I’m a Bengali, Not Hyped about Pujo. Am I Dead Inside?

Humour

I’m a Bengali, Not Hyped about Pujo. Am I Dead Inside?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Ihave a confession to make: I am a Bengali and the thought of Durga Pujo doesn’t make me delirious. Not anymore. I feel no frisson of excitement when someone whispers “Maa ashchhen” (Mother is coming) in my ears. (It’s been our catchphrase before “Winter is Coming” became a thing.) Somehow I don’t feel Pujo in my fingers or toes. Pujo is all around me, but I can’t even smell it in the air. All I smell is smoke. But hey don’t blame me, I live in Gurgaon. 

I have tried to feel the josh but have failed. I have archived all the pre-Pujo videos that are supposed to send me hurtling toward Highway Nostalgia. But nothing seems to be doing the trick. Should I go see the doctor? Or maybe increase my daily dose of Gelusil? A Bong not hyped about Pujo? Is that even possible? Am I dead inside, like a (Durga Maa forbid) millennial? How can someone not be excited at the thought of having kobiraji, singara, and then cha at 6 pm in the October heat while sweating profusely in their Nalli saree?

I hate to admit it but this sense of detachment has been simmering inside me like slow-cooked mangsho for years now. Only in my case, it has left a bad taste in my mouth. For the last few seasons, I have not been going heady with all the Pujo prep. In fact, I have been sporting the same look every year: Like a deer caught in headlights while trying not to die in a stampede of enthusiasts. Every didi and dada is waddling around the pandal in their crisp new saris and kurtas, discussing everything from the economy to ilish. You always find the Bhattacharyas chattering frantically while looking for their 10-year-old Hablee who they lost at sector B Pujo 15 minutes ago again this year. Meanwhile I wear the same look on my face that Greta Thunberg did when she encountered Trump at the UN. 

Blame my age, but the thought of layering my arteries with cholesterol from Moglai porotas, cutlets, and bhaja bhuji fried in oil as old as the dinosaurs is not intoxicating. Maybe that’s because I don’t expect Maa Durga to vanquish acidity, loosies, and calories just like she slayed Mahishasura. I’ve long given up nibbling daintily at the meat in the kosha mangsho, while feasting my eyes on sombre-looking men sashaying in “Panjabis” (kurtas) embellished with smiling owls and boudis in stunning dhakais and blouses as deep as the Grand Canyon.

I am done with all the fake applause because frankly most of our self-styled Bappi Das are as impressive as Mamata Di’s art.

Pujo is every Bangali’s very own Sunburn. A non-stop four-day binge-fest where you sleep little, eat lots, exchange love-lorn looks with handsome strangers. There was a time when I’d hop from one pandal to another like a Duracell-charged bunny, my sari pleats clutched tightly in one hand. My evenings were a happy mishmash of hogging, ogling, and soaking in the “kalchar” as I’d tap my feet to the latest hits by Miss Jojo and doing adda until 2 am. 

My daytime was reserved for the spectacle of Bangali moms unleashing the chomchom of their eyes on stage, where they could stun the paraa (neighbourhood) with their “talents”. I’d nod enthusiastically as Supratim narrated abriti (poetry) in a quivering voice even if all I could think of was lying like a limp lettuce on my bed. Supratim and I have come a long way. He took his first baby steps dressed as a clock for the fancy dress competition on shoshtee 20 years ago and I have watched him go from boy to bhadralok.  His mom, who spent days foraging for cardboard and turning him into a grandfather clock, would be an anxious wreck as she’d watch her shonamoni recite “tic toc, aami clock” that she had composed especially for him. Since talent not only runs but does cartwheels in Bong families, maa herself would take centre-stage in the evening swaying in melancholy as she sang Tagore’s “Chandalika” while her mister played the tabla backstage. I’ve survived this assault on my sensibilities and now I am done. I am done with all the fake applause because frankly most of our self-styled Bappi Das are as impressive as Mamata Di’s art. 

This is how every Pujo unfolds. When all of this is over, by the time you float to the exit gate, you are ready to fall in an exhausted heap right next to the trash can overflowing with soiled plates reeking of raw onions and fish bones.

No thank you. I’d rather stick to undertaking the arduous exercise of staying home and reminiscing about the days when it all used to be an intimate affair and not remind me of a ride on a Mumbai local. I no longer want to assert my Bangaliness that gets lost in the cosmopolitan khichdi for the rest of the year. Enjoying Pujo requires too much effort and some amount of delusion. I am done telling myself and others “bhalo lage”, when all I can think of is how desperately I need a pedicure when the whole neighbourhood is done stomping on my feet. I’d rather live with the memories of my beloved past and sulk at the present. Just like a true blue Bangali. 

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