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Memories of Durgapuja - Sutapa Mukherjee



Every time I come across the word “probashi” bangali; I try to fathom its meaning. What does probashi really mean? Does it represent those people who have left Bengal in search of a livelihood, but in whose hearts the yearning to return back is ever present? Or does it talk about those people who have deliberately chosen to settle outside their homeland of Bengal? Does the term cater to a specific audience or is it relevant for all diasporic Bengalis across the world?

If you pardon my warped sense of humor, I can give you the connotation that I have come up with. I divide the word into 2 parts – “pro” as in professional and “bashi” as in our very own Bengali word which means stale and is often associated with a sense of haplessness. Oh! This connotation is not out of place at all, trust me. Living outside Bengal in general and Calcutta (yes, I still prefer calling it that instead of the often mispronounced Kolkata) in particular can be tough. There are no para’r radhabollobi and alu’r dom with the juicy jilipi on Sunday mornings and no fanfare of alukabli, ghoti gorom, and an assortment of egg and chicken rolls in the evenings. Well, we do have Frankie, but it is just about as appropriate as doodh er swaad ghol e metano! And then, there are the phuchkas. No, I am not talking about paani pooris, neither golgappas, nor even the paani ke batashe. I am talking about the good ole’ phuchka, which cannot be replicated by any other part of the country or the world. Everyone has their favorite phuchkawala; mine happen to be two. The guy who stands near the Gariahat-Golpark shuttle auto stand and the other is obviously the famous Vivekananda Park. But that’s not all. Not being in Bengal also means you do not get a kaajer mashi who also acts as the Anandabazar Patrika giving you all the hari’r khobor about what is happening in every nook and corner of the para/colony. But most of all, what you do not get is the “adda” – the hours and hours of nonsensical tirades with your friends and/or family.

The reality of being a “probashi bangali” gets accentuated during Durga Pujo every year. There is no kaash bon to look forward to and no shoroth er mon kemon kora akash. Neither is there shuili phool er gondho and the obvious kan fatano mics and barricaded roads are missing too. And then you have to be in office on Ashtami and Nabami (Thank God it’s a weekend this year).

My earliest recollection of Durga Pujo is the sound of the dhakis on Panchami and Shahsthi. Obviously, the actual event is nowhere as important as compared to the adventure of sitting on the ledge of the high wall where we had been carefully perched by our “mamas” so that we could watch the whole event without having to jump on their shoulders. After all, we outnumbered them almost 4 to 1!! And as soon as the dhaakis were gone, began the day long celebration of having a narkel nadu here and some other mishti there; all of which was stuffed in our mouths by some kind mashi or pishi here or a dida or thakuma there.

To be honest, the rituals were incidental. It was the same old dhaaki, puruth moshai, pantha boli, chondi path, sondhi pujo, dhunichi naach etc etc. But we found newer ways each year to entertain ourselves in addition to this traditional fanfare. There always used to be a para’r Dada or a famous Didi or Mashi who could be relied upon to be a hero during these situations. Their fantastic ability to straddle a conversation across generations would make them charming to all. Sadly, in the probashi Pujo, the Babu Da’s, the Nibi Di’s and the Shipra Mashis are losing their place. It is all about ‘to each his own’.

Another aspect of Pujo that I remember vividly is the Bhashan. During the Pujo in gram er bari, Ma used to whisper to us, “Dekh Ma Durga’r mookh ta kando kando, amader chhere chole jabe toh se karone.” And in the next moment the sky would ring with the cries of “Asche Bochhor, Abaar Hobe”.

Pujo to me is about all of this, and so much more that mere recounting of it brings tears to my eyes. I could just go on and on but I am stopped by something. A much younger “me” leans against a wall and smiles at me while uttering, “Ei probashi, mon kharap korish na je Panchami te office jabi. Debi pokhkhe kandte nei.”

The only way I can think of ending this is by quoting one of my favorite writers, Vir Sanghvi:

“...You can take the craze of Diwali in Delhi, Christmas in London, Summer Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Valentine's day in Paris and then add it to the month long madness of Olympic Games or the World Cup and cram all that into a span of 5 days and you still wouldn't know what you are missing if you haven't been in Kolkata during Durga Puja”



#7 profile 2016-12-15 07:36 Quote
#6 anna82 2015-03-02 13:01
#5 anna82 2015-02-26 15:28
I can recommend African Mango, it helped me a lot.
#4 Nilanjan Mukhopadhya 2013-10-17 15:39
Had I been Probasi bangali I could relate to it better but any way its good..
#3 Kausik Ray 2013-10-17 00:53
True. Particularly the 'dada' part I miss. I have attended so far Pujas of Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Chandigarh, Manama (Bahrain), Dubai (UAE), Kampala (Uganda) - everywhere I tried to find that 'dada'. Not found yet. Hardcore Probashis probably do not have that character may be due to influence of more 'pro' characteristics . But Probashi Durga Pujas are far more systematic, time bound - undoubtedly. Still I miss the pujas of my Calcutta, the city which I left years back.
#2 alok mukerji 2013-10-16 16:23
Gud work but am 7 th generation probashi. Being there in pujo once n felt pujo at jabalpur my home town was better as we knew everyone there in club where as in cal u feel like havoc in such large crowd. Had fun reading it. Got few optionsof estries for next time.gud one.
#1 Debarati Chatterjee 2013-10-10 10:15
Dona, I now truly believe what my husband kept saying for 6 years now... You are an amazing writer!!! I finally found some time to sit around and read this... I don't have any Pujo memories because like your last line says I have never been in Kolkata for pujo... But reading this was thrilling... beautifully written and thanks for keeping my request and writing to us..

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