“Why are you Bongs so crazy about Durga puja?”
The Bengalis' obsession with Durga puja can't be explained in words. It is the grandest of all Bengali celebrations; pure joy for every Bengali, in Kolkata or Kolhapur, New Delhi or New Jersey. It is the first thing we mark on a new year's calendar: the dawn of devi paksha, the time for the homecoming – for the Goddess, as well as for millions of non-resident Bong-Kolkatans like me. It is that time of the year when I rush back to Kolkata, my first love, leaving behind schedules and deadlines. Even when the homecoming is not physically possible, the heart always manages to reach where home is.
During my childhood, Durga puja meant those fun-filled, eagerly anticipated five days of the year that I made grand plans about for the rest of the 360 days! Back then, it was all about buying new clothes, visiting puja pandals with mom-dad or friends and eating out at restaurants. Today, it is about running away from the hustle-bustle of Delhi to the quaintness of Kolkata, sharing stories of my corporate life with dad, gulping down delicacies cooked by mom, having nightlong chat sessions with my cousins or chilling out with friends. Durga puja isn't just about actually taking part in the rituals, but more about feeling the pulse of the celebration.
During a recent visit to Kolkata I took a tour of Kumortuli – the potters' colony in the northern part of the city where the clay Durga idols are made – to get a glimpse of puja preparations. I was a whirlpool of frenzied activity with the idol-makers lovingly but feverishly putting finishing touches to their creations. Kumortuli resounded with the same hysterical hullabaloo as a green room minutes before a fashion show.
So next time you're in Kolkata during Durga puja, look for the true essence of the festival. It's not in the celebration, but in the real Kolkata that comes alive this time – the city that lies in the smile of the little girl as her father buys her favourite candy floss, the happiness of the young boy as he finds his crush smiling at him too, or the teardrop on the eyes of the neighbourhood aunt as she sees Ma Durga being taken for visarjan on Dashami. After all, the homecoming isn't just a matter of five days. The memories stay with us. Forever.
Photographs taken by the author