October 10, 2008

The Heart of Calcutta

It was the peak of Ganapati Festival in Mumbai. And I had heard it was as big as Durga Puja in Calcutta. At least Bollywood movies had proved to us so much. And I eagerly anticipated it. And like most hyped up anticipations of my life, I was disappointed. Ganpati Festival was big in Mumbai but it lacked the warmth that I had expected it to exuberate. It had become a festival of the people way below the social order, or as someone put it, way up the higher one. Mumbai was too busy to grant its patron God more than a day of holiday and even though the festivities were supposed to last for more than a week, there were no great traffic congestion on any night (well, in Mumbai it can’t get worse, can it?)

Lalbagh cha Raja was perhaps the most famous of all the Elephant Gods adorning the city pandals and three of decided we should hit it. As luck would have it, instead of the 5 hour wait that we had braced ourselves for, we were able to glimpse his calm and serene face for around six and a half seconds before security guards pushed us aside. All in the course of two and a half hours. Anyway, the point I am trying to make is that Ganpati did not bring Mumbai to a standstill as I had seen Durga do to Calcutta. “After all,” I thought, “she is more powerful than her son. That’s the best explanation.”

About a week back I realized that once again I will not be home for Durga Puja. I’ll not be able to visit Jodhpur Park and have Puchkas there, nor could I go and show off my shooting skills at Belgachia Sadharan or look in wonder at the legacy that was Baghbazar Sarbojonin. But I was excited. Durga Puja in a new city should be fun.

On Sasthi (the sixth day. For Bengalis, the real deal starts on Sashthi) A called. He was a veteran at going to Durga Puja in Mumbai. It was a Sunday and we headed to Shivaji Park. For some reason, the setting took me back to a Puja in Pilani and not to one I had spent my childhood years in. Somehow Puja at Pilani meant something else to me. But let’s not reminisce.

We had horrible Egg Rolls and Fish Fries imagining ourselves to be somewhere in Calcutta. Surprisingly it worked. The next three days I worked away at my office, earning my living, stopping on the way back to visit the Puja at Shivaji Park. It was not the best of times. And I got through it only thanks to my oldest ‘best friend’ who kept on sending me links of live Pujo and Mahalaya Strotas from his base in Germany. Sometimes that’s what best friends are for. To remind you, that you will never be alone again. And then on Nabami, something happened.

We had gone to watch Hell Boy and as much as the women hate the men for making them sit through the movie, I thought the movie was passable as a one time watch. Anyway, as we walked out a friend suddenly asked me if I had been to any Puja yet and at 2:00 in the morning he had this hugely crazy idea. We decided to visit Shivaji Park again. I remembered Mumbai’s response to Ganpati and so while speeding towards the Pandal I said, “Stan, there’s no way on earth that we’ll be able to see any crowd at the Puja. If there’s any decent crowd, from a believer I will turn into a fanatical believer.”

And I did that night.

The place was teeming with people at 3:00 in the night. Later I got to know that it was the same everywhere. Be it, Dadar or Lokhandwala, Santa Cruz or Vashi, Bongs had made the night their own. And the heartening part was to have a glimpse of ‘Bong Mata’ the non bongs too thronged the Pandals. And of course as usual Bong women were dressed to the hilt. I was transferred back to Calcutta, feeling its heart throbbing through the hearts of Mumbai. They beat in unison.

And then I began to see things in a different perspective.

I saw slum dwellers in Wadala twirling their Dandiya sticks to the tunes of a Himesh number. I saw up market societies set up Dandiya dance sessions where everyone irrespective of region was trying to dance the Dandiya. The Garba was everywhere, only if I cared to look.

I love Calcutta and its spirit and the way it can celebrate the homecoming of their beloved daughter, Uma whom India knows as Durga. But Navratri showed me Mumbai too can celebrate. Maybe Ganpati is its favourite God but Navratri is its favourite festival.

Or maybe I just didn’t look at the right places. I’ll reserve my comments till another day. And so even though the Bong in me yearns to be in Calcutta for the Pujas next year, he knows that Mumbai will not disappoint him.

I shifted my house on the last day of the Pujas and as I lie on my bed feeling the moist air on my face that has flirted with the raindrops, I wish the daughter of Bengal a fine farewell wishing her to come back safely again next year.

As we shouted from the top of the truck during the immersion – Asche Bochor Abar Hobe.

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