What Durga Pujo 2020 Taught Me About Prayer, Life & Celebration
Is Pujo really here? I don’t know, but my parents are with me all the way from Kolkata, and that is the same thing.
Durga Pujo, to me, has stopped being many things. It’s no longer the raasta’r biryani, it’s not the biggest pandal in the city, it’s not the booming crescendo of the dhaak. And no, it’s not the luxury of fearlessly walking the streets with abandon at night either.
But Durga Pujo is still many things to me, and to many of us Bengalis who no longer live in Kolkata. It is still a time of overindulgence – finally buying that designer bag you’ve been eyeing the whole year (even if it did cost you 5000 Shiraz Biryanis); a time of both giving and receiving – of celebration, re-connecting (with family and friends), prayer, faith, hope and hedonism. A heady mix much like the cocktail of Biryani meeting Old Monk, Fish Kobiraji and Aam Doi in the ever-stretchable Bengali belly.
What a ‘Probashi’ Pujo is Really About
Much of Durga Pujo for a probashi is about memory, nostalgia, and eating mangsho’r chop at CR Park for Rs 300 a piece (as a friend recently pointed out).
This is the sort of indigestion that not even a giant bottle of Gelusil can cure, but mangsho’r chop is a must – no matter how expensive – otherwise it isn’t really Pujo.
I’ve never identified as probashi because I’ve only lived out of home (Kolkata) for about six years. And if you’ve spent all your childhood and teenage years in Bengal, then you definitely don’t have enough probashi street cred. And this time, in the Year of the Plague, one must reconcile with home-made chops – mangsho or otherwise – with the uncomfortable satisfaction of saving those precious few hundreds.
The year 2020 has been a blur for those of us privileged enough to reduce a year of exacerbated hunger, poverty, and unemployment to a ‘blur’. And I am fortunate enough to be one of them – Zooming my way through the year and only grumbling about the occasional neck and back ache and having only my balcony garden to stare at while working. And now we’re here – it’s October, there’s a nip in the air, the sun is just the right kind of sun, it feels like Pujo – but is Pujo really here?
The Real Meaning of Durga Pujo: Family-Time, ‘Bari’r Ranna’ & Bickering
I don’t know about Pujo, but my parents are with me in Delhi – having travelled all the way from Kolkata – and that is the same thing. Carrying brand new COVID antibodies, a suitcase full of ilish (hilsa), machh’er chops and narkoler nadoo (coconut laddoos) (no exaggeration – we take our food pretty seriously) – my parents managed to hazmat their way to Delhi.
We hadn’t seen each other in eight months – and with no end in sight, we thought it best to meet while their antibodies were still around.
At a time when so many families are separated due to the pandemic, being able to be with my closest people truly drove home – like never before – the real meaning of Pujo: The importance of family-time, of finding joy in the little things – baari’r ranna (home-made food), bickering with parents over furniture and art choices (an egregious chair that offended my father is now sulking it out in the balcony), and realising that a festival can also be celebrated by relishing the everyday. Celebrating life itself.
Ditch Your Techni-Colour Pujo Dream for a Sober, Quiet Pujo
And as I write this, I am also conscious of the fact that a festival like Durga Pujo is essentially a street carnival for the masses – a Mardi Gras of sorts; an opportunity for people from all social strata to come together, a representation of class mobility, an embodiment of aspiration.
It is also the only time in the year when certain communities like the sculptors of Kumartoli – who bring to life the Mother Goddess – find livelihood.
So yes, sitting on one’s moral high horse or one’s South Delhi/South Kolkata chaise lounge (take your pick) and sermonising the masses to stay home during Pujo is all very well – but let us not be tone deaf. No, I am not suggesting we crowd the streets. Instead, how about the State and civil society (like Pujo committees) coming together to strictly enforce masks and physical distancing at festival sites?
And lastly, let’s not forget the hardships of so many this year, and try and enjoy a more sober Pujo; not the usual techni-colour dreamscape of georgette and gold.
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