[This was an invited article in Sunday’s Telegraph in their special Pujo edition. At the time of writing, the electronic version is somewhat garbled. So am cross-posting the entire article]
Pujo is perfect. But then as my geography teacher would say, perfection can always be perfected. And I know exactly how that can be done. Everybody just has to listen to what I have to say and follow through accordingly. Of course, I need to couch my “to-do”s as requests and gentle suggestions, since people are more likely to listen to me that way.
So here they are, my ten “requests” to the world, made with the noblest of intentions, which if honored would make this, the most joyous of seasons, even more joyous for everyone.
Well if not for everyone, at least for me.
1. When you claim that I gave your club chanda (subscription) last year and hence am obliged to double the amount this time because of inflation, please do take the trouble of copying the name correctly off the door name-plate while forging my “signature” on to last year’s receipt stub. Bad spelling makes me slightly cross, even more so when you try to convince me that it is I who cannot spell my own name. And oh yes. When my neighbor, the brave skinflint, slams the door on your face without paying his hafta…err….homage to Ma Durga please remember to ask which of the cars in the garage is his. I am sick and tired of you slashing the tires of my car in retaliation.
2. I know that for the community of pickpockets, Pujo is to them what the IPL season is for Indian cricketers. Which is why I do not grudge them their rights to make a living but can I request these honest men to not misuse my credit card after picking my pocket? Just take the cash and please throw away the plastic. It’s not losing my hard-earned income that bothers me but the nightmarish prospect of dialing the customer service number of my credit card company to report the loss and fight the fraudulent charges.
3. When someone gets lost in the crowd and you, as a Pujo organizer, need to announce his name over the loud speaker, do not use his real name. Always and I repeat always refer to him by his nickname, the more embarrassing it be the better. Anyone who has been a fool enough to get separated from his group in a pandal, deserves to have the world know that he is “Panchu from Paikpara” or “ Bhonda from Bikrampur”. Honestly.
4. The organizers of the Pujo at Maddox Square need to put padding on the bamboo poles that hold the pandal up. For some reason I have yet to fathom, young men there, typically in the evenings, just seem to walk without looking ahead. As a result, they often bump their heads against the bamboo supports. What surprises me is that the beautiful women, who flitter about nearby at the same time, seem to do just fine.
5. The people who supply food during Pujos, staying awake night after night, indeed do a yeoman’s service and I do not want to sound ungrateful. So please do not get me wrong when I request them to not sell boiled rice and call it biriyani, label sweet bread as cake, and present living organisms inside the stuffing and call it “special” mutton roll.
6. I totally endorse the practice of having separate lines for men and women in pandals. My only problem is that the young men, who man the Puja committees, are almost always found managing the “leddiej” line leaving the young brats and early teens in charge of the Dada’s queue. Nothing wrong in that of course. It’s not that young boys cannot manage a massive crowd. The problem is just that I never much cared to be called “kaku” or “jethu” in a public place, which is what these little tykes inevitably refer to me as. Now thirty-four years old, I don’t mind it so much but when I was twenty-one, this quite riled me up. Respect for age is all fine but this is too much.
7. Totally understand the urge to be different but can we do away with the post-modernism in Durga idols please? I think you know what I mean—-the missiles and the doves and the other expressions of non-traditionalism. I realize the need to be novel but aren’t some things best left unaltered, if only so that our link with the past may be maintained? Thank you. What? You want to make the face of Mahish-asura look like Greg Chappell? Oh do that by all means. And make the buffalo look like John Buchanan while you are at it.
8. The desire to win a “sarod somman” is understandable—-after all who wouldn’t want to get their name in the papers and a few more footfalls? But for that, please do not suppress your natural urge to play Himesh songs full volume. Personally, one of the fondest memories of Pujo I have is of me, fresh in Class nine, feeling totally adult and badass, firing my cap bondook (gun) while pandal-hopping with my friends. Each place we went to was playing the very same song, “Dekha hai paheli baar sajaan ki aankhon mein pyar” from Sajaan. Sheer joy. Yes I understand the need for tradition —after all was I not arguing for a bit of it a while before? So let’s just make a compromise. Shehnai during the evening and if the urge is too strong, a bit of jhinchaak in the mornings. Sound good?
9. Commercialization and corporate sponsorship of Pujo is welcome, more so if it gets us common people off the hook for “voluntary contributions”. And that of course I realize means more obtrusive advertising at the Pujo venue. But can we all decide not to put advertisements inside the pandal itself like for example not have Kola Bou “being brought to us” by Banana Republic”?
10. A final request. I know that we often don’t have the best things to say about Kolkata. And for very good reasons too. But can all of us agree that for these four golden days in autumn, despite the traffic snarl-ups and the bad food and the pickpockets and the insensitive people who delight in stomping your feet, there really is no other place in the world we would rather be ?