|Possibly our first puja. My bro's in a white tee. Got the photo from our neighbour Pupai's (the girl in the pic) parents. Joy in the middle. His mom, Meenu Kakima, was one of the stalwarts of the Puja...my last memory of her was her serving Kainaz and me at an Ashtami lunch a few years back. She seated us together even though Kainaz was part of the luchi brigade. May her soul rest in peace|
|Twenty five years later|
17th October 2010 Mumbai. Bijoya Doshomi
Happy Dussehra SMS's have been floating around. It's the last day of the Durga Puja too. Doshomi. It's never a 'Happy' Doshomi for Bengalis. It signals the close of five days of Christmas for us. Five days of festivities that I was reminded rather acutely over the past few days. I was at Kolkata. At Debjan Apartments. The apartment complex we moved into in 1984.
The first Durga Puja of Debjan happened in 1985. The first three building blocks had just come up. The Pandal/ Shamian, in the car park, was the centre of our world for the five days of the Puja. Five days that we looked forward to through the year. Five days for which we bought new clothes, timed our hair cuts for (just long enough to avoid the school long hair curfews) and didn't have to study. Five days to spend with our friends. Five days of feeling important - making announcements on the microphone, changing cassettes in the tape recorder (Papa Don't Preach & Beat it in year one), performing skits in the cultural programmes, running errands for grown ups, writing for the Puja Souvenir. The excitement of watching old decrepit movies on a white bed sheet like screen put up on the courtyard, a creaking projector conjuring its 'Cinema Paradiso' magic. Giving Anjali on Ashtami. Sitting quietly on Doshomi as the building aunties bid farewell to the Goddess by doing 'Boron", waiting for them to hand out some mishti to us. Going for Bhashan (immersion of the Goddess) at night yelling 'Durga maiki joy", "aaschhe bochhor abar hobe" (once again next year) while the designated aunty, Debi Aunty, would ensure that my brother and I wouldn't enter the water. A duty my mother gave her every year even when I was past my teens. Coming back to kolakuli (festive hugging of peers) and pronams (touching the feets) of elders...the last laddoos distributed ... we were the last ones to drag our feet home.
Our games shifted from 'cap pistol' cops and robber chases, to carom boards to a card game one year. . Each year had its set of memories - Dance Dance on DVDs, the first 'Nobomi' orchestra and dancing to it in our pre discotheque days, one year when the Pandal got gutted and they had to bring a new Protima (Durga image),taking photographs, romances which would bloom and wither by the carom table, going out as a group for the first time as we were deemed old enough to go without adult supervision, the flat of the three 'cool' bachelors where we hung out one year ....
The years passed. There was the original bunch of friends. New folks who joined he gang as they moved in.to the building Our world expanded as we inched towards high school and college. Our days at the building Pandal reduced as there were other friends to spend time with. Different worlds to explore. Mohammed Ali Park, College Square, Maddox Square, Park Circus, D park, Jodhpur Park, Poddo Pukur ... we didn't have to sit at our building Puja and hear about these mythical places. We were no longer children who could go out only if the grown ups took us out. We had crossed the line. It was the end of innocence. Soon it was time to leave the nest.
Back home for the Pujos
I was lucky enough to be there at the twenty fifth anniversary of the Debjan Puja. this time I thought that I would get felicitated and get a shawl or so for being one of the first of the Mohicans. What I did get instead were some huge smiles of welcome. Most of the original aunties were there. As were the uncles. I hope I am allowed to still call them that. Strangers call me uncle after all!
As would happen in Kolkata, hardly enough of those I grew up with were around. Most had moved out of town as had I. But there were a few who remained. With spouses and children added somewhere during the line. There to make me feel at home.
I was there on the biggest day of the Pujos. Ashtomi. The day of Pushpanjali and traditional clothes. I missed these as I was the Royal Calcutta Golf Club for a wonderful breakfast. You need your collars there. So no photographs of the Anjali.
I was back in time to sees the joyous chaos which signifies the end of the morning session of the Pujas. The Priest meticulously trying to close the session by doing Arati (an offering of the holy fire).... but there are more important things around. You are supposed to fast in the morning, have a bath and give Anjali. And you would wait desperately for this fast to end. Here I must say that this typically Bengali 'fast' lasts for all of three to four hours.
I was stuffed on rather heathen ham sandwiches, sensuous and alluring bondas and some robust coffee at the RCGC.
