It was the only time of the year when exams were not important to my parents. As soon as the answer paper was submitted, I’d run to the ‘Main Gate’ of my school, and wait to be picked up by my parents and be taken to Congress Bhavan. After the customary respects were paid to Ma, I would be left free to wander around the ‘Pujo Pandal’ and look for my friends. Some days there were drawing or essay contests. Atleast one morning was spent sitting on the edge of the stage and distributing ‘Proshad’ to people, or if your luck ran dry, you could be roped in for behind the scenes work like helping to assemble the 3 or so fruits and a Padha for the Proshad.
Lunchtime was heralded by the youngsters (I was still in the kids category) pushing aside the scattered chairs to make way for the long rows of tables and chairs, on which batches and batches of Bangalis would be fed. This was the cue to run to the kitchen area to volunteer for the days Poribeshon. The pecking order for Poribeshon was quite clear, little kids would be handed Shaalpata, bowls of lemon and salt and other such inconsequential things to lay out on the tables. The bigger and thus cooler youngsters were handed big steaming buckets of kichudi, labda or chatni. If you were one who didn’t like to walk too much, you could opt to sit at the dabba service counter – run for those unfortunate family members who could not make it, but mostly for those who did not want to go home and cook dinner.
Those were the days when the Pujo meant nothing more than 5 days of fun, food and new clothes.
In 2010 I was employed in Delhi during Pujo, and so busy that I had barely any time to even breathe. Yet every day I thought about getting out to go have a look at the gorgeous Protima at CR Park or some really big Pujo Pandal. I missed the mesmerizing beats of the dhaki who were fascinating but poor peasants imported from West Bengal. I wanted to see the Dhunuchi Naach. I finally managed to get out on the last day, and called my mom to ask for directions. It’s only then I was told that the Bishorjon was over, and I realized how disconnected I had become.
Since then I have made it a point to take a day off and spend time doing the little things that make a Pujo what it is. As a Probashi Bangali it is not about visiting various Pandals across the city and admiring their decorations. Think of it as the difference between the roadside Ganpati Mandals, where you are a spectator, and your Society’s Ganpati, where you are a participant, but it’s not your private affair.
DICTIONARY OF TERMS
- Padha – Pedha
- Poribeshon - the task of distributing food
- Shaalpata - Plates made from the leaves of the 'Shaal' plant
- Labda - mixed, nearly always overcooked vegetables
- Cheeken Rolls – Chicken Rolls
- Robindro Songith – Songs composed by Rabindranath Tagore, that every self respecting Bengali can sing
- Protima – idol
- Dhaki – drummer
- Bishorjon – Visarjan, or emersion of the idol into the river
- Probashi Bangali- A Bengali who stays outside West Bengal
- Chada - donations
- Bhog - lunch
- Kakus and Kakimas - uncles and aunties