What do the Durga Puja celebrations have in common with test match cricket? It's not just the duration that we are talking of.

The khichuri and begun bhaaja that I had made on Ashtami
and the traditional souvenir of Durga Thakur painted on a kulo
 (used to separate and clean rice grains in the olden days). You will
 see this decorative piece in most Bengali expat houses.
Bought it from the Kolkata  airport recently

And so the Pujas come to an end

It is dashami today. The last day of the Durga Pujas, or Pujo as we say in Bengali. The most wonderful time of the year for us. 

My memories of Durga Pujo while growing up in Kolkata centre around the pujo in our building. Memories of giving anjali to the Goddess, of chatting with my friends, taking part in the cultural programme through skits and stuff, serving bhog (food offered to the Goddess and then served as prasad) and then going pandal hopping. First with my mom and my brother as a kid; later with my friends during my college years.

Durga Pujo 2018 at our building Durga Pujo in Kolkata
I took this from my brother's Facebook page as he has gone there this year

I moved out of Kolkata two decades back and live in Mumbai now. 

The puja celebrations might not be as all consuming in my life as it once was and I do not spend all my waking hours at a pandal anymore to be honest. 

Yet, the pujo still means the world to me.

Shoshti 2018. Lunch at Lei Garden, Singapore, hosted by Priya Barve and her
husband Anniruddha Ganguly who host the very popular Bombay Howrah
Dining Car supper club. Priya was a Master Chef Australia contestant too.
They were later planning to go to the quiz at the local Durga Puja
 Doshomi 2018:
At the Bandra Durga Puja with the Dashami bhog and before visarjan

Batting out Saptami with grit and determination

Bangladeshi bharta thali at Mustard. my favourites were the liver and egg bharta,
black masoor and prawns and the Bombay Duck/ loita maachh ones

Which is why I was so bummed when I woke up with mother of a backache on Saptami morning  this time. I had returned to Mumbai from an international work trip the previous night which happened to be Shashthi, the first day of the pujo. Given the pain, going to the neighbouring pandal was out of the question. For the next two days, it was all about taking rest at home and doing my back stretches. Biding my time and trying to keep my spirits up. Telling myself that I will be fine. 

The only Durga Puja connect that I had on Saptami was when we went to Mustard Restaurant's Mumbai branch on Saptami night. It was the last evening of Pritha Sen and Nayana Afroz's Indo Bangladesh food festival. The restaurant was packed. The vibe and energy and chaos and laughter, and the food of course which was novel compared to what one gets in Bengali restaurants here, made one feel as if one bang in the middle of a Durga Puja pandal! 

With K, Pritha Sen and Nayana Afroz at Mustard on Saptami. I am in the
customary notun jama (new clothes/ shirt)

My back pain enforced house arrest reminded me of a couple of occasions during my school and college years when I was down with the flu during the pujas. It had seemed as if the world had come to an end back then. 

It sucked now too to be honest, though I tried to keep my chin up.

The one thing which kept me going this time around were the learnings from something else which too formed a big part of my childhood years. I am talking of test match cricket and the values that it espoused. 

I grew up in the 80s when test match cricket was still big and this was before one day cricket and then twenty twenty cricket took over. We did not have much in terms of entertainment back then. My copy of Sunil Gavaskar's autobiography, 'Sunny Days,' was dog eared from the multiple times I read it. Even if the stories in it dated from a time before I was born. 

What's the connection between  Test cricket and Durga Pujo you ask?

Well, both are five day affairs to start with. I am told that celebrations in Kolkata start from Mahalaya itself these days but let's not get lost in the fine print.

What Sunny Days had taught me was that patience is key in a five day test and that one has to keep working ones way through those five days without ever giving up. That during these five days, there will be some which are good some not so much. That one should learn to take each session as it comes.  Never losing sight of the end goal.  That one should not be flustered when things do not go to plan. That there is time till the fifth day to make things happen.

That one should wait for that one session of play where things change. I cannot play cricket to save my life I admit but I took these lessons to heart.

With Sam at the Badra Durga Pujo on Nobomi

Tenacity and determination leading to self actualisation is what the spirit of Durga Puja is  all about as I learnt this time during the pujos. This was during a conversation with my friend Samudra Sen at the puja grounds this year. Sam, as he is known, is the one who had first introduced me to the others at the Bandra Durga Puja a few years back and since then this pujo has become my paaarar (home) pujo.

That Durga Puja is a celebration of good over evil is something that I already knew. 'Good' represented by the Goddess Durga and 'evil' by Mahishashur, the buffalo headed demon king. The story that I had heard from my paternal grandfather as a kid was that each time the Goddess with ten arms would kill the demon with one of the weapons given to her by the Gods, he (Mahishashur) would spring back to life to continue the fight till she finally killed him when he took the form of a buffalo (Mahish). 

Note: This is based on stories that I had heard in my childhood and may not be the exact explanation of course so please excuse any errors here.

