Monday, October 26, 2015

Durga Pujas... when Kolkata goes bonkers..

The Durga Pujas are over. The Goddess's short sojourn with her family to her home is over. She has returned to her husband's home in Mount Kailash. As always, her visit, right from the day she arrived, to the day of her departure amid much pomp and fervour is over. On street corners pandals are being dismantled, skeletons peep here and there, some will take longer to remove than others.
I have friends on my TL asking if it's worth it. All the traffic, all the crowds, the pandals that block the road,  the noise, the food stalls, the garbage... is it worth it?
Before I answer that question, let me tell you something. I always, but always make it a point to be away from the city when Durga Puja fever hits Calcutta. You see, I hate crowds. And noise. I particularly detest that shuffle-shuffle of feet interspersed by a cruel hoot of the hooters as they merrily visit the pandals every night full of inexplicable enthusiasm late into the night. I do not understand the cranky sleepy kids being dragged along, or the winding lines in the puja areas. Or the way a child's eye light up as he counts his 18th lion! Or the joy of eating phuchkas laced with the occasional light insect or the lines in front of the ice-cream vans. One relative once asked me, pointing to the crowds in front of the indigenous "Chinese" chowmein outlets that spring up everywhere, "Durga-puja or Chow-Puja, I can't figure it out!" I smile at the thought. I was watching the goddess being taken away from the puja up our street last night. As I watched, safely ensconced in my third floor balcony, I saw a little drummer boy, fast asleep, his body wrapped around his instrument. I wondered then, what is he thinking? Is he dreaming of the money he will rush home to his mother with? Where is his village, how many sisters and brothers wait for his meager income? And how long will it last? That man sitting on his haunches next to the big dhaak with his face in his arms.....does he dream of his family? Or will he spend his earning on cheap country liquor and fade into obscurity, just for this night? My thoughts are interrupted, someone calls out and the resting drummers sprightly rise and begin playing those drums. Dad-da-da-da--dad-da-da...... the base seems to kick start your heart; the smell of incense permeates the air...., a few crackers go off and amid much festivity and noise, the Goddess returns home. Until next year. I sigh. For five days and five nights, sometimes longer this has been going on every day, I'm glad I was away. I retreat.  
Getting back to the question. Yes, it's worth it. For those few days on the roadsides, in the pandals, gorging on bhel and biriyani, everyone's an equal. Everyone looks nice in their new outfits, there is a spirit of camaraderie and celebration.
True, traffic gets clogged. But on the bright side Kolkata Police does an exceptional job to ensure that the huge chunks of cars keep moving. It's hell getting anyplace to anyplace. The malls, the market places and shops are crowded, trying to negotiate your way into a shop  can be disastrous. Half the narrow lanes are blocked with pandals, if you do not know, you can get frustrated trying to back out of the area. Yes, there is cacophony on the road... the river does get polluted for a bit. A lot of people do not like to venture out during this time... or, like me, run away to escape the madness.

But do stop once and think of the larger picture. There are worse things happening in the world and all around us. If, for a few days there is some joy and that is shared...if, in those few days, a dhaki will finally be able to afford the school books his children need, or an artisan is finally able to afford that blanket for his sick mother in a village far away that you have never heard of...... can't we put up with the cacophony and minor inconveniences for a few day? After all, Durga puja is only for a few days every year. Our extravagances on the other hand...... 
...are perennial

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