The months of October/November have this special thing in them. Autumn is approaching, the leaves are brown and once they are stepped on, they crumble with a munch, like hearts breaking. But despite a sad aria in the air, there is somewhere a euphoria brewing. For Bengalis the world over, this is that time of the year when they establish and express themselves as who they are. For the 4/5 days that the festivities last, there are no social stigmas, no mother telling their children to return early at after dusk sets in, no limitations on the amount of junk food that would be consumed, the city which runs its own slow pace 360 odd days of the year, is suddenly like steeds of mad desire, running, shouting, chaotic, colorful.
And yet, for people like this author who are in the wrong side of their thirties, such euphoria has its own shades of cynicism in tow. Growing up at a time when the mad rush for publicity and Mount Everest hoardings had not yet engulfed the city sky-scape, the Pujas had their own share of charm and enigma. Like an estranged lover on a quickfire visit to your city, the days leading up to the D-Day were spent in expectations and the night of the Dashami, the final night, was one of a searing heartbreak. Time for the beloved to return with the everlasting promise of a return next year. And then, we would slip back into our mundane, clerk like lives again for the next roughly 360 days.
But things have changed so much. Nowadays with the world moving at a breakneck pace, with more and more natives of the state living outside of it, these few days have acquired something that had been unthinkable in the previous decade. Added to the festive spirit, is a competitive edge, with more awards being given away for the best idol, the best “pandal”, the best arrangement of lights, the best of everything. The city comes to a standstill and there is nothing of the old world romance here. There are people on the streets to populate the entire Tibetan grasslands. Earlier, during our formative years, the innocent heart and mind would rank the clothes in order of preference. Which meant, the least preferred dress would be designated for the first day of the Puja and as the days progressed, our most favourite acquisition would be set aside for the climactic night of the “navami.” The same went for friends as well. The ones closest to the heart, or the one we hoped would be close to the heart would invariably be sought after for the “navami” night. The less popular ones, cousins who were lower down the pecking order were granted “Shashti” evening at the most.
Unfortunately, these days we are enamored by the number game. India as a country and society is somewhat obsessed with statistics. Who scores more runs, what is the batting average, what is her age, her salary, marks in school exams, in school leaving exams, in short in our numbered days we bother too much about numbers. We are caught up with the “no” of “likes” our picture gets on facebook, how many comments, and how many shares. Everything we indulge in is for an ego-massage: whether we have visited the so called big pujas in the city, whether we have dined at the most happening of restaurants and most definitely whether we have posted pics of our adventures. Selfies, Groupfies, have entered the parlance and are uttered more often than the “mantras” around and in the “pandals” themselves. The “dhaakis”, the traditional drummers who would bring life and zest to the entire atmosphere are at the risk of losing out on their livelihood, with pre-recorded audio cds of the drum beats doing the rounds and sometimes more preferred over their more human counterparts. We all want the best of everything, the best of the Pujas, the best of comments.Even the pictures where we are caught off guard, where there is too much teeth, or too much light, can be deleted or even better instaedited and uploaded. Such perfection and such longing for the times gone by. Let’s put up a status update to that…Cheers…
– Sayan Aich Bhowmick