That Elusive Puja Spirit
Durga puja has officially come and gone, but the city of Calcutta still reels from the effect. Was it the blessing of the extended weekend (so long that it no longer qualifies as one)? Was it the month long shopping sprees? Or was it that elusive spirit of the pujas?
Alas, I have never caught that fever and despite my best efforts I cannot understand it. Maybe the phenomenon of my birthday invariably falling during the Pujas creates some kind of resentment to the effect of ... The pujas steal the show! It rains on my parade! ... And so on.
This year, however, I had guessed (rather correctly) that my birthday would go quite smoothly; more that 5 people remembered it, the cake was delicious as was my birthday lunch, I received a C&H book and Isha set me up to receive 19 birthday sms' from 19 strangers which kept me guessing the whole day. Such irrelevant facts aside, I decided to look into the matter. Was I missing something magical about the Pujas?
I optimistically accepted an invitation to go pandal hopping with some classmates. One myth was discarded even before the evening began; the Pujas is not a sufficient excuse for daughters to stay out late (More about this later…). Two very ordinary pandals, one candyfloss and a giant wheel ride later my company decided to sit down in Maddox Square, like everyone else seemed to be doing, and that is where it struck me. Most people sitting down seemed either bored or perennially looking out for friends and chance acquaintances. On the faces of a few of people including mine, seemed to linger a question: Is it time? Is this where I’ll have fun?
Of course the opportunity for many people to booze, dope and generally smoke the nights away with a group of well-stacked individuals did not fail to occur to me. This thought has also occurred to many fathers like mine who understandably disagree with the legend of “Even the strictest of parents let their wards off into the night during the Pujas”. I sighted this guy with an iron grip on his daughters’ wrist. I discussed the issue with my father and I’m convinced by his arguments. If they’re not allowed to stay up all night, away from their parent’s (or family’s) protective gaze, they won’t be allowed now of all times.
Family get-togethers are a strict no-no for me. But I did manage to go pandal-hopping with my joint family twice. The first time around was in the evening and I came only at the behest of my father. The crowds swarmed and suffocated me, the loudspeakers blared, drivers used their horns indiscriminately, drums beat on my eardrums, all coming together in a magnificent cacophony. At one particular pandal, my dad and me ditched our company at the end of an infinitely long line and escaped. Our souls are jarred by similar things.
The second family outing was on a more auspicious time of day: 4 am. The excitement of waking up so early, driving through Calcutta, seeing the crowds disperse with the first rays of morning did get to me. And I have to admit a lot of the pandals I saw that day were remarkable; there’s no doubting that a lot of effort and thought went into them. But I wouldn’t have enjoyed them with my fingers in my ears and people pushing me around.
Will I ever catch or even understand the Puja spirit? That remains to be seen. But I shall reconcile myself to the festive season. Even when I have a sufficiently large group of like-minded friends I won’t go pandal-hopping with them. We’ll get together somewhere and talk; the grounds of a pandal are too noisy for that. I’ll organize an early-morning family outing and appreciate the aesthetic value of the choicest of pandals. Till then I’ll subtly transmit this message to all my friends: Give precedence to the pujas over my birthday, and die!