Whenever I am away from Kolkata, I impose a total media ban on anything related to the Pujo, taking a leaf out of the Government of India’s Ostrichian principle that if I bury my head in the sand and censor the flow of information about a certain thing, then that thing ceases to exist any more. [Picture to the left: Ballygunge Cultural Durga Pujo, Kolkata, 2005]
Which is why I refuse to do Protima Dorshon online (i.e. surf websites with pictures of pandals and images on them), do not appreciate being wished “Subho Mahalaya” and stay away from Probasi Pujos—–by blotting them out, I try to convince myself that Pujo does not exist and this illusion helps me to get over these few days. After all, as Durkheim demonstrated in Suicide, you feel miserable when everyone else is having fun, and you are not.
Mahalaya just passed us by. No I did not try to rake up an Mp3 of Birendra Krishna Bhodro’s endearing recitation of Mahisasura Mardini, a tour-de-force of raw, tremulous emotion where the interlocutor is reduced to tears at the end . Actually the only time I like to hear Mahisasura Mardini is during Mahalaya dawn, half-asleep, at home in Kolkata, awash with the the beautifully serene tunes of Pankaj Mallick, my own heart beating in anticipation of Pujo to come.
Listening to it at any other time is emotionally unsatisfying—which is why I hate it when they play it during Saraswati Pujo or on any arbitrary day—it’s like hearing the ting-a-ling of the ice-cream vendor when you know that there is no ice-cream in his cart.
In a way, I am happy that growing up my Pujos were not as fun-filled as I hear it was for many others—–if it was I would have missed it more. Make no mistake, I had nice times going out with my parents (if only to eat at the nearest place) and with my school group on Saptami morning (otherwise why would I look forward to it or miss it even now?). But since I had few friends, even fewer relatives and no locality Pujo to work as a volunteer for, I have been spared of a lot of pain I would have otherwise felt right now if I had formed a whole lot of pleasant memories. Again I do have a few but just not enough to overwhelm me.
In all these years I have been here, I have never attended that staple of the NRI Bengali—the Durga Pujo on weekends. The reason I have not is simply because if anything, Pujo means being at home, in the company of people you know—I suppose the sense of belonging a cat gets when it curls up on its favourite rug. And for me the NRI Durga Pujo would not be that—-I would know nobody there, would just go, pay, see the Durga idol, overhear some puerile conversation about Dhakai sari and Mokaibari tea, eat and leave. That’s not Durga Pujo….that’s a show and a dinner.
Vacuous–like a bottle of Mountain Dew.
And so another Pujo will come to pass…with me denying its existence…cheating once in a while by reminiscing about times gone by and mumbling to myself how far away, both in the terms of time and space, I am from home.