Tuesday, October 12, 2004

It is MAHALAYA today, marking the start of DURGA PUJO and this is the time of the year when I miss Kolkata the most; a yearning that can't be explained unless you've been in Kolkata during this time. Millions of people from every stratum of the society join the festive spirit, hit the roads, and paint the city with their smiles, enthusiasm, new clothes and fervor. People forget their woes and enter an enjoyment that is so infectious that it is bound to make you a part of it. I am not trying to be flowery et al. - this is the fact and if you've been in Kolkata during DURGA Pujo you know what I am talking abt.

This is going to be a long post - coz there is a phenomenal amount of zest and excitement in my mind right now, even though I am thousands of miles away from home. To start with if you are from Kolkata definitely visit the following links (MAHALAYA, gallery, collection). Aaah! It's so difficult to be away from the city at this time of the year. So many images come to mind, so many people come to mind - here are some of them and definitely in no particular order:

1. Cap Guns: I have no idea if people from other parts of India know what I am talking abt. These are small toy guns that have special rolls of "ammunition" that make a little pop sound on firing. The entire children population of the city can be seen (at least it could be when I last attended a DURGA Pujo) with these guns which build a phenomenal amount of camaraderie. I remember my parents used to allocate X number of rolls for me every day and one of the major excitement for me was to coax them to make the number X as large as possible.

2. Ramesh Pal: DURGA Pujo sees the entire Pal clan of Kumartuli in action. Almost every sculptor you hear of is a Pal. However, if any one sculptor reached the dizzying heights of fame - it had to be Ramesh Pal. I've heard my mother, grandmother, uncles, aunts etc. rave abt him ever since I was a kid and visiting the three images that he sculpted (Park Circus, College Square and Ekdalia Evergreen) used to be a major agenda for the Pujas.

3. Maddox Square: If I have to mention a single place that provides a good look into the spirit of DURGA Pujo, it's gonna be Maddox Square - thousands of people in a small park, jostling for a place to sit, the food stalls, the vendors and exquisitely dressed multitudes. Just thinking abt being there in the evening with my friends makes me nostalgic - you are bound to meet at least 5 long lost friends, you are bound to have at least one helping of "phuchka and batata puri" and you can't escape scouting for chairs for a while in order to sit. If I had to take a friend of mine, who hasn’t seen DURGA Pujo in Kolkata, to any one place and say - "see this is what I crib missing" - it prbbly will be Maddox Square.

4. New Clothes: We are supposed to wear new clothes during the Pujas. For me and my sister it used to be a major competitive issue to determine who got the better deal from family and friends - being a guy I normally won in quantity (yes a shirt and a trouser were counted separately and not as a set). Pummy on the other hand wore something new every day (sometimes every outing of the day) but being a guy I had to re-use my trousers - so we were both winners at the end of the day and that's what DURGA Pujo is all abt.

5. Lighting: A major excitement during DURGA Pujo is the story telling through lighting that various Pujas adopt. Every year the revelers are gifted with a collage of events and happening from across the year in luminous form. My guess is that this year they will witness a fair amount of the Olympic Games, cricket as always and definitely some politics too!

I miss Kolkata - a lot.

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