Here I am stuck in Chennai during the Pujo season and Im so sad that I could cry. Which non-resident Kolkatan does not feel this way during this season. The pandal here is crowded by fellow Bongs, and food stalls, and sponsor stalls, and lets not forget- the thakur. But the crowd only reminds me of the teeming throngs on Deshapriya Park or Ballygunj/ Gariahat roads past midnight on pujo days. The food stalls are nothing compared to even my para pujo foodstalls. The egg rolls are better, the mutton chop is spicier, the fish kobiraji more crisp, and the mishti- a-ha aaa-ha. A Bong woman will go gaga over mishti in any form but Kolkata-r mishti!!! Class apart. And the idol itself? A mere doll compared to the fairy tales being woven all over my city. But sigh, I remain content to view the sea in the dewdrop. And promise vehemently never to miss Kolkata Pujo again, ever again.
Chennai has two main Pujo. One in Besant Nagar/ Adyar and another in T Nagar. Like the true Kolkatans, my husband and I, and the little one, went pandal hopping. Hop, and we were done. Well, what with TWO pujo-s and all. The oldest pujo in Chennai is in a place called Kalibari but I dont know where that is. The T nagar pujo seems to have lesser food stalls, but luchi- chholar daal - jilipi breakfast is available even at 1 am. The bhog will start in some time. So we take coupons and wait. The sound of the dhaki finally, finally, puts my heart to rest on Nabami morning, and closing my eyes, I finally feel I am home.
The Besant Nagar pujo is my para pujo in Chennai. It used to be walking distance from my house, but this year its shifted a bit farther but to a more spacious locale. The atmosphere here is "gharowa", festive, lots of laughter, lots of food. I am pulled there two times a day. I dont give anjali, so thats not on the iteranary. I just go and roam around, soaking in the atmosphere, a mere reflection of the Kolkata spirit, but at least, within the confines of this pandal, I can feel it. Otherwise the city of Chennai is bereft of any festivity, and especially at this time- seems naked, bare faced. My daughter is riveted by Durga-s lion, this year as every other. But this year I explain to her the concept of Good over Evil and she seems to understand. My parents are believers. They pray twice a day. We have the usuall Lakshmi/ Saraswati pujo at home too, and my father himself becomes priest for the day. But they never forced their belief on me. I developed a belief system all my own. And my daughter can have hers. Temple, idol, heaven, heart, service- she can choose her own path to God. That was my promise to her.
The show-off here is not too much. Sarees are still basic cotton, and lots of people in jeans around. The women who are decked in finery sort of stand out. On Dashami, the saree I wore for dinner seems too dressy for the ocassion but who cares, this is Durga Pujo and Bongs all over the world would be going OTT (over the top) at this time. The dashami bhog is limited to members of the Association, called South Madras Cultural Association but actually comprising of Bengalis in the area. My husband has not had bhog this year, what with being out of station on work for the first two days, and being at work the next two. He HAS to have bhog. So he pays money and takes membership. Now we are proud members of SMCA and we also got to have bhog, and to top it, dinner on Dashami, invitation to Lakshmni and Kali Pujo.
So, finally, now that the puja is over and Im not missing Kolkata any more, I look forward to the other puja-s here so I can go and have some more Bengali khana-peena and strut around some more in my sari-s.