Friday, August 31, 2007

The 'Come September' feelin'

It's that time of the year again - the only time when I feel the potency of the season in my veins. I can't really explain why this happens. But even as August turns to September, I start dreaming of blue skies with billowy white clouds. And no, I'm not in Kolkata or its neighbourhood - but I still feel the ambience of "Durga pujas" all around me. I'm sure I can't explain this feeling to anyone but other Bengalis, who've lived in Bengal and felt the monsoonal season slowly change to a mellow autumn. "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;...that's Keats' Autumn - and mine too in many ways.
I remember lazy September afternoons on campus at Jadavpur University which slowly turned into light, hazy (Kolkata isn't misty, it's smoggy instead) evenings. It was puja vacations and most of my friends at the JU women's hostel had gone home - I would too in a few days. My father and mother - who were in Durgapur - had sent me a generous allowance to buy myself new clothes for the pujas. And I had treated myself to a shopping spree at Dakshinapan - Kolkata's only 'shopping mall' in those days. Actually it is a shopping complex with various government emporia under one roof - but for us in those days, it was the ultimate retail experience. And Dakshinapan has an outlet of the Gujarat emporium - Gurjari - which provided us with all our needs of ethnic chic apparel. I had just bought my new festival clothes but couldn't wait till the Pujas to start preening in them. I still remember my long red kurta - with elaborate embroidery and mirror work that I was wearing as I strolled around the huge JU lawns and the football field, waiting for at least one of my friends who lived nearby to turn up. Our on-campus 'subaltern' cafes, which were actually dingy tea-stalls were all shut for the vacations. There was a sense of desolation all around which perhaps was symbolic of the end of our heady campus life in a few months from then.

Going back to Durga Puja - it's that time of the year when the farmlands outside Bengal's city limits are overflowing with the yearly rice crop - ready for harvesting. So when you take a train ride from say Kolkata to Rabindranath Tagore's Santiniketan - your eyes can feast on the green fields and the blue skies, truly an artist's palatte. At many places the landscape is carpeted with the almost symbolic 'Kash Phul' - silky white blossoms on tall green stems growing amidst the grass which have been immmortalized by Satyajit Ray visually in his Panther Panchali, the first of the Apu Trilogy. Besides Tagore's own poetry that captures the beauty of the season, a novel called Nilkantha Pakhir Khonje in Bengali- set in Bangladesh before the partition of India also epitomises for me the understated and nostalgic beauty of Autumn in Bengal.
This is a season that doesn't have the exuberance of spring and the underlying tone is one of sadness and the onset of winter. Most Bengalis are part of revelries for the week-long Durga Puja celebrations - but Goddess Durga whose advent we are celebrating will soon be going back to the home of her husband leaving her parents behind in tears - that's the significance that the Pujas have mythologically. The season captures that feeling of loss and also brings with it a coolness all around with occasional light winds and showers - one can sense that winter is on the way, just waiting around the few coming weeks. But where I am now in Delhi, there's no such cooling down, it's still very warm, muggy and uncomfortable. But yet my senses tell me that things are about to change soon.
My birthday is usually close to the celebrations for Goddess Durga and my aunt, parents and grand-parents named me after her - so perhaps it's a kind of bond that I have with the Mother Goddess. My father, too, was born in September and so this year, the intensity of my memories is almost all engulfing. I have always felt that I looked like my dad and did quite a lot of things like him because we shared the month of our birth. Now I feel the pain of separation and a bond with him that runs far deeper than my life and his death...


Debjani said...

Your post certainly set me walking down nostalgia lane. That warmth and excitement of childhood seem light years away. I really could do with the warmth at least. We had a damp and dull summer here in U.K. this year and today it certainly feels like winter is on the doorstep. Its a chilly 6 degrees today as the children go back to school for the autumn term. The brown autumn leaves form a carpet on the grass but all I can think of is when am I going to find time to rake them.I wish I could stare up at the billowing white clouds in a blue sky. In a few days colourful kites will vie with clouds for attention as Viswakarma Puja approaches. Then there were the birthdays to look forward to, yours and mine and then the Pujas with their concomitant sartorial glaze and frenzied activity amongst the garment retailers in Gariahat. One of the earliest memories I have is being woken by the sound of the dhak early in the morning which later in the day would be drowned by loudspeakers blaring contemporary film music. And if a sad note was struck on Dashami, it was quickly drowned by other rituals and activities-- alpana on Lakshmi Puja, bursting crackers on Diwali and last but not the least, the endless preparation for Bhai fota. Truly, it was the best part of the year for so many years. Even if I went back to Calcutta could I return to that place filled with sweetness and light and wondrous excitement? I wonder!

ishani said...

