Here are a few of my observations about Pujo, Calcutta and India in general.
1. What’s the matter with Ma Durga being shown without weapons in Muhammed Ali Park ?(for you people for whom history starts with Sachin Tendulkar, this Muhammed Ali is not the famous boxer but one of the Khilafat movement leaders) What kind of liberal, pacifist horseshit is responsible for pigeons in the hands of the Goddess of Power?
2. What happened to Durga Protimas constructed based on the faces of film stars? Some people consider that blasphemy—I consider it fun. The Hema Malini/Sridevi/Madhuri Dixit lookalike Durgas—-aah the innocent 80s and early 90s. And I will never forget the Andy Roberts lookalike Asura and his cousin the Vivian Richards Asura……even though the West Indies were battering us in cricket, come Pujo and they would be groveling at the feet of our Holy Mother (who had badass spears and tridents in her 10 hands and not pigeons) ! This time I was expecting a Mallika Sherawat-Ma Durga and a Michael Jackson- Asura or at the very least an Asura with a ponytail called Murgasura (Chicken-Devil). But it seems our sculptors have totally lost their creativity.
3. Back in our days, we had the Sharad Shomman (best Pujo) from Asian Paints—one award that’s it. Now it seems every Tom, Dick and Haripada have instituted their own “awards” with the result that we never have this concise list of must-go-to Pujos. And with so many awards, there are so many judges—-and hoo boy what a list of connoisseurs—–Moonmoon and her MMS daughters and my favorite Pallavi [“megastar” Prasenjit’s sister],who I once heard pronounce”Sphulingo” as “Poolingo”, opining in her “perfect” Bangla to one of the Bangla cable channels:
“You know…amra khujchi….not a lot of …you know…oi sob….but more atmosphere….maane anekta atmosphere…”
Now that deserved a somman from one of Ma Durga’s pigeons—“poo” I mean.
4. When we were in schools, people went to schools to study……disco dancing meant immediate rustication (no FIR, no police case, straight to “bhog of ma” as Mithun-da would say). One of our teachers was suspended for break-dancing in class —yes things were that strict. But now I see this monstrosity called “Syllabus-r Baire” [Out of Syllabus] a weekly television program on one of the Bangla cable channels where school kids , on school premises, in front of proud teachers dance tartily to the latest Bollywood numbers.
WTF ! In our days “Out of Syllabus” was a phrase that carried with it sheer terror—those mind numbing , brain-darkening seconds as strange hieroglyphics stared at you from the question paper while the guy in the next seat, the one who goes to the “other tutorial” , smiled joyfully.
Now “Out of Syllabus” conjures up pleasant images– coy school girls doing Britney moves, and guys flailing their hands in the air ala Sanjay Dutt in “Ishq Samandar”.
The thin end of the wedge—-I swear.
5. Talking of schools, which genius opened a school for boys named after “Oscar Wilde” ? What next —the Michael Jackson Creche, Bill Clinton Girls School ?
6. Bengali cinema. Who is this new hero—the “Jeet” dude? Is he Bengali? He looks like a Sindhi guy for crying out loud. Give me Prasenjit any day—purple shirt and polka dotted bowtie dancing with Shatadbi Ray in a blue frock and pink ribbons. And give me Tapas Paul—-250 pounds of pure rocksolid flab and voluptuous man breasts dancing in the rain in a clinging “Punjabi” (what we Bengalis call Kurtas) while the comely Debasree Roy seduces him by singing “Aar koto raat eka thaakbo” (How many nights shall I spend alone?) [Movie: Chokher Aloye].
7. Can someone tell me what’s happened to Amitabh Bachchan ? His KBC does well, he is in every other movie—which means he is making money. But then why oh why does he have to peddle everything under the sun—from soft drinks to detergents to batteries to stuffed toys? Yes stuffed toys—-I could not believe it when I saw on the door of the Archies gallery in City Center, a picture of the Big B cuddling a cute giraffe doll, entreating us to buy this overpriced piece of infantile junk.
Is this what happened to the angry young man? Was this the same man whom we worshipped in “Deewar” and “Sholay”? The same man who used to be “rishte main baap” to all the pansy lover boys ? If he was , then why is he now cuddling up with a stuffed toy and that too an yellow giraffe ?
Rajesh Khanna selling stuffed toys—I understand.
But the B ?
8. And talking about yellow and Big B, am I the only one who finds the Rin advertisement slightly uncomfortable? For those who have not seen it, it has AB playing the role of a white-cassocked Catholic priest who calls a cherubic little boy into his room , ostensibly to “interview” him. Then they have a rather curious exchange (details in the link above) where the kid tells the priest: ” Yellow yellow dirty fellow”. Yellow flag. The priest, it seems, is merely interested in knowing what detergent the boy is using. Now the red flag.
The camera blurs and the priest is shown tickling the young boy…..remember the boy is here for an interview for admission. Now why should the priest start tickling him? In the context of what Catholic priests have been in the news for, I found it a bit…..”yellow yellow”. And please don’t call me the dirty fellow here.
9. Mumbai airport. I have to transfer from the domestic to the international terminal on the way back. I remember taking the same route some four years back where the baggage handlers kept pestering for baksheesh and that too in dollars. This time they were strangely silent—-and I noticed their Tshirts had emblazoned on them: ” No tips please, thank you.”
Poor fellows. Here I was dying to tip them and here they were refusing it with such politeness. My hyper-imaginative mind thought of Bill Clinton being made to wear a similar Tshirt saying “No sex please, thank you.”
10. “Fair and Lovely” —I knew of. But “Fair and Handsome” ? Wasnt the ideal of sexiness for men— “Tall Dark and Handsome” ? I am not complaining here—-its payback time for men for all the years of imposing an ideal of beauty that puts an inordinate premium on the color of skin.
11. And the howler. I have always enjoyed informercials—-the Bloussant breast enhancement cream (surprisingly castigated for “false and unsubstantiated claims“——-Tapas Paul could have saved them by his testimonial) remade in Hindi with an Indian “model” , tacky animation where the appendage in question is shown growing like Pinocchio’s nose (talk about false claims), and repeated use of the word “Sthan”.
But this time, what took the cake and bakery was the infomercial for “Sukh Shanti Sangraha”—a package of punya or holiness for NRIs. Each package consists of 7 color coded dhoop-kathis (incense sticks)—-30 in each pack, one pack for every day of the week. Each of the packets has a specific purpose—one is used for “buddhi-labh” (knowledge), one is used for “dhan-prapti” (acquisition of wealth)….you get the message. And just in case you doubt the claims, there are actual testimonials of real customers who tell you how burning these incense sticks have changed their lives—-passing exams, getting married, business flourishing, family squabbles resolved.
There is more. Besides these amazing burning sticks of bounty, you also get a vial of pure Ganga Jal and other assorted charms that guarantee your Sukh (happiness) and Shanti (Peace).
Wait there is still more. The peddlers of punya are Arun Govil (last seen singing ” Ramji ki chiriya, Ramji ka ped, Khau Re Chiruyai, Bhar Bhar Pet) of Ramayana fame and Bhagyashree (last seen in “Qaid Main Hain Bulbul” with her fold-mountain hubby, Himalaya) —with their gentle voices, Sanskritized Hindi and enigmatic smiles touting the amazing miracles that the Sukh Shanti Sangraha will bring to your career and family life.
Which begs the question: If the SSS solves all problems, why has it done nothing for the careers of Arun Govil and Bhagyasree—-their brand ambassadors ?
Food for thought. Indeed.