Much ado about eating… Durga Pujo at Notun Polly, Bandra, Mumbai

Notun Polly Mumbai 2011

Ever wondered why the plots of all the NRI (non resident Indian) themed Bollywood films centre around the Punjabis or  the Gujaratis?

Well to start with it makes things a lot easier for the script writer.

The writer just has to choose a festive moment – a wedding, Navratri, Diwali – and do a ten minute dance sequence around that without bothering about the story for a while.

What you get is something like this …


Now imagine if one is making a Hindi film with Bengali NRIs/ expat/ migrant characters.

The story writer finds out that Durga Pujo, the biggest Bengali festival, is on. He thinks of going to a Puja to see how the Bengalis celebrate it. Our writer steps out after a story session with any of the reigning Hollywood Khans who live there and heads to the Bandra Puja, Notun Polly (New town) at Mumbai.
As he steps in he sees us enter the puja grounds. He keeps an eye on us to see what happens next.

Do we go to the pandal, or the shamiana, inside which images of the Goddess Durga and her kids are being worshipped? Sing a few devotional songs perhaps?

Or would we head to the huge awning to the right where cultural programmes was going on? Baul Sangeet, or the heady Bengali folk song and dance form, which had enthralled even the Beatles once.

The Bauls at Bandra

The writer sees us enter the gate. He sees us break into big smiles. He wonders where would we head first.

The Goddess?

The Bauls and their music?

Our writer takes his notebook out waiting to see where we go.

 SONY DSC                       food in her sight

Then he scratches his head bewildered.

There are chairs and tables kept in the front. We go straight to these and sit down.

And start ordering from all the food stalls around us.

Yes, for us Bengalis celebrations are all about eating.

Can’t make a song and dance about this can you Karan?

The following pictures were taken on Shoshti. The first day of Durga Pujo 2011. At Mumbai’s Notun Polly Puja at Bandra.

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There were cutlets and chops from the streets of Kolkata. Deep fried bread crumbs with the essence of chicken, mutton, fish prawns or vegetables infused in between.

Mutton cutlets                      SONY DSC                       SONY DSC                       Bhej or vegetable chops

The crunchy delights, Moghlai parathas of course. First cousins twice removed of the martabaks of Malaysia. Fished out of a wok and served to us with a potato curry.

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Good old rolls. The versions here had red and yellow sauces, cucumber, carrots and resembled the rolls of roll shops from the Southern suburbs of Kolkata.

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rolls

The biryani of Kolkata…the stuff all Calcuttans have given their hearts to. ‘Nothing else satisfies’ as a cigarette ad once said.

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Kolkata biryani

Some sweets. Rather basic fried ones that you get on the streets of Kolkata. Easier to preserve in the heat.

The pantua which my Didu made for me the first time I visited India when I was around three. I refused to have them first. Then had two buckets of them after I tasted one.

Pantua

And the clove infused, rather romantically named, ‘lobongo lotika’.

Lobongo lotika

So how was the food?

Three times as expensive as it would be at Kolkata during the Pujos.
The taste authentic.

As ‘authentic’ as the puja pandal food of Kolkata that is. Like the food at any other fair such as the Mount Mary Fair at bandra  or the Ramzan fair of Mumbai’s Mohammed Ali Road. Patchy, inconsistent. Deep fried. Of questionable taste.

Yet warming you deep inside and leaving you misty eyed.

As the smiles on our faces would tell you, it wasn’t just about the food.

To a Bengali Durga Pujo is that time of the year that you wait for for the remaining three hundred and sixty days.

It is the time for undiluted joy and celebration. The time to forget studies, work or family squabbles. The time for boys to time their hair cuts around. For girls to shop for. For everyone actually. For this is the time to wear ‘notun jama’ or new clothes.

The time to chat for hours with friends to the sound of drums and the priest’s chants. Of community lunches and of neighbourhood romances. Of pandal hopping through the night counting the number of Durga pratimas or images that you would see. Of wondering what the them of this year’s ‘lighting’ would be.

Of hustle, bustle, manic crowds. Sweat, the odd tears and of jaw splitting grins.

Of five days of not growing up.

The first time I came to Notun Polly Puja was in 1997. I was by myself.

Not this time

 SONY DSC                       SONY DSC                       SONY DSC                       SONY DSC                       SONY DSC                       SONY DSC                       SONY DSC                       SONY DSC                       pic by Riya
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Update: 4/10/11: Ashtami

 Well I did go back today to the Bandra Puja. 

