মনের কথা

সেদিন কে একজন বলছিল – “কি রে বাংলায় লেখা বন্ধই করে দিলি নাকি?”

আমি বললাম – “জানোই তো আজকাল এস ই ও, ব্লগ হিটসের এর বাজার। এরমাঝে আমার প্যানপ্যানানি বাংলা লেখা কে পড়বে বলোতো?”

“কেন রে বংপেন তো দিব্যি বাংলায় লেখে”

“কি যে বলোনা? কিসের সাথে কিসের তুলনা?”

একথা, সেকথায়, কথা হারায়, আমারও বাংলা লেখা হয়ে ওঠেনা আজ বহুকাল। এরমাঝে আমার নতুন ব্লগঠিকানা হলো, নিজের নামে। নতুন ফেসবুক পেজ হলো ব্লগের, আরো কত কি…

কিন্তু এই যে খেরোর খাতা, মনের ডায়েরি, যেখানে নিজের গল্প করব বলে এই ব্লগবকম শুরু আমার, সেখানেই আর নিজের বলা বোঝার সব থেকে স্বাবলীল ভাষায় আর কিছু লেখাই হয় না আমার।

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যারা আমার ব্লগ পড়েন তারা হয়তো জানেন যে কিছুদিন আগে আমরা একটা নতুন বাড়িতে শিফট করেছি। নিজেদের কেনা প্রথম বাড়ি। বলতে পারেন, মনের রঙ মিশিয়ে সাজানো। আজকাল কেউ বাড়িতে এলেই ঘুরে ঘুরে তাদের ঘর দেখাই – “এইটা কেমন হয়েছে বলো? আর ওইটা”।

Continue reading “মনের কথা”

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#HomeKahon – The story of my Indian Home

The story of designing my first home from scratch.

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They always talk about first love, but rarely in our documented history do we prefer talking about our other firsts?

The first job, the first salary, first car, first home….

You may call me severely materialistic, but all these hold a very special place in my heart, just like my first “Aam Panna” I shared with my husband, the first story that got published or the first ‘Phuchka’ that I had in Calcutta after returning from Europe after a year and a half.

Designing and making a ‘home’ out of a ‘house’ is always a challenge, especially if it is your ‘first’ one. You want it to be special and unique. My wishes were no different. I was a never a big ‘home decor’ enthusiast.

In fact, I often scorned at my mother who would scold me or my sister at the very sight of us sluggisly sitting on the sofa and squishing away her cushions. I was always the lethargic kid (“lyadhkhor”) as they call in colloquial Bengali), who loved her sleep.

Continue reading “#HomeKahon – The story of my Indian Home”

Making memories together….

I am writing for the #ShareTheLoad activity at BlogAdda.com in association with Ariel.

Household work in India is often undermined as ‘no work’. I remember having a conversation with a friend where we were discussing how being a ‘housewife’ in India meant that you are completely unproductive and have nothing to do in life. Even a few years back, people rarely understood the value of wholesome support that our mothers’ and probably their mothers’ generation have put into our upbringing and running an entire household. The house continued to run like well oiled machinery, with everything in place – well dusted living rooms, book shelves, warm home cooked food and ironed clothes in the morning, and yet our mothers never got paid anything for all that. I realised the true value of that wonderful support system when I ventured out to make a home of my own.

It is often told that when you educate a woman, you educate a generation and with our generation, women became aware that it was important for every human being to have world of their own. And so today we are taking flights in every sphere of life. Needless to say, all that would not have been possible without the strong support that we get from our better halves – our beloved husbands!

I got married 3 years back and I wanted to be a strong home maker just like my mother. But I had other ambitions too. I have a day job as a lawyer and I follow my creative pursuits in the form of writing. I love doing things for my home to make it a cocoon of peace and love, but sometimes I am short on time or patience. It is probably the story of every young family today.

My husband has been my strongest pillar of support since our marriage. He has always encouraged me and supported me in all my ventures. Apart from the moral support, he has shared the load of household chores with me. I remember I was the hesitant one to ask him to do some housework just after our marriage since we have traditionally seen female members of our family doing everything related to the household. But it was he who insisted that we sit down and sort out all our ‘to do’s and responsibilities’ for the week.

