Fragrance of shiuli, silvery white kaash phool swaying gently against an azure sky herald the festive season for the Bengalis. The poet’s heart leaps up in joy–eshehchey sharot himer posrosh… There’s happiness in the air. People heave a sigh of relief following an uninterrupted and unbearable spell of sticky, sultry and humid summer.
Bengalis yearn for this time of the year amid all angst and misery. Forgetting all woes and pains they remain immersed in this time of festivity and fun.
For Durga-Ma, this is homecoming, a time of reunion. Just as Durga-Ma leaves Kailash, her in-law’s abode, to spend these four days with Her parents, people staying away return home to spend time with their near and dear ones.
I’ve been a part of this joyous occasion ever since I was a child. Puja then was an unalloyed pleasure of new clothes, gathering of relatives, sweets, the sounds of dhaak, a time of unbridled joy and savoring every bit of it with fervor and zeal.
Things have changed, sadly though.
Over the years, that sheer pleasure in participating in puja has taken a backseat. It’s now synonymous with corporate lucre, cacophony and cultural decadence. Traditional idols are given a go-by. Ekchala thakurs are a thing of the past. Theme-pujo is the in-thing.
For the artisans of Kumartuli in North Kolkata who stay awake day and night over the past four months struggling to give shape to Durga-Ma, this festive season provides the only source of livelihood. Ironically, as the city celebrates the puja with glitz and glamour, these artisans remain in perpetual poverty. Their frail and emaciated bodies tell it all. It is as if they are deprived of Durga-Ma’s blessings.
The way the puja is celebrated these days reflects the Bengali’s culture. Decency and civilized behavior are conspicuous by their absence. If one sees the sea of humanity in front of a puja pandal, one will notice the decadence of current generation of Bengalis. This wildly exuberant and belligerent crowd is heartless. They are insolent, rude and impolite. They exhibit scant regard for elders; they’ve no feeling for fellow citizens. The revelers have no sympathy for the elderly and weak. You can hardly think of pandal-hopping if you aren’t strong and sinewy.
Does anybody think of the old and infirm? Does anyone bother about those burning midnight oil for their exams? Who cares about blaring of microphones and high-pitched songs and constant honking near hospitals! If you raise your voice, you just invite trouble. You’ll suffer ignominy or even face physical assault. Diktats of political-dadas cannot be questioned. Hurray for hooliganism!
As the Durga-Ma’s idols are immersed in the Ganga, the cries of “ashchchey bochchor abar hobe” seem to symbolize the bitter truth: the culture of defiance and irreverence.
Is this our sharotutsav? Is this Bengalis’ shresta utsov?
This is the time of reunion, of warmth and happiness, of compassion and tolerance and above all, a time when there’s no room for indecency, insolence, irreverence and depravity.