Durga Pujo to a Calcuttan- Connotations, religious and beyond!

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.

My ‘parar’ Durga Puja. The neighbourhood Puja – one that spells ‘home’. (My own click)

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”

Advertisements

টুকরো ছবি

টুকরো ছবি
 
 
“তাহলে প্রিয়গোপাল বিষয়ী থেকেই কিনছিস তো বেনারসীটা?”
সেক্টর ফাইভ লাগোয়া সিসিডী তে বসে দুই বান্ধবির কথোপকথন তা অনেকক্ষন ধরে শুনছিল অনিন্দ্য। পথচলতি পিএনপিসি, আসছে অগ্রহায়ণে বিয়ের শপিং, সোনার বাজার দরের ওঠানামা, কোন বান্ধবী সবছেয়ে জম্পেশ বর পাকড়াও করেছে থেকে কোথায় হানিমুনে যাওয়া যায়- সবই সেই আলচোনার অংশ। কাছাকাছি কোন বহুজাতিক তথ্যপ্রযুক্তি সংস্থার কর্মী দুজনেই সেটা ট্যাশপনা দেখলেই বোঝা জায়। সদ্য চাকুরিতে ঢুকেছে বোধহয়, এখনও দাস্বত্বের রঙিন স্বপ্নের ঘোর লেগে আছে কথাবার্তায় বোঝা যায়।   
অনেক ক্ষন ধরেই অদের কথায় আড়ি পাতছিল অনিন্দ্য। মাঝে মাঝে করে সে এরকম। কিছুটা একঘেয়েমি কাটানোর জন্য শুরু করেছিল অভ্যেস টা।।এখন অনেক টাই নেশা হয়ে দাঁড়িয়েছে। প্রথম প্রথম যখন বর্ধমানের বাড়ি ছেড়া কলকাতায় পড়তে এল, যাদবপুরের কাছেই একটা মেসবাড়ি ভাড়া করে থাকতো তারা কয়েকজন বন্ধু মিলে। তখন এত একঘেয়েমি ছিল না জীবনটায়…এই শহরটাকে এতটা অপরিচিত কিউবিকল সর্বস্বও মনে হত না। এখন তার কাছে বড়সর মাপের একটা চাকরী আছে। পরিচিতের পরিধি টা অনেক বেরেছে কিন্তু বন্ধুর সংখ্যা ক্রম হ্রাস্যমান। তাদের কেউ কেউ চলে গেছে গুড়্গাওন, কেউ মুম্বাই…কেউ বা সুদূর বিদেশ। কেউ কেউ হয়তো আছে এখনও এই শহরে কিন্তু সবাই প্রচন্ড ব্যস্ত।
খবরে কাগজে কলকাতার সম্বন্ধে মাঝেই যারা ভিক্টোরিয়ার ছবি লাগিয়ে এক্তা আদ্যন্ত কর্ম বিমুখ শহরের ছবি তৈরি করেয় তাদের সাথে দেখা করা অনিন্দ্যর মাঝে মাঝে এই ডেডলাইন মুখর দ্বীপের একটা গাইডেড ট্যুর দিতে ইচ্ছে করে।
মেয়ে দুটো উঠবে উঠবে করছে। ঘড়ির দিকে তাকালো অনিন্দ্য। ঈশ! আজ অনেক দেরী হয়ে গেল। প্রত্যেকদিনের আধন্টার অবসর কখন যে দেড় ঘন্টা অতিক্রম করেছে খেয়াল ই নেই তার।
মেয়ে দুটো বেশ। রোজকার আশেপাশের টেবিলের প্রোমোশন, বসের গসিপ এর থেকে একটা অন্যরকম আলোচোনা উপহার দিল তাকে। অনিন্দ্য কুবি নয়।।নয়ত কিছু লিখতো হয়ত। একবার ভাব্ল আলাপ করবে ওদের সাথে।।কিন্তু পর মুহূর্তেই ভাবল কি বলবে তারপর? তাদের কথায় আড়িপাততে প্রায় মাঝবয়সি অনিন্দ্য রায়ের ভাল লেগেছে?