I could empathise with the urgent crowd of building residents who surrounded the girls patiently doling out the proshad (food offered to the Goddess) first. The Ashtami (Oshtomi) prasad is special. Not only cut fruits and sweets but a touch of bhog (cooked khichudi, torkari, luchi and payesh too). I took my share and took one plate home. Had a shower, changed into Kurta Pyjamas and came down for the afternoon lunch.
Ashtamir lunch or bhog was an integral part of Durga Puja for years. This is the only day of the Puja where you are supposed to eat vegetarian food. The menu is fixed. Khichudi (gruel of rice and daal of varying consistency), Labra ( a squishy mixed vegetable dish), chutney and sweets.
In Pujas such as the Debjan one, the community lunch soon extended to five days and a few nights too. You had to pay separately for some of these unlike the Ashtami one which was part of the deal. No one minded. Us kids didn't want to go up home any case. Gosh, where has all that energy gone?
Moms got a break from cooking. Most were working 24 by 7 at the Pandal - cutting fruits, coordinating with the priests, scolding us, buying us soft drinks and passing on extra sweets to us, organising the 'variety' programmes... make no mistake, the ladies take over when Ma Durga comes down to earth with her children. And for working mothers like mine, the building Puja meals allowed some me time to recuperate.
The lunches were small affairs initially. The building uncles, many of whom I met this time, would shop go to the local markets. The cooking done by a band of two or three cooks referred to as 'Thakurs'. Also the Bengali name for God. The food would be served by the residents themselves. Over the years I graduated from being allowed to serve chillies and salt to vegetables and daal and chutney. Never meats or fish though.
As an uncle pointed out this time, serving meat and fish was the reserve of the building 'Boudis' or aunties. A few men who ventured there were barely tolerated. The serving of meat and fish involve strategies and planning which would put Chanakya to shame. Wisdom and experience was required to be given the responsibility of this important duty. You had to earn it. For meat and fish are central to a Bengali meal. Giving the right piece of fish to the right person, the right cut of meat to the right person and marshaling limited resources, this required Machiavellian adroitness which only a few good women posses. Unfortunately the world of outsourcing has crept in and now one hires professionals to serve the food
The khichudi bhog of this year's puja was spectacular. Apparently the same cooks who cooked twenty five years were called back. Though something tells me that with ingredients and spices such as the memories of happy times, the feeling of being home, the smiles and grins of recognition, the jokes that only those who have been a part of your growing up days can make, the joy of people getting together to host Ma Durga for these five days, the knowledge that maddeningly and reassuringly enough you will never be old enough for your mother ... the food was fated to taste heavenly.
At this risk of sounding like a Musical band Box dedication this one is for Rupu, Joy (Deb), Anondo, Bapida, Munnada, Gourob, Titli, Tania, Gautamda, Ranada, Amit, Tublu (whom I convinced to come down to the Pujas), Rumadi, Anurupadi, the mashimas, kakus, jethus, jethis, dadus, didas, my little brother and his friends most of whom are now respectably married, and specially for those who have left us since to join Ma Durga at her place.
It's 6 PM...the bhaashan party will soon leave Debjan to drop Ma Durga and her kids home... and I will say bye to our celestial visitors from the other end of the country ...
PS: More on Nobomi later
|Finally it always came down to the mashimas, kakimas and jethimas|
|The men consigned to their addas|
|A tough approach to the girls giving out Proshad|
|You can't be meek to reach this level|
|Busy hands at work|
|Naru, dessicated coconuts rolled in jaggery, integral to Puja|
|Ashtomi Proshad... shared with Ma Durga|
|Eggplants doused in besan or gram batter|
|Magician at work|
|Piping hot beguni|
|The serving's outsourced...but not the hosting|
|Labra, squishy veggies which make Bong fish lovers go weak in their knees|
|Squishy cabbages... same effect|
|The prized khichudi bhog|
|With Anando (black tee) & Joy (black panjabi). We were there 25 yrs back|
|We were even smaller 25 yrs back|
|Clear cut instructions on the 'art of serving'... all hands on the dekchi (Cooking vessel)|
|I started my career in serving food with chillies & lemon|
|The joy of coming home|
|Apparently you are never too old for your mother|
|Feeling 25 years younger... a botox meal if there ever was one|
|It is easier to climb the Everest than reach here|
|Dhakis with a new 'uncle' joining in|