When it comes to the Durga Pujo, there is no such thing as excess or overkill for Bongs! In clothes, one would wear the best weaves, designs, embellishments, even traditional and contemporary painted art, on the Sarees and dresses. In food, one would eat the best fish, chicken, meat, egg, and sweet preparations, mostly all in one meal, sometimes for every meal! In socializing, one would meet up with far-flung family, friends, their family, their friends – and even complete strangers! – with unparalleled enthusiasm, chatting, laughing, singing and gossiping into the wee hours of the morning. And in ‘pandal hopping’, one would visit all the major Puja celebrations – with quick pit stops at some smaller ones on the way! – with their bright lights, large marquees and beautifully-decorated idols, often traveling the length and breadth of the city in one long night!
Everyone has their own special way of celebrating the Pujos. For our gang, apart from doing the holy trinity of ‘Bhog-Adda-Pandal Hopping’ (roughly translates into consuming ‘Prasad or blessed food’, gossiping about everything under the sky, and zealously visiting the different Puja marquees), it has become something of a ritual to visit Bhojohori Manna, the reputed Bengali Cuisine restaurant, to have their elaborate set ‘Thala’ of the day. This year, the meal included a light Shukto, a deliciously thick Chana Dal with Coconut Slices, a flavourful yellow Sweet Pulao, whole Pabda Fish with Mustard Sauce, a gorgeous Mutton Kosha with Egg that’s still making my my mouth water, an eye-popping Lobster Curry, a syrupy Pineapple Chutney, and a beautifully smoky and amazingly textured Notun Gur Icecream, drizzled with the seasonal jaggery syrup, Nolen Gur, served in little earthen pots. Oh, and a large, chunky Sweet Paan stuffed with all the good things to finish off in style! Too much to eat? Hell no! We asked for second helpings for almost EVERYTHING! And that was just ONE lunch 😉
This zeal to enjoy life, to fit in all the fun things to do into those four or five days in the year, to bolster one’s faith, and to celebrate the triumph of good over evil is what makes this festival such a positive, pure and passionate celebration, not just of a community, but of the whole human kind.
Nothing can dampen this spirit – not the inflation that has left the common man reeling, not the torturous traffic that has no intention of letting up, whether day or night, not even the spoil-sport rain-showers that have left the grounds mucky and slippery and impossible to negotiate on high heels and heavy clothes. The festivities started with a bang on 10th Oct. and have powered on so far with peppy performances by singers and dancers and theatre personalities and of course, Bollywood celebrities. Tomorrow when the curtains fall on this year’s celebrations, and the idols are immersed amidst one last hurrah and a few tears of farewell, people will return to their ‘normal’ lives. But the effervescence will continue… every day here on will begin with a slightly happier smile, a slightly springier step, and a bit more unshakeable faith in a better tomorrow!
[All photographs above are courtesy the lovely Adrija Halder, whose talents are currently getting honed amplified at NIFT Mumbai. Watch out, world!]