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It is again that time of the year. When the sun sets with a special hue reminding us of Durga Puja, visible to the discerning Bengali eye of nostalgia. The air in the evenings are warm and with the nip of promise of the winter ahead. The garden smells of Shiuli blossoms fallen on the ground. They remind you of the changing seasons and the beauty of the bud nipped with its own force. I recall our Delhi home, the little patch of green at the back had a hibiscus tree, Shiuli, lemon grass and tulsi too. Ma told me that Ma Durga was on her way riding on a horse. Based on the ride was the prediction of the months ahead. That pink butter paper cover of the “Ponjeeka” had all the dates, timings and exact dos & don’ts for the year. Ma even today makes me bring her a copy from Chittaranjan Park in Delhi. Ma & I were alone most Puja. Baba is an agnostic and mostly travelling. Ma & I planned our saris and midway I would get bored of her enthusiasm for Pujo. And she would be sad when I wore my Denim and white shirt.
Today I make it up to her for the lost rebellious years. It is also called growing up. I wear a sari everyday and eat the bhog with her. These few days are dedicated to my Ma Durga who I call my Ma. Amar Ma.
My favourite part is the sound of the Dhak and watching the Dhunuchi smoke fill the air with a Pujo vibe. The dance near the goddess, as the smoke envelops her visage and her eyes shine brightly, is surreal. I can’t ever explain this feeling of being fully in love for those few seconds.
Her eyes look moist during Arati and it almost seems like she is telling me that this is going to be a good year till next Pujo. I watch the Porohit treat her like the little girl who is visiting her father’s home. Resplendent in a Benarasi weave with hair let loose and her four children in tow.
Pujo is an emotion for all Bengalis world over. I do feel like a Bhattacharya during those four days of celebration and then back to the cosmopolitan woman that I have cultivated myself to become over the years. But those four days it’s as Bong as one can get.
But what is it about culture that binds us all together? Is it a way to keep us bottled forever in a conditioned identity or is it just a reminder of our roots? This Big Bong Theory is surely very intrinsic to my childhood and the environment of my parent’s home.
Either ways, to me it is a memory of the girl who loves wearing her new saris, listen to Pujo Bengali music tracks, and immerse myself in Dhak & Dhunuchi. The films have given Pujo the glamour quotient. When Sanjay Dutt wore the Bengali kurta and dhoti that we refer to as Dhuti Panjabi and he looked so handsome in the film Parineeta, we all sighed and my non Bengali friends too wanted a slice of this culture. Thank you Bollywood, you make us famous.
Bengalis love their food, their music, art and this big festival of togetherness.
We love to include our friends in this bonhomie and all my childhood friends who were mostly converted because of the overdose of my enthusiastic Ma, became die hard half Bongs over the years.
I am again getting ready with my red & white and my other colours and I will sit pretty as I watch people and soak in the Pujo vibe for 5 days. Ma and me will sit together and listen to the dhak sound and I will silently thank Ma Durga for celebrating Pujo year after year with my Ma Durga sitting next to me.
My best friend, my warrior and my soldier lady who taught me to feel the flowers bloom and recognise the fragrance of the Pujo air. It’s my biggest festival and the only one, when I return to that place called home where the kitchen had some broken handled pans but the most delicious Bengali fare. The room was not ostentatious but full of heart and belonging.
This is perhaps nostalgia and I am going to indulge in this year after year. It’s time to bring out the recorded Mohishashur Mardini chant and hear the songs that reverberate in my room. I will buy the Rajnigandha flowers and fill the bell metal plates with fresh Shiuli flowers, pull out the red and white bangles and become Ma’s little girl just once again.