Kali Pujo and a hundred rupees worth of memories




Me: baaji kena hoyechhe? (have you bought fire crackers?)

Soumik: na na
no baaji
mutton yes (Not crackers, but mutton)

Well I guess this facebook chat from last night sums up ‘Diwali’ for many Bengalis.

To start with it is not Diwali for us.

It is Kali Pujo.

And never, ‘Happy Kali Pujo”.

In a way Ma Kaali, or the Goddess Kali, defines Kolkata. Kolkata’s most famous temple, the Kalighat Temple, is devoted to her. And there are definitely a lot more Kali Temples at Kolkata than Durga Temples. In fact there are hardly any of the latter.

Still there is no denying that the five day Durga Puja which happens about a month before Kali Pujo is THE event of the year for all Bengalis.

For those who follow cricket a comparison which comes to my mind is the World Cup this year which India won and was followed soon after by the IPL 2020. Five days of fun and frolic, new clothes, chatting endlessly into the night, pandal hopping, eating, ‘cultural evenings’ … a difficult package to match up right?

But Kali Pujo had two things that Durga Pujo didn’t.

Paatha boli or goat sacrifice. And the mutton curry the day after. 

A practice rare in today’s world. Though for many Bengalis mangshor jhol or mutton curry is de rigeur on Kali Pujo.

Well, honestly we just need an excuse to have mutton and this is as good as any.

The other, fireworks.

The Kali Pujo prayers happen at midnight on a new moon.

Accompanied by crackers that light up the sky and wake up the neighbours… it was all about scaring the evil spirits that Ma Kali was battling in the dark of night… the ear piercing ‘bombs’ – kaali potka, dodoma, chocolate bombs – the colourful rockets and tubris – and the favourite of kids – phool jhuris or sparklers. The simplest of crackers which evoked such joy, shock and awe while we were growing up.

I remember my first Kali Pujo just after we came to India and Kolkata. It was the start of the 80s and I was about 7 or 8 years old. I had just received hundred rupees worth of fireworks from my dad. As folks from that era would tell you, that was a BIG deal. My hundred rupee load of crackers became the talk of the hood. I stood with my mom, watching from a distance, as the para dadas lit the crackers for me.

Later Kali Pujo became all about terraces or ‘chhats’. 

Bursting crackers on my grandmom’s terrace after helping her light tiny birthday cake sized candles to ward off the evil spirits.

... and later on the terrace of our building complex at Kolkata. Each year passing by like pages of an album. The beginning where we would wait for grown ups to light up our crackers. A few pages later when we would light them ourselves under adult supervision and then with the rites of passage observed bursting crackers alone without chaperons …. the biggest thrill lighting crackers with cigarettes by the few who had entered the forbidden world of smoke…and bubblegum crushes …

… and then Bombay and trying to get excited about this thing called Diwali. Going to the terrace of my PG digs... now as an ‘uncle’, to supervise our landlord’s school-going son light crackers…

…and then the next page…holding hands and watching the firework displays that lit up the sky by the sea at Mumbai’s Marine Drive… seemed almost as grand as the hundred rupees worth of much simpler crackers from two decades before…

…and somewhere down the line Kali Pujo became a distant memory far away from the city of Kali…and Diwali just a set of holidays to crash out at home… or to plan a trip abroad around ...

For those back home at Mumbai today, the Notun Polli Durga Puja Club has a Kali Puja at the Bandra Hindu association near Hangla at Linking Road. Here’s the fb link
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