So while I was good at cooking, I hated doing the laundry and he took up the job. He appreciated that I had a career of my own and when we both returned dog tired from office after work, it was not only my responsibility to make the evening tea or cook the dinner. We both took turns and as a result, we enjoyed the best of both of our culinary talents. I am the more traditional cook while he remains the experimental one.

Continue reading “Making memories together….”

The Ambassador-stories of the “Sarkari” car, yellow taxis and freshly minted ‘old’ times…

That Hindustan Motors has decided to stop production of the iconic Ambassador car at its “Hind Motor” factory near Calcutta is almost stale news now. Probably as stale as the Ambassador grew for our changing tastes and everything fast and furious. If I go on to say that the decision made me teary eyed, I will be lying. For long, it was almost common knowledge. The factory situated in the outskirts of Calcutta, near a place called Uttarpara was more in news for constant labour troubles and decreasing in production. We all knew that, Ambassador, once the symbol of India’s elite’s pride and prestige was nearing an almost slow death. Let’s be honest and accept that even though my father always preferred Ambassador over all other cars because of the leg space, boot space and comfort, it was never the ‘in’ thing for my generation. When me and my husband decided to buy our first car almost 2 years back, Ambassador was not even in consideration. Why should it be? It was outdated in design, in comfort and in style.

But this post is not about the things which made  the Ambassador extinct, rather this is about the stories and the moments which will also be a part of our memories revolving around the car which meant so many things to us at different stages of our growing up years.

Kobekaar Kolkata shohorer bukey...
Kobekaar Kolkata shohorer bukey…

From: Here

My first memory about Ambassador cars was not about the car itself but the place called “Hind Motor”. One of my father’s dearest friend lives in Srerampore, an old town situated on the banks of the Hooghly. I remember often visiting their place during winters for the pleasure known as “choruibhati” or “picnic” among us Bengalis. We used to catch a particular train from Howrah station and I always managed to wrestle a sit by the window to see the changing landscape unfold in front of my eyes. The hustle bustle of the city and the larger than life images of the Howrah Bridge later, the stories of small towns nearby Calcutta made me inquisitive…always. And the most intriguing part was about the nomenclature of these places – “Rishra”, “Uttarpara”, “Liluah” and there was another one called “Hind Motor”. My father was my Google during those days and he told me during one of those trips that “Hind Motor” was named after the famous Hindustan Motors factory situated there. That must have been early 1990’s because I distinctly remember him explaining about how an entire township had developed on the basis of the employment generated due to the gigantic Hindustan Motors factory. Being my inquisitive self, I must have asked him about why Ambassador cars were either white or yellow. To that, I was told that the white cars are either ‘private’ cars or ‘sarkari’ cars and the yellow ones are ‘taxis’.

Mind you, this was India of 1990’s. Globalisation had still not swept us off our feet and our NRI relatives were our mini “demi gods”. The 15 days they were here in India, they demanded every bit of the attention they deserved. We used to gape in wonder about the ‘biiiiiig’ cars they used to drive on the picture perfect roads. For most of us, owning a car during those times was actually a status symbol. Just like the instant edge that you had over your friend if your family had a landline telephone connection and your friend’s mother used to talk incessantly with her grandmother while sitting in your family’s living room. And the very few of the cars we knew was “Maruti 800”, “Fiat” and the grand old man- “the Ambassador”. While Maruti had already started making inroads into the dinner table fantasy of the middle class, “Ambassador”, the white coloured one, represented prestige, power and aristocracy.

I remember my father asking one of his friends about the car he had recently purchased. At this point, I must tell you that I have inherited my genes of “sucker for everything old” from my father. So while the uncle went on to lament how great a car Maruti was, my father constantly told him that he should have got an Ambassador. His reasons were simple. Even if you forget the comfort and the space the car provided, the ‘Class’ that it appended to your status can never be forgotten. “Abhijatyo” and the middle class Bengali- ah! that will make for another good story.

Strangely, a very inquisitive person like me also never questioned my father’s beliefs about the Ambassador being the epitome of class. Probably because the answer was written all over. My neighbour, a very high-placed Government Official, used a red beacon fitted Ambassador. And oh! boy, the moment it glided across the South Calcutta neighbourhood I lived in, it drew many a  jealous glances. Everyone knew that somebody very important lived in that house. Be it the parar pujo (neighbourhood Durga Pujo) or a certain cultural evening, everyone used to make a beeline at his house for some funds which he may procure for the association using his contacts for “advertisement”. In every decision he had an upper hand and the symbolism of all of that boiled down to that white Ambassador and the red beacon atop it.