Sam (Samudra) told me about another interpretation of the Durga Puja, which is based on in depth readings of the scriptures. This says that the 'demon' refers to something inside us and not outside. Specifically, one's ego. It says that the weapons in each hand of the Goddess signify how our ego keeps coming back and takes over us despite our attempts to overcome it. The final victory of the Goddess over Mahishashur tells us that we too will be able to win over our ego at the end by not giving up. That we we have to keep making self initiated efforts to overcome the biggest 'demon' of all. Our ego. 

And that the Goddess is there to support us in our journey and that we should not give up hope. 

On Dashami I received a Whatsapp message from Rahul Arora of Paranthe Wali Gali, Cafe Pranah and Bon Apettite the Cafe in Kolkata, on Dashami. Read what the message says. Seems that the spirit of Vijaya Dashami is the same as that of the Durga Puja too. 

You probably knew it, but for me it was an eye opener.

So what ties together the festival of Durga Puja and test match cricket?

For me, it is the message that both give about having faith in oneself and to keep striving to overcome obstacles through self improvement and self actualisation.

Message that resonates with that of hope and conviction led human revolution that Nicherin Buddhism espouses too. It felt lovely to see how the values that I have grown up on and the life philosophy that I follow today say the something. It was so reassuring.

Well, enough of the heavy stuff. Let us talk about food!

The game changing session of play on Ashtami

The khichuri that I made at home for lunch with our cook, Banu, helping with
the prep and making the begun bhaaja

Coming back to the gentleman's game of test match cricket, the game changing session for me happened on the evening of ashtami, the most important day of the pujo. 

The stretching and kneading that they did to me in my physio session earlier in the day had given me the burst of life needed to make myself the customary khichuri for Ashtami lunch. I did so with the help of our cook, Banu's prepping. She made the begun bhaaja too. 

Chef Gobindo and his team in the Bandra Durga Pujo Kitchen
Navami, 2018

The recipe that I used belongs to chef Gobindo who makes the khichuri bhog at the Bandra Durga Puja. Which meant that the puja had come home to me even though I could not make it to the pandal. 

Lunch sure felt good. I missed being at the pandal of course. But still...

We Bengalis believe that the taste of the bhoger khichuri cannot be replicated at home. You could ascribe it the blessings of the Goddess as most do. Or your rational self might ascribe it to the magic of slow cooking that the pujo khichuri undergoes. If the latter, then it is another similarity with test match cricket. Purists will tell you that pressure cooker atmosphere of one day and twenty twenty matches can never match up to the finesse and art of a five day test!

The Ashtami spread from Bhojohori Manna.
L to R, row 1: Muri ghonto, basanti pulao, dak bungalo mutton
Row 2: Dal with fulkopi, bhetki kaalia, roshogolla, chitrakut
Row 3: Borishal ilish, bhaat, lebu lonka, aamer chaatni 

Then dinner arrived from Bhojohori Manna, Mumbai. Their chef in Mumbai, Sanjib Das, had kindly offered to send some of their pujo special food home. It was the birthday of one of the owners, Sidhhartha Bose, the previous day. He is very kind to us too and this felt like a belated birthday treat and what a meal it was that followed my countrymen.

The feast included jhurjhure alu bhaaja, a mellow and soothing moong dal with fulkopi in it, a faatafaati murighonto (fish head), a Borishal (mustard and coconut curry) ilish where the fish was most taatka, dak bungalow mutton with the most tultule mutton ever. The mishti pulao was quite jobbor, the perfect foil to soak in the robustness of the mutton. Chaatni, mishti, lebu lonka, paan, nothing was missing. 

Need translations? Can emotions really be translated? 

Let's just say that the meal was both ghyama and hebbi to use slang from my college days. Rather byapok, one could add. In English, epic!

#GramTheGrammers as they say on Instagram

Our friend S had dropped in to visit K and me and join us for dinner. Here is what followed. 

Turned out that the joy of eating food that sung to ones heart, standing up on the chair to get the perfect flat-lay photo to pay homage to the food on Instagram, and then sitting down to eat it, surrounded by happy chatter and the warmest of vibes, ensured that I forgot about the back pain which till then had taken over every brain and nerve cell of mine till then.

The game changing session had happened. I felt truly happy. It felt like the pujas again. The most wonderful time of the year as I said earlier.

With K (extreme right) and S, photo-bombed by the Goddess

Rejuvenated by the Navami Bhog at the Bandra Pujo

The Navami bhog at the Bandra Pujo
In clockwork order starting from 12 O' clock: khichuri, begun bhaaja, basanti pulao
and chutney which was offered to the Goddess as bhog and then to the community
food as prasad, roshogolla and payesh, tomato chutney, a mixed vegetable taorkari/ laabra

The back pain was a lot less the morning after the Bhojohori Manna feast! I 'dressed up' and walked resolutely down the pitch to the neighbourhood pujo. The Bandra Notun Palli Durga Puja.

I felt a surge of joy the moment I walked in. I went in to the pujo pandal (mandap) and said a prayer of thanks to the Goddess. I posted live videos on every social media channel of mine and posted pics too. Stopping every two minutes to say hi to someone or the other whom one knew there. Folks from the Bandra puja whom I have got to know over the years, Bengali friends from Mumbai who were there, food bloggers and some Finely Chopped readers too.

