Calcutta moments in a mainstream collage without adding any hanky panky which is so very associated with the cities timeline.
His Calcutta is very much the Nonapukur or Kumortuli we know. Or the bylanes of a smellingly old Central Calcutta house. And the very evident and bustling South Calcutta. Kalighat, Triangular Park, Ballygunge Cultural er pujo….uuf!! ki nei.
And Durga Pujo!!!! What a montage, what a use of Dhaaks in the climax. The very religious symbolisms turn into the imagery of woman power which kills and protects. Hats off! for even thinking like this.
And I will not talk about the performances. Vidya Balan, my dear Palaghat Iyer lady, you are an honorary bong or rather a Calcuttan now…you know that right? Thank you for being so subtle and so unapologetic and proud about being full….film after film. In today’s world of heroines (not actresses) so very obsessed with their frail frames, you are a worthy exception. And so very seductive. The film also showcases the goldmine of talented actors that Bengali cinema treasures. Parambrata Chattopadhyay, Saswata, Kharaj….each and everyone. The ‘kahaani’ of the film is it’s true hero and the scriptwriting is- to use a teenager’s way of expressing her first Valentine moment- out of the world!
And then there is that one person who has probably given words to all my emotions…every single time 🙂 His song written probably quite a few years ago binds the thematic representation of the story at a level where we all identify. Probably he doesn’t need any more reckoning and we are minions to give him so…..but once again he proves, and a point well proved, that those who call him outdated are so very obsolete and poor (the word couldn’t possibly match up to the emotional content of the bengali word ‘deen’).
The only character who overshadows all this and rises much beyond is the lady who is better known as the city of laughter, joy, warmth and tinkle- Calcutta!
ar shakti chattujjey r koyekta line ei onibarjo shohor ke niye….kobitatar ostwittyo somporkeyi wakibohol chilam na….facebook er duniyata dure rakhe shohorta theke…abar kanday jokhon mon khuje beray pujor gondho makha shohortar kotha bhebe.
shotti ki kolkata chere giye keu boleche sukhey achi? ami bolini…ami janiona erom keu boley kina..hoyto bole..hoyto boley naa…kintu sobar ei mapkathir bhirey ami nei……
kolkata kolkata korche monta shokal theke…ei shohortay jara thakeni kokhono tara b odhhoy janena ekta shohorke niye kibhabe ekta okritrim fantasy gorey uthte pare…amar jemon ma er jonyo mon kandey, temoni kandey shohortar jonyo…ashole shohorta amar onek ta jurey ache.
hoyto ba aaj firley pore dekhbo je smritigulo aankrey ami boshey achi..je smritigulo niye meghomollar, tar kichu ba ache, kichu buriye geche amader boyosher sathe sathe, kichu ba swapner hatchani te pari diyeche bangalore, bombay, delhi, hyderabad…kintu oi shohortateyi atkey ache amar sotero bochhor boyoshta.
oi shohortayi amake beche thakar swapno dekhatey shuru kore…chotoboyoshey palatey cheyechi onek baar oi shohortar theke….oitukuni meye tokhon b oltam “ei shohortay kono opportunity nei”
aar jokhon aaj eto durey tokhon upolobdhi kori keno sob sobujer rong neel hoyna…sob neel keno amader chnuye jete parena..sob neel ke keno amra chnutey parina…..
amar boltey kono dwidha nei..aaj ei ekla ghorey amar sob peyechir araleo amar khed acha kolkata tomay chere ashar jonyo…..amar protyekta swapner modhye unki marey “kolkata jodi tomar kache firtey partam”