Vintage

From: Here

While I watched this, I often wondered when will my father be able to drive such an Ambassador car which spells authority with such an elan. It would also mean me taking an upper hand over all my neighbourhood  friends. The mere thought excited me much. I used to hear hush hush discussions between my parents where my father told that his promotion is long due and after that he will also be entitled to use one such car. Fully funded on Government money…spelling power, prestige and class! The dream materialised soon after and while my father did not always use his office car, it did mark a key shift in the way others perceived us in the neighbourhood. While my father often generously offered lifts to other office goers in the same “office para” (yes! in Calcutta e have a para for office also :)), I felt immense pride at his achievement. He was a self made man and he deserved every bit of the prestige that the white Ambassador commanded. Incidentally, whenever my father uses his office car till today, he specifically mentions that he needs an Ambassador. Times have changed and the white Ambassador might have paved way for the much more fashionable BMWs in Raisina Hill, but my father remains a strong supporter of the car that contributed in some or the other way the name to reckon with what he is today. And while the landscape of my quiet South Calcutta neighbourhood has changed quite a bit in the past few years, the jealous glances and the glances of importance that my father receives every time the white Ambassador bearing the symbolism of it being a part of the Government machinery,  glides by has not changed at all over the years.  BMWs, Mercs and everything notwithstanding. I wonder what will happen a few years later when the last few remaining cars will be shoved past the Calcutta street keeping in mind the environmental norms and clearances? Will my father raise a demand for an Indica, Indigo or a Dzire? I do not know.

If the white Ambassador marked the journey of my family towards the fulfillment of their dreams, the yellow one will remain equally special for us. At least for me in particular. But like many other choices of mine in life, this was also somehow influenced by my father. Once during a trip to Bombay (he still refers to the city by that name, so do I ) he found it immensely disturbing that the “dikki” did not have enough space to carry his luggage. That is exactly when  he told me that Calcutta is better than any other city in India. Reason- We had “boro dikkiwala” (huge bootspace worthy) Ambassador taxi. The yellow ones. The ones that mark the cityscape to be Oh! Calcutta every time they show up on a movie screen. Remember the recent Bolly hit Kahaani? To think that one could even compare it to Bombay’s tiny Fiat taxis was almost blasphemous for my father. And I adhered to his belief. I still do.

Yesterday evening I was having a random conversation with one of my favourite juniors from college about how end of the road for Ambassadors in India meant death knell for our favourite Calcutta taxi..the yellow ones! He reminded me that earlier the Ambassador taxi was also painted in black and yellow. But I suppose I owe my memory more to the yellow one. The yellow taxi…the ultimate time machine to rush to a 9:00 clock exam while starting from home at 8:30 in the morning. “Taxi!!!!!” that one shout out from my father and I knew that I will well be in time for the exam. Much later, when valentines day became fashionable among us, hiring a taxi to impress the girl you wanted to date became fashionable too. The logic was simple, taxi fares were sky rocketing and the fact that you could hire a taxi meant you had money power. Come to think of it today, how stereotypical the process was. The girls never offered to pay the fare but aren’t you bound to take a few liberties with memories? Rain drenched, Victoria clad Calcutta memories?

Actually, you can take many! To tell the truth we were definitely the last of the imaginative young lot Calcutta had seen. Forum was the only mall that we knew of and Saraswati pujo and Rabindra Jayanti in my school were equally important as Valentines day. I went to a co-ed school and I know many of my guy friends perfecting the art of calling a ‘taxi’ with style and elan. All to impress his sweetheart! To think of it that the sweethearts have exchanged hearts with somebody else nowadays is a different story altogether 😛

But if I tell you that all of my memories about the yellow taxi are happy ones, I will be lying! The pain of catching an obnoxious taxi and begging the driver to take you to your desired destination, most often during peak office hours or rain, is one thing that every Calcuttan knows. I have fought with them, threatened to call police and have been often threatened at. Fighting, as you see is in a bong woman’s vein and she does not believe in taking taxi refusals lying down. Another thread of quarrel was picked up when two people almost at the same time manage to sit in the same taxi with precision which would have earned India a few more Olympic gold medals. While the taxi driver often suggested that ‘sharing and caring’ is the way to go, I protested. While the fight snowballed, so did stories. The rogue taxi drivers were often the villain but right now I can remember one who used to patiently wait for me at around 8:40 in the morning near Tollygunge Bangur Hospital. My in laws house in Calcutta is nearby and since I was always almost late for office, this taxi wallah bhaiya would decline all other passengers round that time and would wait for me to arrive. I travelled all the way from South to north and reached my office situated near Salt Lake. He earned a handsome amount every morning but somewhere that was not all the consideration that he had in his mind. The fact that loyalty can be known in a city which is increasingly turning out to be a much colder and scarier shadow f its former self was comforting thought.