It was Ashtami morning. The main day of the Pujos. The day to give anjali (an offering of flowers to the Goddess), wear Indian clothes, dhuti Punjabi ideally and eat the khichuri bhog (or religious meal).


I wore new clothes. ‘Smart business casuals’ and not dhuti panjabi as I would go to work after this.
No, I didn’t stop at the food stalls. Went straight to the Puja Mandap. The ‘arati’ was going on. The priest prayed to the Goddess with fire lamps, conch shells and then special fans with plumes. The dhaakis or drummers whipped up a hypnotic rhythmic beat.

I thought I’d stay for a few minutes but then stood mesmerised for an hour. The rush of memories. The feeling of connecting with ones roots. Being at home, and yet missing it.

I just couldn’t leave.

The joy of being able to give Anjali even at the very late hour of 1 pm. Helping distribute flowers when the grand old gentleman on the stage asked for volunteers. The scamper for shaanti jaal or the Holy Ganges Water. Explaining to the tiny little non Bengali girl that Mohishashur, the demon king, was like one of the Transformers who changes shape. An analogy that I can only hope was right.


Arati

The dhakis

The call for volunteers

Anjali 


Feeling a part of the Puja even though with strangers. 

Stepping out and talking to the lady who came up to me and said she read the blog. That she shops at Pushpa’s at Khar Market after reading about her on the blog. And was going to Oh Calcutta for lunch after reading about it on the blog.

Daunted by long queue for the Bhog. Which surprisingly had mishti pulao and not the traditional khichudi.

Checking with a couple of ladies who were eating the same and then buying myself some excellent luchi, daal puri and veg chop at The Taste of Kolkata Stall before heading off to work.


The queue for bhog
veg chop, daal puri, alur dom


This was a religious experience of a very different sort. One which cuts through the trappings, the rituals and the ceremonies and touches you somewhere deep inside.

I guess the Pujas find you wherever in the world you are.





PS: Rather poor quality but this is a Hindi film song which was actually picturised around Durga Puja. Not an NRI flick though.


Comments

This is the Pujo we attended all through my childhood in Bandra. My parents were members of the club and I spent many years volunteering to do the million things that need to be done at a Pujo of this scale.
Now we just visit the local Pujos in New Bombay but somehow I never feel quite at home. Thanks for a glimpse of my childhood...
The knife said…
@Rhea I want to be a volunteer at this Pujo some day. It is quite ghoroa
Scarlett said…
The lives of Bengalis revolves around food irrespective of which part of the world they live in. The Melbourne puja I went to had people heading towards the food immediately after bowing to the idol. Then settling down for adda for hours, until dinner was served!!
Anonymous said…
You are an amazing writer besides the love for food that shines through. I am one of the folks who put up the show at Notunpalli and have shared this on the Notunpalli FB group. If you would like to join us there, send me a meeting request at the group and we would be happy to have you there....next pujo hope to get to know you better. You can also visit my blog at http://moriroad.blogspot.com. This is also about pujo. Cheers sam.
The knife said…
Scarlett: used to hear of the Durga Pujas of England of the 70s from my dad.

Was great to see the Melbourne puja pics you uploaded. The sense of space was so refreshing... the only difference here is we went the Pandal AFTER the stalls :)

Sam: thank you for your kind words. For years I have wanted to be part of this Pujo.

Grew up being active in pujos - volutneering, announcing, serving bhog, bashan, cultural evenings ...staying away for more than a decade from the thick of things seems so strange

couldn't find the fb group. could you send me the link please?
The knife said…
Scarlett: used to hear of the Durga Pujas of England of the 70s from my dad.

Was great to see the Melbourne puja pics you uploaded. The sense of space was so refreshing... the only difference here is we went the Pandal AFTER the stalls :)

Sam: thank you for your kind words. For years I have wanted to be part of this Pujo.

Grew up being active in pujos - volutneering, announcing, serving bhog, bashan, cultural evenings ...staying away for more than a decade from the thick of things seems so strange

couldn't find the fb group. could you send me the link please?
Anonymous said…
https://www.facebook.com/groups/notunpalli/

This is the FB group for Notunpalli. You need to log in here and request for being included and i will do the needful.

Cheers
Sam