Monday, August 11, 2008

Community Pujo – My childhood memories

Durga Pujo 2008 is less than 2 months from now. As I was thinking about this festival, I grew somewhat nostalgic. Finally I thought-what better way than sharing my memories and feelings with my blog readers? This thought brought me to the computer keyboard and the following result emerged:

First things first: I still prefer to call the greatest festival of the Bengalis as “Durga Pujo” instead of “Durga Puja” as I believe that the feel and nostalgic air that spring up every time I utter “Pujo” is amiss in “Puja”.

For me, Durga Pujo during my childhood was all about new clothes, festivities, savoring the Ashtami Bhog Prasad, participating in various competitive activities and relishing the relaxed rules of my parents.

As my father was posted in Muradnagar (near Delhi) during my childhood, I remember the special bonding that those 4/5 days of the Pujo elicited among the Bengali community (of course, we Bengalis were a close knit family otherwise too, but the Pujo days were somewhat different from the routine). We had a permanent community hall with a concrete covered stage, a permanent Bhog-ghar, a long space where durries were spread while we had our Ashtami Bhog Prasad and a spacious place where Devi Durga and her children sat graciously – the cynosure of all eyes.

The days of Durga Pujo were different from our other days. This was true not only for us-the children but also for our parents, especially for my mother and the other kakimas (almost every Bengali couple was Kaku-Kakima for us though “jethu-jethima” were reserved for some of the elderly ones). My mother and the other kakimas used to come to the venue during those days quite early in the morning. This was somewhat essential too as the preparation for the Pujo (arranging the flowers and other materials for the Pujo rituals) and Prasad (i.e. peeling of fruits, vegetables etc.) was the bastion that these ladies held with their adept hands. We, the children, were packed off to the Pujo venue by our father later. However, by 9 a.m, the area usually buzzed with high activity: kakimas –some helping the Pujaridada with the rituals while some others gossiping in huddles, kakus busy strategizing the Pujo procedures and the budgetary details while we-the children, making merry of the freedom, away from strict rules of “don’t do this/that” and “don’t go there”. I was quite good in “aabdar”, often pestering my father to buy me that almirah-look-alike piggy bank or give me some money to treat myself and my friends to a round of ghugni (sad but true that we didn’t have phuchkas to feast on; the golgappas, rarely available, were no match for the phuchkas).

Pujo activities were a big attraction to all of us. Everyday there used to be a series of competitions in the afternoon for the women and the kids. It was somewhat sad on the part of kakus as they were never the active participants. Apart from organizing the events and managing the prizes for the same, participation of the kakus were limited to the sidelines – encouraging the participants (I must admit that there was no nepotism in the encouragement. So, it flowed freely – be it for their own wives or children, that pet para kid or some Boudi- there was hardly any difference in the levels of their energies).

The Pujo activities were of a wide variety that encompassed conch-shell blowing, lighting as many candles as possible by using a single match stick, putting a thread in a needle and then passing the thread through a selected number of beads, throwing a ring to get it around the objects arranged (needless to say that we were the proud owners of those objects that our ring successfully encircled), memory game, musical chair etc. So, you can easily imagine how busy our Pujo afternoons were-courtesy these interesting activities.

Another big attraction was the Pujo evenings when plays, dances and dance-dramas were staged. Usually, plays by these four groups were allotted the second half of the Pujo days- by kakimas, kakus, us (the children) and a joint collaboration of the kakus and kakimas. The first half that lasted for about 45 minutes – 1.5 hours was generally for solo performances or dance dramas.

Preparation for these plays/dances/dance-dramas used to begin 2/2.5 months before the actual stage-act. I still remember how I and my friends hurriedly returned from school, rushed through our tiffins and hopped to the rehearsal venue (which was generally the house of the person who had conceptualized the play/dance drama/dance sequence). The rehearsals continued for 2/3 hours. On some days, I resented going to the rehearsals as it robbed me of my playtime. However, a bigger attraction of being on stage with make-up and dresses particularly made for the occasion were carrots big and lucrative enough that got me through the rehearsals.

When the D-day finally arrived, I used to feel equally elated and a bit nervous should I miss my lines/dance steps on the stage. Thankfully, that never happened. These and some other incidents are sweet memories of my childhood that I hold very dear.

It has been a long time since I left Muradnagar and came to Kolkata. However, I have never got the same enjoyment here that I had there. With the passage of time, Para Pujos (in the true sense) have slowly vanished and the camaraderie that those erstwhile days portrayed can hardly be matched by the Community Pujos organized now a days. I feel that most of these theme based Community Pujos are now devoid of the warmth that I experienced in my childhood. In fact, most of these are now arranged with an eye to draw the crowd and win that coveted prize by X, Y, Z channel/newspaper group. Only a few Pujos still continue to hold aloft the torch of what we call the “Para Pujo” in the true sense.

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