If I had to end this memoir of mine with one another memory, it will definitely be about the yellow taxi which heralded the beginning of our every summer vacation. While all of my father’s and mother’s friends decided to meet at a particular time beneath the ‘boro ghori’ (big watch’) of the Howarh station, it was the big dikkiwallah Ambassador taxi that was always called to stuff in all the luggage.

Probably, their days are also numbered now. One by one they will vanish from the face of the city and with them, the stories of our childhood, our growing up years, moments marred with short stories, stories of love, betrayal, the moment of fetching a taxi to hide your tears after heart break, the moment of fetching a taxi to reach home quickly to deliver the news about your first job, the moments of taking my pregnant neighbour to the nearby hospital in a taxi since no ambulance was available…and the good news which later travelled back in a similar taxi, the smell of Calcutta written all over it once you step out of the Airport and a swarm of warm yellow happiness engulfing you…all that and more.

Calcutta will move on. The newer lot of taxis are lot more smarter and good-looking. They have car charging points, newspapers, GPS enabled dashboards. There are different varieties of them all. They are also often called cabs nowadays. But for us ‘taxi’ will always remain the good old yellow Ambassador car, just like the ultimate symbol of “Sarkari” prestige will be the white Ambassador. And if not for all of that, there is one reason why my father’s generation and probably some of mine will never be able to forget the Amby or the Ambassador. Remember ‘Aranyer Dinratri’  and the car that the four gentleman drove? Yes, it was an Ambassador.

Calcutta...a few years ago!
Calcutta…a few years ago!

(My own click)

P.S. – What happens to Hind Motor now? The thriving township – is it dead already or has the children moved to Delhi, Gurgaon or Bombay in search of a much better life.

Of Moments, people, faces and sweet nothings!

Long back I had done a post about pictures which generally make me happy. Its Part II time and while this has nothing to do with writer’s block, it is definitely something relating to things which have kept me going in the past few weeks when I have missed home like never before. Why? Well, there are times when you want to be with your near and dear ones and this was one such time 🙂

So without much adieu, I present to you a set of pictures which never fail to bring a smile on my face. *Ting*. As I have always said, photographs are amazing things. If time travel was real, photographs could be our very own time machine. It actually is 🙂
P.S.- Most of these pictures are borrowed from the internet and discovered during endless hours of surfing. I do not intend to breach anybody’s copyright and if there is any dispute, I will be happy to share the credit or give due acknowledgement. Also, as far as possible I will be scribbling down the sources beneath the images.
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10 sacrosanct things about Calcutta

I am yet to come to terms with NRI life and NRI gossip. A few years ago a Bengali movie called “The Bong Connection” had provided quite a sneak peek into the NRI bong’s life where the only thing they discuss is fish, Kolkata and gold jewellery. In case you do not know, half of the world’s economic crisis will be solved if all the gold stashed into the average Bengali’s bank locker is liquidated and traded in the open market. The comic insanity of all the discussions strike me more nowadays as I have begun to attend these kind of gatherings nowadays. The first and the last thing that everyone discusses is Calcutta.
These men and women have decided for good (for Calcutta’s good, not theirs), not to stay in the shit hole of a place called Calcutta. But I have no words to describe their obsession about her.

“Arre Chhaya di, did you buy this new Dhakai from Calcutta…and this jhumko…so pretty, is it from P.C. Chandra?”
“Uff! it was so hot this time in Calcutta…and all those loudspeakers blaring Rabindrasangeet. Isshhh! Tagore would have died”
“Did you knowI have purchased an apartment in New Town…I appointed an interior decorator to do it up. But that area is a so infested with mosquitoes.”

