Saraswati Pujo and the city of 16

There are days when I feel extremely bored and tired with this city that I have known since my birth. I want to get rid of that invisible umbilical chord which does not let me leave her and yet I cannot bear the sight of her any more – happens quite often nowadays.

But then there are days when she makes me fall in love, again…..and for a lifetime. Just like the unmatched euphoria of discovering the bling in the red from the first bloom of “Palash” across my balcony. I increasingly find it difficult to describe my relationship with Calcutta. She has almost taken the place of that unknown neighbourhood aunt whose turmeric soiled sari is often the most comforting factor in your life – that you have reached home at the fag end of the day and while the world around you might conspire to give you a tough time, you can sleep in peace for the night here.

Why I say this, is again a difficult story to explain. Last weekend was a super busy one for the city. The omniscient Bengali Panjika had wreaked havoc in the average Bengali’s life and the market prices soared with the thought of keeping the goddess of wisdom happy. The Bengali who always find a dilemma between keeping the two mother goddesses happy – Lakshmi and Saraswati and whom to prefer while making a career choice, was again trapped in that debate.

And then there was the Kolkata Literary Meet happening against the backdrop of the majestic Victoria Memorial. The Lit meet, in its essence- epitomised Calcutta. Unorganised yet extremely rejuvenating…sessions which only could happen here in this city which is known for its eccentricity.

So while me and my husband man rushed to attend a particular session at KaLam, 2015 while walking past the beautifully designed Mohor Kunjo (earlier known as Citizen’s Park), we caught a glimpse of the Bengali Valentines Day madness. And truth be told, I was super happy to see all those sweet 16’s clad in their first yellow (“Bansanti) coloured saris and their counterparts in the oddly worn dhoti.

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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!