Looking back on my childhood in a Bengali household, Puja Time was Prime Time. The preparations began a few months in advance (every saree my mom bought was shelved till its grand Durga puja outing). Well other than that no other preparations were necessary. Yes, I can hear the rest of India gasp.
We, Bengalis (call us either lazy or fun-loving depending on who you are), celebrate our major festival, Durga Puja, in ’Sarbojonik’ (public as opposed to individual family based) mode so not much work lands on the housewife’s bucket. No need to primp & prune the house, cook mind-numbing varieties of must-have delicacies or sacred rituals to tip-toe around. We just paid our fair share of donation to the local organisers and then sit back and wait for the fun to begin!
And, boy, was it fun! You dress up (elegant sarees, latest blouse trends, jewellery to drool over), hold a token fast you break at the pandal (venue), gawk and gossip. There you find an array of stalls for shopping and food (Bengali sweets, snacks, moghlai, Calcutta katti kebabs et al). Then its time for all self-respecting Bengalis’ favorite passtime – crowd watching (who’s wearing what and hence deduce what seems to be the latest fashion trend in Bengal. There is bhog (free food!) of mouth-watering Bengali khichadi, veggies, tomato / date chatni, papad and sweet. Then go home for the afternoon siesta which is sacred to the Bengali who wishes to come back raring for more food, adda, cultural programmes replete with Rabindra Sangeet and Bengali film screening later in the evening. This goes on till the wee hours of the morning fueled by cups of cha.
Next day, repeat. There you have the holy routine for Shasti (sixth day) to Dashami (10th day) when the Durga Ma and her progeny (Kartik, Ganapati, Laxmi & Saraswati) are bid a tearful adieu till they return to their maika (mother’s abode here on Earth) again same time next year. After the tenth day Bengalis go on a ecstatic meet & greet wherein the famed Bengali sweets again feature prominently(mostly store-bought not homemade) in this Bijoya celebrations.
Whats not to like? My husband who is not a Bengali could only shake his head in bemusement at this wholehearted and fun-filled celebration totally devoid of any semblance of austerity or hard-work.As an atheist (no, not the card carrying type) I still am drawn to this time of the year and try my best to get my children into the Durga puja mindset. The one where fun, food and friends rather than meaningless rituals define a festival.
Looking forward to meeting the Bong gang at ICC Milpitas this weekend.