Now. This is one logic I have failed to understand. All these NRIs have a fancy apartment in either South City, Lake Gardens, Jodhpur Park, Salt Lake and New Town and what not, but they are never going to stay over there. All their lives they will cook, clean and complain about the snow in New Jersey but that show piece apartment needs to be there. Why? Only because your mother’s sister’s cousin’s daughter will come up to you in one family wedding and say-
“Uff Chaya mashi, your apartment is so nice….”
And because you will over hear somebody in that wedding saying to somebody else- “Arrey, she is an NRI, no dearth of money…just showing off her Dollars…have you seen the Sitahar she is wearing? Must be worth a few lakhs” and the sadistic pleasure derived from that hushed sigh that follows is an overwhelming feat.

A few days ago, I was stuck up in one such gathering where people were discussing sports and suddenly it was all about Sourav Ganguly. One person who thinks he is the only fitness freak Bengali born in his generation disclaimed – “Oh! cricket? that is not even a game. and if there was one lazy sportsperson ever born, it had to be Sourav Ganguly”
Whoever reads my blog frequently or knows me, will by now know what was going inside my head. I felt this inherent urge to slap him but I decided to behave civilly and not pay attention towards him. But it was not meant to be. Another quipped- “Oh! yeah, Sourav…ask anybody from Calcutta, they will say there never was a much better captain than Sourav.” And everyone started laughing.
That was it. I decided not to be a party to the conversation any more and moved towards the thing which pacifies Bongs like me, the most. Food. And then I decided to write a few pointers about things which are sacrosanct about Calcutta. Ones which we do not like to be snubbed about. Chances are that you might meet someone like me who will not take all that lying down. Read on.

1. Calcutta’s tram, buildings and just everything about the old world charm of the city– While the ‘noveau riche’ will sneer at the old mansions at Chowringhee and call it dirty and what not, do not ever (EVER, ever in Arnab Goswami style) try to crack that joke in front of a true blue Calcuttan. Because, for him or her, that tram ride from Shyambajar, that boat ride over the ganges from Bagbajar ghat, those narrow alleys of Mohunbagan Row or those old Mansions in Pathuriaghata or Janbajar will never lose its charm. You either know it or you do not.

2. Food– Ok! this should actually be on the top, but nevertheless, this is THE most important thing for a Calcuttan. When you are in Calcutta, be sure that you are in Food lover’s paradise. Be it the Kosha mangsho of the famed Golbari, or the High Court para street food, Haldiram’s chaat, Peter Cat’s iconic ‘Chello Kabab’, Mocambo’s ‘Prawn Cocktail’, Arsalan’s Biriyani, Azad Hind or Balwant Singh’s dhaba, or be my Lords more’s Kalpana Sweet shop’s famous “nolen gurer sondesh”, never ever argue about food with a Calcuttan. Period. There cannot be anything better in terms of variety and price like the food you find in Calcutta. We can fight among ourselves about whether “Arsalan” is better or “Aminia” but you say one thing against Calcutta style Biriyan’s potato, you are gone!

3. Phuchka– I could have clubbed “Phuchka” along with the food part, but a true blue Calcuttan will know how much emotionally connected are we to the Phuchka and our favourite Phuchkawallah. While I write this, I am having almost a Niagara Falls bursting out of my tongue thinking about Rajender’s phuchka in Dakshinapon. I attended college and later worked for sometime in Hyderabad. One common mistake that everyone used to make there was- “What is so different about phuchka? Arey that’s same as Panipuri/Golgappa/Panibatasha etc etc” And every time they said that, I used to pity them. Because they do not know what makes Calcutta’s phuchka so special. My mom often tells its the dirt, but if it is so, let it be 🙂

(Image Courtesy: Me)

4. Football– Nowadays I see people saying- “Oh! I am not interested in Indian football, I am more into European football”. My husband was one of them. A die hard supporter of Manchester United, who even though was a Bangal by birth, never supported East Bengal in a match. You must have guessed that he now keeps track of every match that the Red and Gold brigade plays. Also, when in Calcutta, you have to be eitehr East Bengal or Mohun Bagan. Have to. You have no other choice.

