For every Bengali kid, Pujo means new clothes, lots of food, toy pistols, lots of food, pandal hopping, lots of food and the Durga protima. It does not matter which caste or religion or planet you belong to, as long as you believe that your neighbourhood has the best egg roll stall and the most suave looking idol of Kartik, you pass the Pujo-frenzy test. From the free-wifi enabled pandals of CR Park in Delhi to the old bari pujos of Calcutta, the modus operandi remains the same; show off all your creative-Bong credentials in one go. I propose a hipster themed pandal for next year (i.e. if it has not already been covered) where Durga will be wearing round nerdy glasses, like yours truly once did, and Saraswati will be donning a The Black Keys t-shirt instead of her usual pastel saris.
As someone who has no belief in religion, Pujo becomes a comfortable buffer-zone between religion and culture. I don’t have to believe in anything to be able to do any of those things typically attached with the festival. I religiously (so much pun) eat the Bhog Khichhuri anywhere I can get my hands on it and still not feel like I am going against my personal anti-religion manifesto. Because food is food is food and the only reason Durga Puja scores over Navratras is the non-veg items. I can deal with the Mata ki Chowkis and the all night bhajan gigs that sprout all over the city during the festival, but don’t take my fried chicken momos away from me! That was the initial rude cultural shock on moving to Delhi; the number of chickens and goats that didn’t die during the Pujos because Navratre-chal- rahe- hain-bhaiay- non-veg- nahin-milega. The persisting rude cultural shock is paneer momos.
It has been the third year in a row now that I have been away from my hometown during the Pujo and the missing-all-the-fun sting is less stinging each year. The first Durga Puja in Delhi was spent trying to find out about the pandal scene in town (pretty basic, in my opinion). The second year, Chicken Afghani and Kamala Sweet’s Cham-Chams were followed by rum shots at My Bar, Paharganj. This year, half the Pujo and then some more would be spent up on Himachali hills.
The hometown, in a remote corner of Assam, still nurtures the old Pujo scenes. Friends from all over the country somehow make it home during every Pujo and all their assorted photos spam my Facebook feed for the next one month. Reunions at Durga Puja never appealed to me. The December meets seem more to my taste. Old Monk tastes better then. But still every year, like the good Bengali that I am, my calendar circles around the Pujo dates. Maybe next year I will make it home to Maa’s Luchi-Kosha Mangsho and corny high-school reunions. By then, my tenure as a Bachelor’s student at DU would have come to an end. Maybe the vacation next year would be long enough for me to go back home and return in time and still spend more than 2 days there. Maybe. Taile aagami bochor hobe?
Featured image credits: acuteangle.in and B Block Durga Puja, C R Park Facebook page