Its pretty difficult to observe the onset of a season, especially when you happen to be as visually impaired as I am. During the monsoons, you realise that the rains have finally arrived when your glasses-your window to the world, decide to put on a tantrum and behave like a diva(in other words, get covered by raindrops). You know summer exists because of the anti-glare spectacles you spent a fortune on, which you pretend are like the latest fashion statement just to make yourself feel a bit better. So how does a person like me know that autumn or more specifically a phenomenon called 'pujo' is here?
It happened last evening finally, while driving to my math class, that the it finally dawned on me the pujos are days away. It wasn't because I suddenly learnt to see billboards screaming "Ektar shonge charte free' or "Chhottirish Palli Sarbajanin Durgotshab" or millions of those garish, "denger"ously spelt bus advertisements with men who like to pretend that they have some purpose in the world. It came to me, strangely through a smell.
They call it Raat Ki Raani. Yes, yes, perverted notions aside, it never fails to surprise me. There is something so vivid about the smell, that all you need to do is close your eyes and within moments see a dalan, a parikrama, the third eye, a chalchitro, a bisharjan and red, and even if you have never been sure about anything else in your life, this smell doesnt leave much to conjecture. It's self-assured, confident, and brash. Everything you're not. And yet, you can't help but fall in love with it.
So, how do you explain the concept of a Pujo to someone on a "Discover India" trip? Well, if you're me, you don't--you just snort and walk away. If you're a tour guide carrying truckloads of Japanese tourists, you make them wait outside Pantaloons pretending that only with purchase of items above Rs. 5000 will the deity in question bless you. And if you're me in a sympathetic mood, you say--
If you want to see a city clad in yellow, try Shoshthi; if you need to observe a city breathing, gasping, panting for breath, Shaptami to the rescue. If vermillion is your choice of poison, look no further than Ashtami and before you have time to catch your breath, Nabami will follow your every move in its multi hued splendour. And you tell them that, if there ever was a mourning, there was a Dashami.
Imagine, if you will now, a structure made of bamboo. Call it a pandal, if you will. Imagine now, plain green drapes that cover this 'pandal'. Let it resemble a house. Complete with windows. Now imagine if you can, a deity with long flowing tresses,a technicolor rakshas and observe around this pandal a huge unused space. Let it be called a square. Now imagine a beehive. And see each and every bee that is a part of it. Start with the queen bee--the lazy one, the one with the power and move onto the workers. Now imagine the bees are in a fight. For what reason, no one knows. Nobody cares about who is the queen and who is the slave. Because everyone is fighting for survival. Now, imagine, if possible, a vast congregation of "pati bangalis" -the biggest that you possibly can. And imagine this 'square' to be the beehive. No one is fighting here. But everyone is still trying their hardest to survive. Because every breath you take here, you should be thankful for. You don't know when the next one may come along. And if you dont manage to die this way, look around and see the riot of colours that greet you. Mismatched pinks and violent purples, electric blues and rangoli yellows. Shiny sparkly jewellery designed to permanently blind you. See then, men in the famous bangali 'Lal Ganjee' and bandanas. Don't miss out the Livestrongs and most definitely the potbellies. And of course, the colors. And of late, the bling.And, for the first time, you're not ashamed of being a pati bangali because you get away with anything.
Oh and before I forget, lets call this place Maddox.
Pujos in Calcutta are like a Radiohead song. Its arrival is strange- almost unexpected; the buildup is immense-- almost earth-shattering,in anticipation of what is about to come. The lyrics are inexplicable and sometimes they don't even fit in logically but by the end of it, it's seeped into so much of you already, that the rest doesn't matter. And both are adept at the art of leaving, an art which only few can master. Its the art of saying goodbye at just the right moment--when euphoria is at its peak and you cannot imagine your life without it. Its the art of an endless wait--a longing for the last verses, for the last sensation, the last call.
Samit Basu,I owe you one. Thank you, for Sambo, Kirin. And everything else.