Your post is very evocative and takes me even further back to our childhood and the Puja vacations at 434 & 414 Jodhpur Park!
The anjali in the morning of asthami, Lakshmi puja prasad at your house, visiting relatives with my grandfather (dadu) for Bijoya...and Dadu/Amma's Puja dresses which were usually same for you, me & Debo. Also watching cricket matches on B&W TV at your place, Juthika mashi (who was Ma's doctor and actually brought Debo into this world) and Dr Mitra (Mesho)...Kolkata of our childhood is not the same...for one thing 434 doesn't exist anymore as we knew it and 414 too has changed a lot. And so many of the people too are not there...I remember the long chat sessions we had in your parents' chambers - which was almost a secret hideout for us when they were not around...

New Jersey Raj said...

Hi Ishani
From Rajesh: The Princeton Perspective

Your post on “Durga Puja” definitely tugged at my heartstrings. After 27 years in North America, I miss Durga Puja the most. As a kid, I loved the anticipation of the Durga Puja season (Sharat Kal that is) – specifically the commencement of “Debi Paksha”. On Mahalaya day - waking up early to listen to Birendra Kishore Bhadra’s sonorous recitation of Chandi was just phenomenal – it essentially set the stage for the upcoming festivities. I also loved listening to the Agomoni songs (my favorite – an old Baul song: “Ga tol Ga tol Ma – Bandho Ma Kuntol”) and watching the artisans putting finishing touches on the deities (Gham Tel that is). I still get goose bumps remembering the rituals like: “Chakshu Dan”, “Bodhon” and “Pran Pratisha”. Growing up in Durgapur, also allowed me to enjoy the Pujas in a small town setting – more intimate gatherings – more passionate Dhunuchi dances (on hindsight - I think that some these Dhunuchi Dancers used to be quite inebriated – spiritually fortified that is – very fitting for a spiritual occasion – LOL) and so forth. As a teenager, the few days of Puja meant a lot of fun and freedom for me (as my Ma relaxed her usual high degree of regimentation towards me – LOL) – this essentially allowed me to go “Puja Pandel hopping” all over Durgapur with my high school sweetheart and also (to a lesser degree) to smoke (had coughing fits whenever I tried to inhale that thick smoke from those awful Charminars) and (I admit) to drink – the objective, of course, was to act like an adult and impress the girls (especially my girl friend)

Fast forward – a whole bunch of years – the Durga Puja in New Jersey is not exactly the same. We typically have the Pujas compressed during the weekends to accommodate everybody’s crazy schedules. As we all know – in typical Bengali tradition, everybody wants to be the PRESIDENT of the Puja Committee. Consequently, we have a lot of groups – organizing their own respective Pujas. During the Pujas, we all get to wear our Indian outfits (the latest Bollywood trends that is) – men generally show off their latest Churidars (very Sharukh Khanesque) – the ladies typically drape themselves in heavy silk sarees – matching blouses – with a discreet hint of décolletage – and lots and lots of jewelry (Bling Bling that is - - as we colloquially refer to jewelry in the US) – in other words, we try to show off all the stuff that we buy during our yearly summer vacations to Kolkata. We also have cultural events (apart from gossiping - LOL) during the Pujas – with artists from Kolkata. Over the years, we had a number of talented groups who did memorable performances to set us off on lugubrious and sentimental trips down the memory lane

All kidding (and superficiality) aside, the Durga Pujas in North America remain a viable way for us to keep in touch with our culture and impart the same to our kids – remember, we can’t take our culture for granted any more – even in today’s multi-cultural, global societies – it’s not gauche to expose our kids to our religious/cultural rituals – once again, one does not have to be religious to enjoy Durga Puja

As members of Bengali Diaspora (I hate the word – NRI – it’s so cliché-ridden), we tend to lead dichotomous lives (in two worlds that is) – personally, I’ve reconciled with the fact that I’m not a little, starry-eyed boy from Durgapur anymore – but the Puja season brings back a whiff of my childhood memories and I remember what Jibanananda Das once wrote: “Abar asibo phire Dhansiritir tire-ei BANGLA e hoyto manus noy-hoyto ba sankhochiler saliker bese” and so on - even though deep down – I know – it ain’t gonna happen – reality bites – ah well – c’est la vie