Smells, sights and sighs
Pujos are almost here. In Kolkata and across Bengal, Pujo has always been associated with certain things. The sounds of dhaak, kaash phool, blue skies with white bundles of clouds, shiuli and hundreds of pandals cropping up in bamboo structures. There is also a special fragrance in the air we Bengalis connect to Pujos. We have grown up with it, read about it in poems, lived and will cherish it always.
Gearing up for Pujos in Kolkata has an unique charm of its own. Over years as the city has metamorphosed to a jet-setting metropolitan, New Market, Gariahat and Dakhinapan have been replaced by South City and Forum malls. But the heady rush of buying new clothes for the six days of the festival is still in its place. Earlier mothers would go moving from shop to shop with excited children running behind as they looked for some good discounts for home and the relatives. It is mandatory to gift relatives this season - it is Diwali for Bengalis and we don’t believe in dry fruits and sweets as gifts.
In Kolkata you can experience Pujos in a lot of ways. There are the baroari pujos, the para pujos and the bigger Pujos that draws in more visitors than it can hold. For non-Bengalis, we explain - baroari pujos are celebrations that happen inside the houses. This type of pujos belong to the courtyards of traditional, old-style Bengali houses; only those have the place to accomodate Durga and her four children along with Mahisasur. All festivities are restricted to the people in the house and extended family. The affair is a private one and not many houses in Kolkata have the luck of organising something like this. But baroari pujos have a magic of its own which all those who have attended one hold tight in their memories long after the spacious courtyards get replaced by up-market flats.
The para (locality) pujos are the most common sites across Kolkata. Every locality has a pujo of its own with their own set of festivities well in place. Walk through any area in Kolkata in pujo season and get greeted by a new pandal every turn.
Then there are the bigger pujo pandals in places like Maddox Square, Ballygunge Cultural, Park Circus, Deshapriya Park, Mudialy, Mohammed Ali Park, Ekdalia Evergreen, College Square and the list goes on. These are all para pujos that have over years have become way bigger than private celebrations. These become the places to meet friends, hangout and flirt a lot. (Flirting with strangers can be considered to be a pujo tradition; you may never see them again and there is no stalking or psycho behaviour involved - could it be more perfect?)
For Kolkatans, pujo is a mad rush, but these days are waited for throughout the year. No amount of traffic, humidity or crowd rush can deter a Bengali from giving this festival a miss. If you are in Kolkata, ditch the car and walk. You will get tonnes of sights that will make you pause and smile. Take a Kolkatan along with you as guide, no one knows better and eat. Eat to your heart’s content. It’s pujo so breathe in the sights, the smiles and the sighs. Breathe in deep.