There are two kinds of Bengalis. I know, I am generalizing and dividing the entire community based on this one thing, but essentially for all Bengalis across the board it primarily comes down to this. Those who live their lives waiting and anticipating the arrival of Durga Puja, and those like me who are indifferent. In a recent conversation with my dad, I think he realized for the first time that his children, don’t really share the pujo excitement like he used to as a child. Visibly disturbed, he went onto rationalize why we grew up so different from him and his siblings. The truth is, I have never really understood what the hype was all about, probably because I grew up in this city and took it for granted? But, so did so many others, yet, they wait for these four days with baited breath.
I have never really been the kind to voluntarily wake up at 4 am on Mahalaya to listen to the story of the Goddess destroying the evil Mahisasur. It’s always been played at home, and yet I don’t connect to it. As I sat there amidst my parents and aunts discussing how terrible the new age singers are, trying to replicate the good old version, I tried to reason with myself as to why I don’t have FOMO. I counted several reasons; first being, that my parents are anglicized, I grew up exposed to a lot of different cultures, music and was taught to embrace all other festivals. Secondly, I blame the neighborhood I grew up in, mostly a retirement community, with literally no para friends. Those of you who are not from Calcutta, para friends are basically, like your school friends but better, cause you can see them anytime! And also, I didn’t live in a building complex, so no close knit community pujo to go to either. I, now realize that I grew up, with a very different version of pujo around me.
Parents often have a hard time accepting that their children have evolved into a fully grown, opinionated version of them. For example, me not being super into the said festival doesn’t make me wrong, them being over enthusiastic doesn’t make it the right way to celebrate either. The celebration can be personal for some of us. Drifting in and out of more Mahalaya conversations at home, I tried to remember how we used to spend those sacred four days of pujo as children. I remember trying to block out the sound of the blaring radio at home on Mahalaya, getting a new ten-rupee bill from my grandmother on Soshti (6th day). Eating luchi, bondey and sita bhog (Bengali sweetmeat) on Ashtomi (8th day). On the 9th day of Durga Puja we went to my grandfather’s sister’s house. This day was the highlight of our holidays. On this day we’d wear our finest outfit and head over to my grand aunt’s home. My dad and his siblings would huddle in a room with their cousins and make numerous promises to meet more often. They narrated anecdotes from their shared childhood. Stories of bygone summer holidays and not so secret crushes. Of the silly games and family tales. I remember coming home and having to give a detailed verbal report to my grandfather. Of the lights on the street, the traffic, what we ate and how his baby sister was doing.
Our adult pujo celebrations are a version of what we grew up with. Now, my brother, cousins and I enjoy Durga Puja from the comfort of our family room, sitting around with our aunts and uncles, sharing stories of our travels, colleagues, over drinks and my kaki’s world famous fish chop!