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।

মাঝখান থেকে তার অফিসের লাগোয়া কফিশপ টায় যাওয়াই বন্ধ করে দিল সে। বেশী মেলামেশাও। এখন এখানে আসে সে। বেশী দূরে না, আবার কাছেও না। হাটাপথে মিনিট দশেক।
প্রত্যেকদিনের আধঘন্টার অবসর।
বিলটা মিটিয়ে বেড়িয়ে গেল অনিন্দ্য। অতিলোভ করে সোম থেকে শুক্রর এই আধঘন্টা টা হারাতে পারবে না সে। এই একঘেয়েমি, কর্মব্যস্ততার শহরে তো একেবারেই না।
 
 
“দেখো এই বাড়ির মেনটেনেন্সের যা খরচ তা আমাদের পক্ষে চালানো অসম্ভব বৌদি। বেকার সেন্টিমেন্টাল না হয়ে আমার প্রস্তাব টা ভেবে দেখো। আমাদের বাড়ির দারুন লোকেশন টা দেখেই কিন্তু মিঃ মুরারকা বাজার চলতি দরের থেকে অনেকটায় বেশী অফার দিচ্ছেন।”
একনাগারে নিজের কৌশিকের কথাগুল শুনছিল কাজরী। দেশপ্রিয় পার্কের বাসিন্দা, এই একদা বিত্তবান সেনগুপ্ত পরিবারের বধূ হয়ে যখন কাজরীর এই বাড়িতে প্রবেশ তখন কৌশিক সদ্য কলেজে ঢকেছে। মনে আছে ওর বিয়েটা কায়স্থ বাড়ির মেয়ে পরমার সাথে ঠিক করার পেছনে কাজরীর ভূমিকা অনেকটাই।
আর আজ সেই কৌশিক ই কিনা একেবারে গারজিয়ানের ঢঙে তাকে আদেশ করছে এই বাড়িটা বিক্রি করে দিতে সম্মত হতে। আদেশ ঠিক নয়, তবে হ্যা, যবে থেকে তার বৈধব্য সত্ত্বা তাকে গ্রাস করেছে, সে লক্ষ্য করেছে এ বাড়ির সবাই তার সব সিদ্ধান্তে নিজেদের অগ্রাধিকার দেখাতে চেয়েছে। তা সে তার মেয়ে টুয়া কি নিয়ে পড়বেই হোক বা তার নিজের কতটা অর্থসাহায্য চাই তা নিয়েই হোক।
টুয়ার বাবা মারা যাওয়ার পর কাজরীর পাশে সবাই এসে দাড়াতে চেয়েছিল। একদিক দিয়ে তো ভালই। সবাই বলল “বাবা! আজকাল কার দিনেও এরকম দেখা যায় নাকি?”। কাজরীর তো খুশী হওারি কথা।
কিন্তু কোথাও যেন তার এই মহানুভবতার পেছনে একটা করুনার গন্ধ লেগেছিল। সারাজীবন যা প্রত্যাখান করে এসেছে কাজরী। সেইবার সবার সামনে একবার বলেছিল যে সে একটা চাকরীর চেষ্টা করবে ভাবছে…ওমনি সবাই রে রে করে উঠেছিল। ছোট ননদ বুকাই তো বলেই ফেলল- “ছি! বৌদি, এরকম বলতে পারলে তুমি? আমরা কি তোমার পর?”
“বৌদি ভেবে দেখ কিন্তু কথাটা”
কৌশিকের কথায় আবার সম্বিত ফিরল কাজরীর।
“হ্যা, ভাবছি।।কবের মধ্যে জানাতে হবে বললে?”
“যত তাড়াতাড়ি সম্ভব” চাটা শেষ করচে করচে বলল কৌশিক “আসলে ডিলটা এত ভাল পাচ্ছি, বুঝতেই পারছো তো। ভয় লাগছে যে দেরি হয়ে গেলে হাতছাড়া না হয়ে জায়”
“হ্যা সে তো ঠিকি। আসলে তোমায় সেদিন ও তো বললাম না…তোমার দাদার এত স্মৃতি এই বাড়িতে…তাই ঠিক…” আমতা আমতা করে বলল আবার কাজরী।
“আহ! দাদার স্মৃতি কি একার তোমার বৌদি? এ বাড়িতে আমার শৈশব কেটেছে। বাবা মার স্মৃতি আছে…এই পাড়া…এখানে ডাংগুলি খেলেয় বড় হলাম…।সেই বাড়ি ভেঙে একটা বাহারি শপিং মল হয়ে যাবে, আমাদের ঠাকুরদালান কৌলিন্য হারিয়ে সবার কাছে আরেকটা বিনোদনের জায়গা হয়ে যাবে, সেটা কি আমার ভাল লাগছে বৌদি? তবে একগুয়ে হয়ে তো লাভ নেই……এই বাড়ির খরচ বা মেনটেন করা আমাদের আর পোশাবে না। যা দিনকাল দাড়াচ্ছে, আমাদের কতটুকুনি বা পুঁজি বলোতো?”
