To start with I am going to state that this post has mention of tons of Bengali words and jargons and I have tried my best to translate it all. I would not have done justice if I wrote the post sans those words. The essence of Durga Puja, a five day annual celebration in the Bengali community world wide would get lost otherwise.
Growing up pujo for me meant going to Dida-Dadu’s(grandparent’s) house for the festival. The house would be brimming with joy and laughter and tons of good food. It would be a household of around 15 people. Every morning we would adorn a new dress and rush for the pushpanjoli(prayers) resisting the hot jalebi’s awaiting us back home. Jalebi in Allahabad (in India) is famous and was pretty much a norm for breakfast along with luchi torkari (puffed flatbread served with a side of vegetable curry).
Dida being an excellent cook also used to cook the bhog(food offer to the Godess and then served to all) in the para (neighborhood) pujo. So lunch was about khichudi, chutney, labra and payesh ( a rice-lentil staple served with chutney and rice pudding). For the evening, we would all deck up again in another new set of our finest and go to see aarti, dhunuchi naach, just go hopping from one pujo to another or watch a drama or a musical at my Ma’s old school.
That tradition came to a halt since moving to college and then working thereafter. Every year I go to the pujoin the respective city that I live but nothing makes up for the pujo at Dida-Dadu’s house. In the past few years, I lost both my grandparents. What is left is just this memory of it so clearly etched in my mind.
|At one of the celebrations in San Francisco Bay Area
But today I celebrate Pujo to build memories for my children, an occasion they I very much look forward to. They look forward to wearing the traditional Indian outfits, watch the dhunuchi naach (dancing with a burning coconut husk in an earthern pot), listen to the sound of the dhaak, satisfy their sweet tooth, watch the pushpanjolistanding next to me and observing everything happening around them. Celebrations do not have a definition and they do not follow a pattern.
“Do you think Ma Durga really has ten hands?” asked my seven year old to the toddler while we were watching an aarti yesterday. The toddler nodded his head saying he thought she really does have ten hands.
“Nah! That is just a way to show she is very powerful. She is very strong and she can take care of bad people.”
“OK, Didi,” he answered after listening to her very attentively.
Their comprehension and interpretation of the celebration is contemporary and logical. Yet they seek for all those little festivities and treats that I looked forward to in my childhood.
Not just them, I found myself telling someone that Ma Durga has come home on vacation with the kids and we all get into a vacation mode with her for the next few days. So we wear the finest, eat the most delectable, sing, dance and rejoice and get together as a family and community every time this year. If that were not true, would you imagine wrapping up a red-white traditional dhakai saree and eating Khichudi bhog just like I do every year in my city of San Francisco. The ambience at pujo here is just so beautiful from the sound of dhak(drums) and shonkho to the smell of the dhoop-dhuno. People dance with the dhunchi with the same devotion and it stirs the same magic. It does not matter San Francisco, London,Kolkata or CR Park.
Written by : Piya Mukherjee Kalra