Shubho Bijoya from the Bandra Notun Palli Durga Pujo & notes from the Bandra Durga Pujo Finely Chopped Walk
The run up to the Durga Pujos this time was a time fraught with anxiety for our family as my mom was hospitalised in Gurgaon after a fall at home.
She returned home after a week in the hospital. We owe a lot to my brother’s friends, the house help and the neighbourhood watchman who helped take her to the hospital along with my sis in law, my little brother who suddenly became such a grown up, K who dropped everything and came to Delhi and the doctors at the emergency ward of Fortis Gurgaon, for her coming back home. After close to two weeks in Gurgaon spent at my brother’s place, the hospital and at a friend’s place K and I headed back to Mumbai once mom was back from the hospital.
I reached home just before Durga Pujo. Happy to be back at one end specially after seeing mom back home but at the same time a bit guilty after leaving her behind though I knew she would be well looked after by my brother and sister in law.
On hearing I was back in Mumbai, Kaushik, the food in charge of the Bandra Notun Palli Pujo, called me over on Panchami for the cultural evening and a very lavish pulao dinner. Helped me destress too.
I went to the Pujo the next day on Saptami and met our friends Sue and Nathan with whom I gave Anjali,. It was their first time. We queued up for bhog after that but not before having some fish fries and egg devils and luchis in the Taste of Kolkata stall.
The pujo Bhog team lead by Kaushik and chef Gobindo does a stellar job in feeding the countless people who come to pujo. The food is vegetarian and is distributed free by volunteers who tirelessly and patiently serve the thousands who queue up. No one is turned away. For me this is one of the highlights of the pujo and standing with the volunteers and serving folks at the Pujo is when, as Pinku says, ‘Pujo X becomes our pujo’.
While I stood in the queue for bhog on Saptami I received a call from my brother who had taken my mom to the hospital for follow ups. Her scores had apparently dramatically improved and she was able to walk up and down the staircase. This was remarkable given that a couple of days back she had to be carried up the stairs on a wheelchair when we brought her back from the hospital.
As K said this was truly a puja miracle!
For all of us who were with my mom in those tension filled days in the hospital, starting with the ICU, and for all our friends and family who kept sending their wishes and prayers, this was a huge relief.
I am more of an agnostic person than anything else and for me Durga Pujo was always more nostalgia and culture than religion. This time I suddenly wanted to believe.
Next morning I went to the Pujo to do what our mom always does for us. Offer sweets as prayers to the Goddess on Ashtami. This time I went to do it on her behalf and to offer prayers for her. I didn’t really know how to go about it but with my friends in the Bandra Notun Palli Pujo helping out I managed to give in the prayer box of sweets.
The next day I heard that my mom managed to go the local pujo pandal at Gurgaon herself with my brother and sister in law and gave the anjali prayers.
I truly felt blessed on hearing this. I shared the news with my friends at the Bandra Notun Palli Pujo. They, after all, have welcomed me so warmly to their fold. They have made me feel at home over the years and not miss my apartment complex pujo at Debjan in Kolkata that much. I feel the same sense of bonhomie and neighbourly love here too as one did while growing up in Kolkata. As in Kolkata, here too I join in the chatter and gossip, help serve the thousands who queue up for bhog (food) which is distributed here. I got the roshogolla counter one day and graduated to the labra counter the next day though I was found too slow for the khichudi counter. Serving food at the pujo was another way of connecting with the pujo I grew up with in Kolkata. I give anjali as part of the pujo. Sat at the cultural programmes. Watched the Dhunochi naach. Met friends. This year I joined the troop in the bishorjon as we walked down from Bandra to Juhu beach for the immersion. In between I shed my inhibitions and danced like no one was watching, as the phrase goes, with the gang at Linking Road and on Juhu beach. I owe a big thank you to Samudra who spotted my blog post about the Pujo a couple of years back and invited me to join them. It has been a wonderful journey since then.
Yes, if anything was required to make my sense of feeling at home in Mumbai complete, that has been done by the folks at the Bandra Notun Palli Pujo. This group of Bengalis has made me truly felt like a Mumbaikar.
The Durga Pujo Walk
The pictures that follow were taken by Jyotika Purwar of the blog Follow My Recipe
The Bandra Durga Notun Palli Pujo was also the base of the Durga Pujo Finely Chopped Walk that I did on Ashtami evening on Saturday.
My idea in the walks has always been to introduce people to worlds and customs which are new to them and try to help them expand their horizons through new experiences.
This time, being introduced to the biggest festival of us Bengalis was a Maharashtrian and a UP’ite and some Swedes who are all Mumbaikars too and Americans and Germans who were travelling across the country.
The evening of the walk took me back to an Ashthami in ‘82. Our last pujo with my dad before he passed away. Or was it ‘81? I had invited a Polish classmate of mine from school over. He had come with his elder brother and parents. Dad organised and fed them the bhoger khichudi and bought baatik clothes for all them as he tried to introduce them my friends from Poland to our customs. Perhaps there is a bit of that day which has taken the shape of these walks more than three decades later.
So what did we do in the Durga Pujo Walk?
I first took folks to the pandal and introduced them to the story of the victory of good versus evil that is the story of Durga Puja and then introduced them to the various deities there. We spoke about some of the customs and traditions associated with Durga Pujo. I tried to draw a picture of how Durga Pujo in Kolkata, of which our Bandra pujo is a miniature representative, is celebrated.
Eating at the pandals is a big part of the pujos and so we next headed to the stalls. The thing about pujo stall food is that it is outrageously expensive and the food is rarely stellar. Every Bong will complain about it and yet we will make a beeline for the stalls to eat as this is such an integral part of the pujos.
We went to the Taste of Kolkata stall where we had fish fries, egg devils, egg rolls and luchi laur dom. For the gluten intolerant person in the group I ordered some betki patoori and kosha mangsho. It felt great to see the folks from other communities enjoy the street food dishes from Kolkata so much.
Kolkata street food done we stopped for bhel puri as someone wanted to try some Mumbai street food.
Then we walked down to our second destination, Bong Bong, the modern Bengali restaurant in Bandra. We walked into the tiny but arty casual restaurant and heaved a sigh of relief in the welcoming blast of the aircon. It was a sweltering evening after all.
Surjpriya and her team at Bong Bong had re-created a specially curated Ashtamir Bhog meal. This included khichudi, labra, begun bhaaja, payesh, papod, chutney and their newly introduced nolen gurer shondesh. The food was at par with the best of Pujo Bhog. I felt really proud to see the people in the walk enjoy the food. The folks at Bong Bong served the food in earthen glasses and plates and banana leaves which made the experience that much more special.
This time, for the goody bags, I picked up kheer kodom and dorbesh from Sweet Bengal
Of Feeling Blessed
Yes, this Durga Pujo has really been all about feeling blessed. The Food Bloggers Association of India Awards for Finely Chopped on Doshomi. The three magazine articles this month in the Femina Cookbook, CFO Magazine and Man’s World. Of being made to feel at home once again by the folks at the Bandra Pujo. A successful walk and one that was very close to my heart.
Yet, nothing matches the relief of getting to know of my mother’s recovery, and touch wood, let’s hope that she continues to do so.
Thanks for all your wishes and support folks and wish you all a very Shubho Bijoya.