“হু!”
“তাছাড়া, এমন কিছু বাজে হচ্ছে না… গড়িয়ার কাছে মিঃ মুরারকার যে নতুন আবাসন তৈরি হচ্ছে তাতে নতুন ফ্ল্যাট, আর বেশ অনেক টাই টাকা। তোমারো তো ভবিষ্যৎ আছে একটা বৌদি…টুয়ার বিয়ে আছে…আর আমরা তো কাছেই থাকব সবাই। একি কমপ্লেক্সে। একদম ঝা চক চকে সবকিছু। আজকাল যেরকম হয় সব। আমাই একদিন দেখে এসেছি…ইয়া বড় বড় ৬ টা টাওয়ার। দেখবে টুয়ার দারুন লাগবে।”
“হ্যা…তবে গড়িয়া এখান থেকে বেশি দূর হয়ে যাবে না?”
“আরে গড়িয়া তো এখন শহরের মধ্যেই বলে… আমরাই যা ভাবি এরকম। টুয়া র ও কলেজ কাছে হয়ে যাবে অনেক। বেশী ভেবো না আর…আমি পরশূ আসব আবার ফাইনাল শুনতে। টুয়ার সাথে কথা বলে রেখোখন।”
বেরোবে বলে তৈরি হল কৌশিক।
“আচ্ছা, আমরা ছাড়াও তো আর বাকি অংশিদার আছে তাদের কি মতামত?”
“আরে সবাই রাজি…এতোভাল অফার টা…নন্তুদারা তো ক্যালিফোর্নিয়া থেকে আমায় পাওয়ার অফ এটর্নি দিয়ে দিয়েছে। ওরা কমপ্লেক্সের ফ্ল্যাট টা নিয়ে খুবি খুশি। নন্তুদা না কি এরমি একটা প্রোপার্টি তে ইনভেস্ট করতে চাইছিল। আর বাকি বোনেরাও যা ক্যাশ পাচ্ছে তাতেয় খুশি।”
“ওঃ তাই…ভালো তো”
“হু! ডিল টা হয়ে জাক…তুমিও আমায় ধন্যবাদ দেবে দেখো…আসি তাহলে…পরশু ফাইনাল করে রেখ সবকিছু…তুমি হ্যা বলার পর রাজ্যের কাজ আছে।।জমি বাড়ির ব্যাপার তো”
কৌশিক চলে যাওয়ার পর তার অংশের সুদর দরজাটা বন্ধ করে দিল কাজরী। টুয়া কলাজ থেকে ফিরতে এখন অনেক দেরী। এখন তার অখন্ড অবসর। অনান্য দিন এই সময় টুকুর দিকে মুখিয়ে থাকে কাজরী। গান শোনে। শখের কবিতা লেখে, বই পড়ে। টুয়ার বাবার স্মৃতি চারনা করে মাঝে মাঝে হয়ত।।কিন্তু আজকাল খুবি কম হয় সেগুলও।।হয়ত অভ্যেস। টুয়ার যখন চার বছর বয়শ তখন হারিয়েছে মানুষ টাকে। আজ টুয়াও নয় নয় করে ২০ তে পা দিয়েছে প্রায় সাড়ে চার মাস।
কিন্তু কি আশ্ছরজ আজ তার আর কিছু ভাল লাগছে না…সমানে টানছে ওই সামনের গাড়ি বারান্দাটা। কি জানি কি পিছুটান থেকে সেখানে গিয়ে দাঁড়ালো কাজরী। আর মুহূর্তে তের বয়শ কমেয় গেল প্রায় ২২ টা বছর। জীবন সংগ্রামে ক্লান্ত বিধ্বস্ত এক প্রৌড়া কাজরী নয়…সে তখন সদ্য একুশের পরশ মাখে লাল শাড়ি আর শাখা পলার সাজে মায়াবি এক কাজরী। তখন এ বাড়িটায় এক্সাথেয় হাড়ি চরতো প্রায় ৪০ জন লোকের। সদ্যবিবাহিতরা আজ যে স্পেস পেয়ে অভ্যস্ত, তার কিছুই ছিল না তাদের জীবনে। রাত ১১ টা পর্যন্ত তাদের শোবার ঘরে তখন আসর জমাতো একপাল ননদ দেওর রা।
কিন্তু ভাগ্যিস ছিল না…নয়ত কি আর ২২ বছর পর এক দুপুরে তার মনে পড়তো যে এই গাড়ি বারান্দা তে বসেই একদিন মাঝরাতে তাকে তাদের দাম্পত্য জীবনের প্রথম আদরের আশ্লেষে জড়িয়ে ধরেছিল ধ্রিতিমান…স্মৃতির চিলেকোঠায় যার নাম কাজরীর জীবনে টুয়ার বাবা হিসেবেই থেকে গেছে।
বাড়িটা হয়ত ভেঙে জাবে…অন্যসবাইয়ের মতো কাজরীর ও হয়ত মেনে নেওয়া ছাড়া রাস্তা থাকবে না..কিন্ত এই স্মৃতির অবসর টুকু কি তার গড়িয়ায় তৈরি হওয়া দু কামড়ার ফ্ল্যাট দিতে পারবে?

