It’s that time of the year.
Jostling amidst insane crowds. Craning necks trying to catch a glimpse of the protima (the idol). Getting my feet trampled by 200 lb mashima from Titagarh. Having my behind worked over by the pickpocket expecting his pujo bonus. Consuming boiled rice sold as “biriyani” and canine meat as mutton roll. Being awash in the bleary-eyed punch-drunkenness that comes not from good old bubbly but from the positive energy that pervades the air.
Not for me.Not any more.
Settled across the Atlantic in Obamaland, a “family man” no less, things are very different.
Very much so.
Durga Pujo is now a social event, something that no longer knots the stomach in expectation, something that no longer quickens the heart. No it is not. It is just yet another diversion on an autumn weekend (Lord Rama may have done “akaal bodhon” but the NRIs go one step further—“weekend bodhon”) when you bring out that kurta (“Punjabi” we Bangalis call it) get into your Honda Civic, consult Mapquest and drive to the venue (usually a temple or a school rented out for the purpose).Once there you nod your head, fold your palms and smile vacantly at assorted strangers, do a few “stop and chat”s, take a Patel shot in front of the protima to be sent back home (“What did you do during Pujos?”), stand in the line for the food and then drive back, stop at Giant Supermarket to pick up milk, bread and turkey slices for Monday lunch and sink down in front of the TV, just in time for Dateline NBC.
Of course this is just my experience. I am sure many people thoroughly enjoy the whole rigmarole of the NRI Durgapujo, especially the Bangali Association types, the “organizer”s who bark the orders and the “performers” who put on the programs and the “editor” s who compile the Pujo brochure.
It’s just that I am not one of them.
Not that I don’t enjoy anything. Far from it.
For instance there is the unalloyed joy I derive from reading the “supposedly intellectual” Bangla “poems” (my sure shot formula for enjoying those lines of airy nonsense is to do the old Jadavpur edit i.e. inserting rhyming swear words every third word. Trust me it gives a whole new meaning for even the most moronic juxtaposition of words). Then there is the sheer assault on sensibilities otherwise known as “singing by local talent”, an euphemism for the wife/daughter of one of the Pujo’s chief patrons given the privilege of hogging the mic before the “guest artists” come on to the stage. Not to forget the vicarious pleasure of watching energetic Bangali bhodrolok and bhodromohila trying to be “Punjabi” hep by dancing in a ring-a-ring-a roses pocket full of poses style to the tune of Bhoomi’s “Barandaye Roddur”.
But all this gets boring after a few minutes as I sit on a chair surrounded by other men, whom I just got introduced to (but who all know each other quite well) as they discuss mortgage refinance rates, proposed H1B legislation, Green Card retrogression, spelling bees and IRA accounts. Totally out of it, I overhear scraps of female spousal conversation—animated discussions of mothers-in-law, house decorations, saris and jewelery, where in Germantown do you get Pabda fish and why their kids just cannot speak a word of Bangla.
To break the tedium, I look desultorily over the room—–I see kids running around and harried fathers running after them while some of the other born-in-the-USAs stand in front of a table and enjoy a typically Bengali meal of chicken pizza and Mountain Dew, brought especially for those kids who just cannot eat Bangali food (Jaano to amar Khokon-sona na just cannot eat any bhaat babaah….how so naughty. He wants only peeja and McDeee).
And around this time, my mind starts wandering blotting out the surroundings as I get transported to another place. Another time. Of that Pujo where a friend got lost from our group of seven and announced on the public address system that his six friends are lost in Muhammed Ali Park (yes such was his self-confidence that he was convinced that it was not he who was lost but the six other people who were with him). And of that time when another friend was accosted by an irate father for staring at his daughter and his fumbled attempt at conciliation consisted of saying ” What is the problem sir? This is Pujo. You are here to look. I am here to look. Let us both look.” And this other Pujo when I had a mutton cutlet and ate something that was slightly alive inside it.
My reverie is interrupted by a Pizza-chomping kid running into me, excusing himself with a quick “Sorry uncle” as he keeps hopping about. Giving him a benign avuncular smile I realize I have been engaging in the stereotypical nostalgia for ‘good old times’, the kind typically engaged in by the “uncle” types, those whom we used to keep at arm’s length many years ago, the ones who while they rail at the world changing refuse to recognize the fact that they themselves have changed.
Yes yes I know.
But surely you will accept that I am allowed this indulgence.
Because after all it’s that time of the year.