You want to know what Durga Poojo (the biggest annual festival for bengalis, celebrating good over evil) means to a Bengali, ask me! Or better still, ask any “Bong” residing any where in the world. I know the feeling used to be completely different during our childhood, when our extended family huddled together in a room to play cards and discuss politics. Gone are the days when the cultural programme at the local pandal (desi version of a marquee) was the stage to showcase our Robindro-nritya (a dance form which can only be mastered by Bengali women) and abritti (elocution competition to show off voice modulation) skills. I miss being at home. I miss being with my family. It’s the third year that I am celebrating Durga Poojo at a place far faraway.
Gone are the days when Durga Poojo started on the day of Mahalaya (the start of Navratri which lasts for ten days), at 4:00 AM. Although the excitement level is still the same, the interest to buy new clothes and visit each pandal in the vicinity is still the same, the morning rush to reach before the pushpanjali (the act of paying homage to the Goddess) is still the same, I wonder why it still doesn’t feel quite right. I have been a probashi Bangali (a Bengali staying away from Bengal) all my life. My hometown is the place Gangs of Wasseypur is based on. I spent two or three Poojos in Kolkata, but still I would prefer to go back to my hometown any day. Dhanbad is a small town but the Bangaliyana (the feeling of being Bengali) rules! This is the third poojo, I am not home. I miss spending time with my parents, I miss going shopping with my sisters, I miss meeting our relatives, I miss the flavour of Bijoya (the act of people hugging each other and distributing sweets, post the festival), I miss eating like there’s no tomorrow, I miss the rickshaw rides (it’s the fastest mode of transportation during poojo), I miss staying up till two in the morning, discussing our lives and priorities, I miss the fights (every year there had to be a huge one), I miss the exchange of new clothes and the planning sessions (which one to wear when), I miss the photo sessions and oporajitar daal ( a twig which would make you invincible!), I miss sitting together and relishing the bhog ( rice dish offered to god), I miss the shindoor khela (holi only with vermillion ) with my mom and sisters, I miss road trips to Ramkrishna Math (and especially the antakshari we play during the ride). I miss doing nothing and lyadh-khawa (acting like a lazy moron), I miss raiding mom’s closet and finding stuff that we shouldn’t (this one’s very risky business), I miss seeing known faces at each gathering and smiling at them. I miss seeing the dhunuchi-naach (a crazy tricky dance form which involves fire) and gossiping about people, we have no idea about, I miss bumping into our old flames and childhood crushes, I miss catching up with my school friends, I miss the pandal-hopping (very similar to club hopping, without booze) and the phuchka and egg rolls.I miss going through my old wardrobe with almost-vintage clothes, I miss touching my parents’ feet and wishing them Bijoya.