Goynar Baksho-Why it is refreshingly new!

I watched Goynar Baksho today. Obviously! it’s poila boishakh tomorrow and since the urban bengali’s ‘bangaliana’ is tested by allegiance to two things nowadays- ‘durga pujo’ and ‘poila boishakh’..I could not resist catching the ‘noboborsho’ release with my family. Of course the trappings of the corporate life has made the bhodrolok celebrate new year a day earlier on Sunday since Monday will again be a busy day with impending client calls and meetings 🙂

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 🙂

Tales of the Timeless city- Part 1

That my love affair with Calcutta grows every passing day is a layman’s guess. I love the city, in its every possible hue and tinge possible. So when the first blush of rain kisses the skies of my new Tollygunge home, I love the fact that I am lucky to be here.

 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’.

(Photo credit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/2/2a/Kolkata_Shyambazar_Panchmatha.jpg)

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)

B(v)idyang Dehi!

Firstly, I am too overwhelmed to write a proper movie review.

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!

“jol jomeche buk er bhetor, rod er obhabey…..”
 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” 

Saraswati Pujo- not so long ago.

So today is Saraswati Pujo. and like every bongo nari worth her salt, I also have a few memories here and there. But the memories that one associates with Saraswati pujo primarily in the bengali diaspora (read bangalir valentines day and a few more) are somewhat absent in my case. The reasons are varied. One of them is the fact that since the time I have entered college, I haven’t been able to attend one single Saraswati pujo. That’s quite a ‘long’ five years. Isn’t it?
While I was pondering on the issue about missing out on Sarswati pujo for five years straight during one of the class lectures (International Humanitarian law- was it) today morning that I realised that five years is indeed a long time. Time flies. But leaves a mark here and there. I could never have that perfect Saraswati pujo morning, ‘yellow taant sari’, jhari mara at para and then a very innocent love affair may be (mishti mishti prem)- the beginning of it, on Sarswati pujo. And I don’t think I will ever have one in this life. The age is long gone.

Don’t get me wrong. I love being twenty three and am really looking forward to turning thirty (and I have very different aspirations from gul panag on that count)…but I am equally at ease to acknowledge that every age and every passing by year brings with it it’s own charm. Think about it. I will not trade being twenty three with being eighteen. and vice versa. Because twenty three has given me the confidence to take on the world (and now that my friend Runjhun has convinced the laziest side of me, I am seriously giving that book a thought). In short, it’s like this I am more aware of myself and know that I have something to bank on. and regardless of how much we crib about life, we have all emerged victorious. And Eighteen was all about that lush green innocence with dash of pinks and blue. I still have blues, green and pink on my mind- all over it. But I have to acknowledge it- that starry eyed me at eighteen is widely different from me now at twenty three. And it’s true for most of us. Pinks, blue and green stay on…just the quota of innocence (and rose tinted glasses) remain on the statistical flow chart 🙂 You love that chocolate sundae right? And you love it more when you can buy that for yourself and your beloved ones-dad, mom, sister. Twenty three is about that. But that Rupees five candy ice cream(which my mom always told me was made of “nordomar jol”- water out of sewer pits) always tasted sweeter.

And this was about Saraswati pujo, right??? Oh! yes.

