Being a middle class Bangali student, my evenings are spent in transit, from College Street to Kasba. My only relief during this commute, on rare occasions, is the chance to hop on a relatively less crowded AC Metro, from Central to Kalighat.
But come end of monsoon, when torrential rain cause sporadic dampening of mood, and are about to bid farewell to this three and half century old city for good, one can notice little shifts in public presence and attitude.
For one, there are no relatively-less-crowded AC Metros. They are overcrowded, by a huge scale, and the doors struggle to close at stations, especially at Esplanade, where a huge flock of people throng the roads, the stores, the roadside eateries, and the metro stations, with polythene bags and shopping bags, smelling of new clothes, leather shoes. As my body is contorted to an uncomfortable, unfathomable shape, in the swarm of sweating, loud and happy customers in a tin metro bogey, my insides lift up a bit at the realization: Pujo is Coming.
The best indicator of the arrival of Durga Maa is probably Gariahat, which again I can see become the hubub of Pujo shopping at South Kolkata. The army of shoppers grows stronger each day, and just weeks left for the Pujo, the city Police start placing barricades and maintaining human traffic flow with all means, which at times are evidently not enough. A South Kolkata counterpart of Hatibagan or Shyambazar, Gariahat before Pujo is a challenge for a Bangali, which he has to conquer. While for unenthusiastic shoppers, like me, the only challenge is to wade through the sea of shoppers, and reach a Mutton Roll, and of course, conquer it. Then there are the sidewalks extensions for people who shop and pandal-hop during the festival. Huge barricades of bamboos, which makes traffic slump near and around Gariahat. Roads are closed off. Huge pandals erected anywhere and everywhere, wondrous designs come to life on every corner of every street. Huge hoardings, made by sponsors, sport the names of the organizing institution of every Pujo, everywhere. And then, there are the Pujo editions of magazines. For
children, adolescents, adults, for gossip-mongers, for the politically inclined, for the avid readers. Reading: the most Bangali characteristic ever.
And come Mahalaya, the essence of past glory, comes in the voice of Sri Birendra Krishna Bhadra, and brings the dawn to every Bangali household. Pujo has come, finally, and my beloved city dresses up in neons, art, and smiles of her residents. Millions of Calcuttans, wait for a year for these 5-odd days of the Pujo and the month of frenzy that precedes it. And of course, Maa too is a Bangali daughter who returns to Her people after a year of
being with Her in-laws, so there are no stones kept unturned to make Her feel right at home. And with Bijoya Dashami, the celebrations may end, but not the expectations of more. So, we pledge “Ashchhe Bochhor, Aabar Hobe”, and look forward to the familiar excitement, enthusiasm, shopping, eating, catching up with friends, pandal-hopping, with perhaps a more vigour next time.
- Text by Anurag Mazumder,