5. Love for everything English and Imperial about the city– Many people say “why do you make such an icon out of the Victoria Memorial? It reminds of the imperial past.” May be, probably, yes. But the city where I come from was also once the Empire’s second city and there is no denying that many things good about the city is a gift of our imperial heritage. If only destroying Victoria Memorial, or not taking your daily cup of tea while basking in the sun at Tolly Club during the winters could make one more patriotic and wipe out a chapter of our country’s history as such, then probably we would be in the same league as the Talibans who thought that by destroying Buddha statues in Afghanistan could actually mean that a historical fact like presence of Buddhism in the country, could be denied. We are, thankfully, not that obnoxious. And for us, USA might mean all the money nowadays and all the new sprung clubs in the city may give you membership at the drop of the hat, “Bilet” remains London and memberships of “Calcutta Club ” or “Tolly Club” remains the ultimate measure of your social standing.

6. Sourav Ganguly– As discussed above, Sourav is Sourav. Dada is dada. At leats he had the courage to fly his jersey in the epitome of English stiff upper lipped bastion aka “the Lords balcony”, what did you do apart from fleeing the country at the best possible moment?  And you still do not believe what a great he was? Check this.

7. Living conditions– “oh! Calcutta is so dusty, so dirty, so unclean”. Yes. Agreed. But then have you ever considered the population density of the state? The next thing that comes is “There is nothing in Calcutta. No economic revival, nothing”. Yes, we have our problems. But we do not fudge our GDP figures. Also, why do you always end up talking about the high living costs in other cities and that even if you got a lower package, you would not mind shifting back to Calcutta? because, even if you argue about high property prices, rents and very high living costs in the city, you still know, that it is one city which is cheapest to live in. And have you ever bothered to visit Salt Lake’s Sector V or New Town?  Besides, name on Indian metropolis where these problems are not there and the costs are as low?

8. Culture and College Street– This is one thing that every Calcuttan will swear by. And if you think anybody who is into ‘culture’ in Calcutta will be a jhola carrying middle aged man, think again. Times have changed and we have rockstars with long hairs and driving a brand new SUV in the scene. Fact is we love finer things in life, and there is no harm in flaunting it. If you do not have it, it is entirely your loss 🙂 And we may have so many “Starmark” and “Crossword” stores across the city, but in case we do not find one particular book that we are so desperately looking for, we know where to search for it- “College Street” or “Boi Para”. If it is not there in College Street, it is probbaly not published. And while in College Street, how can you miss a trip down the romance of the turbulent Calcutta of 70’s in the iconic “Coffee House”. I can give you a secret tip here. If you really want to woo a true blue Calcutta boy or a girl, take him/her for a date there. He or she will be blown away…completely! No CCD or Barista can do that for you.

9. Festivals– A friend of mine was once shocked to hear that I, even after being a Bengali Hindu, eat meat during the days of our biggest festival- “Durga Puja”. The thing is, for us Calcuttans, festivals are more about celebration of life. Yes, we are religious. I offer my prayers and I believe I am a good Hindu. And that is why I celebrate Eid and Biriyani and Christmas and Plum Cake with equal fervour. Recently, my German laguage teacher asked me to write an article about Carnival in my hometown. I told her we do not have a “Stadtkarneval” (City carnival), because we have many. Durga Puja is one of them and so is Christmas in Park Street.

10. Christmas and Park Street– I was saving the best for the last. One person who had no idea about what Park Street was all about was terribly disappointed about “Someplace Else” since the people performing over there did not belt out many Bhangra or Yo Yo Honey Singh numbers. Please do not get me wrong, I love Bhangra, but you surely need a much better understanding of Music to fit into the Park Street class and elegance (I am aware that nowadays Trincas play raunchy music to attract crowds, but I hope that is an one-off scenario). Also, if you have not seen Christmas in Park Street, you have not seen how a city’s population which goes to sleep while remembering the names of some or other Babaji and votes for Communists (?) during elections, celebrate a festival which is a reminder of the days of the Raj, with such elan.

                                                         

(Image Courtesy: Me)

I am sure there are many more. I will be glad if anybody wants to add to this list. And for those NRIs who cannot stop musing about Calcutta, I have understood one thing they sorely miss in life- the life they have left behind, the charms of the city which was once their first love. One separation they are yet to come to terms with. Calcutta is like Waheeda Rehman. She grows on you. Love her, hate her, you just cannot ignore her. And while I wrote this down, a sense of Happiness and at the same time, longing, engulfs me. I hope I get to see her soon. Because, Calcutta is the only place in this whole world that I will ever call home. Happy reading 🙂

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”