I never attended Saraswati Pujo in my school, Nava Nalanda since our founding fathers and mothers belonged to the Brahmo sect (ones among Hindus who do not believe in idol worship). never had the opportunity to attend Saraswati Pujo during my two years in Higher Secondary section in South Point, so don’t know about that experience also. But then again people in Nava Nalanda had carefully planned out a completely different Valentines Day for itself. Trust the Nalandites to do that- some of the best brains in the city flocked in there. And any guesses what that day was. Well!! Pochishey Bosihakh, the day we celebrated the birth anniversary of the man who influenced me and continues to do so for generations that will be beyond my comprehension. Yes! Rabindrajayanti (or Nava Nalanda’r Rabindrasmaran was our very own homespun Valentines day (along with a dash of Reunion spirit) with laal paar sada shari, jui phooler mala and hint of first crush. Many of my friends invited their dates to come to the boulevard on that day and though I never had one, I loved discussing every bit of my crush on that young and dapper maths teacher of mine who never really thought anything me about me other than the very chubby para kid. Sigh!

But, I miss one thing about Saraswati pujo…actually two. Wearing Saris. That’s the first one. For someone who loves wearing the garment on every other occasion, the day is a dream. My mom would never fuss about tying my sari, because she thought it was one day when I should wear it properly (I still can’t neatly drape a sari and my mom always complain that why don’t I learn it properly). And the second one is obvious, and you must have guessed it by now in case you even have an iota of hint about the bong foodie inside me. Yes! the Saraswati pujo menu. And there lies a huge twist also.

Most of the bong households (and that cuts through the Bangal-ghoti divide) traditionally prefer having Khichuri and other delicious vegetarian stuff on the day of Saraswati pujo. But people originally from Dhaka, Bikrampur or for that matter my ancestral village Bharakar, have this tradition of eating ‘jora ilish’ (twin hilsa fish) on the day Saraswati pujo.I am not sure whether it’s  family custom or more of a ‘lokachar’ (custom of the people across a particular region), but that’s what I remember. I remember my amma cutting the ilish into pieces after what I described as a ‘pujo’ with Holud (turmeric) and other memorabilia considered holy in the Bengali household. They were neatly put across in a tray which much to my amusement looked like the tottwo tray (gifts tray) used in Bengali marriages.
My father always had a tough time locating the jora ilish during this time of the year. Later, he switched to bringing two identical Hilsa fishes and then go ahead with the custom. The preparation was simple. The normal ilish beguner jhol (hilsa curry with eggplants), the way its is supposed to be on that day.My mom cooked the perfect variety with a splatter of  kalo jeerey (cumin seends) thrown in.  For me that was simply heaven. Rice and Ilish mach- Perfect bliss for me.
But all that was many eons ago, and that makes me realise- time flies. albeit with brakes in between. It will be five years this Christmas since Amma has left for her heavenly abode. We no longer have jora ilish during Sarswati pujo. It was not possible to get hold of one such jora ilish or for that matter two identical ones and once it was stopped, it was suggested we do not carry it forward any more. (It’s almost a general belief in case a ritual or custom is involuntarily stopped somehow, one should not carry it forward or do so with some more customs thrown in- we of course switched sides with Khichuri which is a favourite with my sister and mom.) I haven’t been home for any Sarswati pujo in between for the past five years. I haven’t attended one single Saraswati pujo in my father’s newly done up library downstairs. I have stopped missing the banter every time anybody would come to my house door to collect subscription money for their nondescript club and my father asking each one of then the correct spelling of ‘Saraswati’ in Bengali and in English.

But I still remain a sucker for that ilish beguner jhol. Everytime, I go back home, my mom makes sure I have enough helpings of my favourite ilish mach with that perfect dash of kalo jeerey. It’s that ‘one’ dish that makes me proclaim that my mom is the best cook in the world. (I have actually three best cooks- My didun, ma and my pishimoni- don’t be jealous :P). I still don’t get to eat more than one or two Narkel er Kul (not translatable) even after Sarswati pujo. Earlier it was the fear of impending exams. Here it is simply not available- that’s why. And I think I will almost end up enjoying the triumphant faces of those children on my doorstep spelling out – dontye shwo, ro, dontye shwoy bwoy, to ey dweerghoyi kar- and my father cheering them “very good” and giving them that coveted twenty rupees note. The inflation might have made the stakes higher and twenty might now spell fifty or hundred- but that is primarily an economist’s debate. For me, somethings never change 🙂 🙂

Biddhye dao, Buddhi dao 🙂
Sri Sri Saraswati Debyoi Nomoh!