Durga Pujo has been synonymous with Kolkata ever since I was big enough to understand Pujo. I have spent Pujo at different places, different states but nowhere did I feel the spirit of the Pujo in the people, the leaves of the trees, the roads, the stray dogs and in the weather. It seems as if Nature herself has willed that Kolkata should blend into the soul of the Pujo till the city is unrecognizable as a separate entity.
Nowhere will you ever find that you have to park your car five miles away from the pandal and still walk the distance in smiles because of the famed Protima that you are about to visit. Only in Kolkata will you encounter atleast ten more Protimas that will surreptitiously appear along the way during your five-mile sojourn pleasantly surprising you.
Heated discussions regarding the merits and demerits of various pandals can build into fist fights for the Asian Paints Sharad Shamman. It’s a time when relations are mended and forgotten friends remembered. It’s the time for romances while the chill begins to settle.
Pujo is when we shop for months in advance. Carefully planned out garments- the best one reserved for Ashtami are put aside. Girls must wear sarees for the Ashtami anjali and this year there was a resurgence of the old Bengali style of donning the national dress. Makeup and accessories in place and all set and done, nothing can stop them, not even the rain that threatened to mar the celebrations this year. Heat and humidity can be forgotten and the mad crowds ignored for those four days of glory.
As the day fades into dusk, the lights come out and the city is bejeweled with tuni bulbs that weave dreams in the city's skyline. The crowds thicken, but that does not dampen the spirit of the Kolkatan. All night outings are a birthright of the young ones and as the teenager retires into bed wistfully sulking at his elder sister who'll be out all night, there are promises to keep for the time when he comes of age. Suddenly, nobody is worried that a daughter will be out till late night. The city will protect her.
Its a time for gorging egg rolls, ice cream, mutton chops and chowmein. It’s a time for looking good at Maddox Square and shopping for titbits at Park Circus. For the Nagardola at Bagbajar Sarbojanin, bumping into old friends at Mohammad Ali Park, comparing notes by the huge pool at College Square and watching for Maharaja himself at the Pujo in Saurav Ganguly's home at Behala.
Tired but not disheartened, they prepare for the next day and the next. Unmindful of the millions of old people who will remain confined to old age homes and the TV for the Pujo. Fortunately, all is not amiss. There is the Pujo Porikrama at Doordarshan and a host of programs, prizes to win and TV stars who greet the viewers by the minute. Television has managed to capture the Pujo not only in Kolkata but also in West Bengal and outside, in Mumbai, Delhi and far UK and USA.
Doshomi brings a gloom that will remain for sometime. Shidoor khela and bodhon over, Ma prepares to depart promising to return again the next year. Bijaya greetings flow across phones, smses and emails. Huge processions of tearful people taking the idol for immersions and teeming millions lined up on the streets watching them. Then there is a wait for another year, amongst the sweets that are distributed; there is an eerie silence that can be discerned. The Kolkatan hopeful of the year long wait till go home in anticipation, because he knows that she will come back again.