(The author of this post, Srirupa Gupta of Pune, India describes herself as a harried mom, foodie and Hindi movie junkie. Srirupa recollects Durga Puja celebrations from Himachal to the USA.)
My earliest recollection of Durga Pujo is of attending a Dhunuchi Naach competition in Dalhousie, Himachal Pradesh (circa 1977-78). It seemed like the men were almost floating with the beat of the dhak their feet hardly ever touching the ground. The atmosphere was electric and everyone
gathered around the contestants cheered them on with the Durga murti as a backdrop. The whole place was smoky but smelled divine.
My father being with the Indian Air Force, I got to spend pujos at the places he was posted. My most memorable ones were in Mount Abu, Rajasthan (1986-1989), where the Air Force Station held the solitary pujo in town. The preparations usually began with the arrival of the murtikars
from Kumartuli. The organisers had earlier tried getting murtis from other places but they would often reach damaged or without Karthik and Ganesh!
On this particular year (1988), after the murtis were made about one month ahead and carefully put into storage, it rained incessantly. So when the store was opened about two days ahead of the pujos there was a lush growth of grass all over Ma Durga and her family. My mum armed with
my poster colours ran for damage; hair re-done, Ma and children given a makeover! My mom would talk about how her hands shook while painting Ma’s face: mere mortals don’t really do that!
I came face to face with the big fat Kolkata pujo in 1990 when we moved to Kolkata. It was a heady experience for a rookie like me. I had seen big pujos at Delhi, but hey, this was something else and how!
It was like the city had suddenly woken up to revelry: the smell of dhuno, montro floating through the microphone, dhak beats and pujo songs. Lots of lights, people on the streets through the night dressed in their pujo best; the hoi-choi, puchkawalas, roll walas and biriyani shops doing roaring business even at two in the morning.
One could see the fashion trends of the year. 1990 was the year of Maine Pyar Kiya salwar suits, while 2000 was the year of the Anaconda saree (why so named is a mystery) a sure-fire pujo hit as I saw over 60 of them in one night! Amazing decorations calling for a Wow! Like the beautiful Dilwara re-created and use of unusual things for making the pandals and, what were they thinking? for a ghunter pandal bejeweled with a ghunter chandelier which reeked for miles.
I briefly stayed at the US, where I got to see another flavour of pujo. Conveniently tucked on a weekend, it looked like a biye bari where everyone was in their fineries with amazing array of jewelry and designer wear.
Families putting up cultural shows, prominent artists performing, khichudi bhog with labra and stalls of all tings Bangali: misti, saree, music and food. It didn’t feel so far away from home after all.
Pujos are moments of shared joy: of precious memories of walking into a pandal with my parents to see what seemed enormous murtis at age five, fretting over new dresses over the teenage years, hanging out with friends and now walking with my children hand in hand, sharing the joy of
seeing Ma Durga in all her splendour all over again.