"Where were you all this while," I was asked so many times and my smile became wider each time I was asked so. It is so wonderful to feel wanted and loved. It is so terrible to feel lonely during festive moments. 

I realised that I have so much to be grateful for in life and was filled with gratitude.

Joggo ritual at the Nabami Puja

Suddenly I was a teenager again and not a back pain weary man in his forties. I scampered from one part of the puja grounds to another. Chatting with those around. Eventually gravitating to the most holy part of the pujas for me, the bhog distribution area. Where food is given out on the house to all who have come to the puja at lunch time. A bit like at a langar in a Sikh Gurudwara. 

Kaushik Saha and his team of volunteers at the Bandra Pujo
working hard to ensure that everyone was fed bhog

I went to the cooking section and said hello to chef Gobindo and his team. He told me that were making another 120 kilos of khichuri as more people had come in than was expected. It was a holiday in Mumbai after all that day. Dussehra. Hence the larger crowds. More non-Bengali than Bengali.

No one would be send be back unfed at Ma Durga's kitchen.

It was great to see the volunteers at the bhog counter, ably led by Kaushik Saha. There were the jethus and jethis, uncles and aunties, the dadas and boudi (the age group I would like to think that I still belong), the younger boys and girls, some still in college and others at the start of the their careers, all helping serve the food.  Plus the tiny tots who were in charge of giving out spoons and tissues.

Everyone was serving food with utmost fervour and dedication. 

I've done this too since I was a kid. First in Kolkata in our apartment complex and later at Bandra.  Nothing makes me happy than serving bhog. 

To use another cricket analogy, I jumped in this time at the fag end of the bhog session, a bit like the tail enders batting out the last session of a test. With each ladle of khichuri that I served, I smiled with the knowledge that I had worn out the bouncers of the past few day. I was back where I belonged, pun intended, at the bhog counter.

With Kaushik Saha joining the hard working volunteers
in the post bhog distribution lunch. Bandra Pujo , 2018
I later joined the volunteers backstage and had lunch with them. I got down on my haunches, back pain worries be damned, went from vessel to vessel, trying to get a neat plate for Instagram, for me, and for didu, my granny who lives in Kolkata. Surprised?

Well, when I called didu (my gran) on the phone on Ashtami, she told me that she too had not eaten bhog. She is home-bound thanks to her health related ailments. Going to the pandal was out of the question. Or getting bhog. In fact, the local puja is so far from her place that she told me that could barely hear any sound of the festivities, or see the crowds and lights that we saw on social media. 

For her, it was one more day in her life. Spent largely in the company of her television. 

I felt bad.

I remembered our call with each mouthful of bhog that I relished the next day on Navami. I told myself that this was for her more than it was for me. 

Of Dashami and smiling during the draw of stumps on the fifth day

Doshomi bhog at the Bandra Durga Puja, 2018

I woke up today with the back pain largely gone and felt a sense of relief. 

Then I saw a comment by my younger brother, who has gone to Kolkata for the pujas, on my Facebook page. He had written that he had taken some bhog from our building pujo for granny and that Didu had managed a taste of bhog after all this year.

I felt so thrilled to read his comment. 

It was the fifth day of the pujos and I felt happy in the knowledge that the last session had turned out to be ours.

Saying goodbye to the Goddess post shidoor khela at the Bandra Durga Pujo

I then made my breakfast, went to the clinic for my physio session and typed out this post.  

I then went off to the Bandra pujo pandal  to join my friends there for the last bhog of the year and boy, did the food taste wonderful or what?

Here's wishing everyone a Shubho Bijoya and Happy Dussehra and may you always be filled with hope and joy and never give up... and eat well!

Shubho Bijoya folk

Bijoya Doshomi

Update: 20th October. My brother, mom, nieces, sis in law, mesho, mashi and cousin dropped in at Didu's house to wish her on Bijoya. She hosted them for lunch and that's a picture that my brother sent of her putting the final touches to it at the pass. I was so happy to see this. I am sure that so are you.

Didu, 20th October, 2018

PS: I had to share this amazing story of courage that I saw on Facebook which shows what the spirit of Durga Puja is all about. It is from Sharmila who writes the blog Kichhu Khon, one of the earliest food blogs that I followed. Let's wish her a speedy recovery and take lots of inspiration from her. I am sure she did Ma Durga proud and here's the link to the story on her blog


Also of interest:

Directions to Bandra Puja:

Behind Patwardhan Park and Bandra Linking Road Croma and opposite the National College 

A video of the bhog distribution at the Bandra Pujo from last year:

More pics:

Asthami dinner at home

K Loves her Bengali food. Our first 'dining table' still works for us. I am in
the notun jama she bought me. The table and shirt are both from Fab India!
S in her full pujo regalia. A one time college senior who is now our friend and neighbour

 Navami at the Bandra Durga Puja

Selfies galore
The bhog counter

The food stalls at the entrance

The volunteer lunch

Still time for sari shopping

Shombhit (in stripes) did a stellar job at the food counter

The final countdown

Aaschhe bochhor aabar hobe (till next year)

Getting ready to take guard again