It is almost impossible to observe, reflect and then honestly narrate the juicy chronicles of a Barowari Probashi Durga Pujo (the annual Community Bong festival) without rattling a few cages and raising a few well- trimmed eyebrows (they already look arched high enough with the pujo chaant , like an expression of perennial surprise; a couple of millimeter more would hit the roof….oops, the hairline)!! Shhhh.. I was just being polite. I actually meant opening a can of creepy crawly worms. Eeeks…I can see you cringing at that! Trust me, so am I. To be absolutely truthful, and I cross my heart as I say this, that’s a just a simple breakdown of what we, the flag bearers of back stage management and front row audience, call Poro Ninda Poro Chorcha or PNPC in short.
You do not know what PNPC is? You gotta be kidding or you are not qualified to be a Bong! Ok, let me have the exclusive privilege of enlightening you on the fodder that we live on. PNPC is the staple bong diet after the bhoger khichuri for any community Durga Pujo, whether in homeland or on foreign shores. It is a must; like the panchamrita that cleanses your soul post fasting? There you get it! It is the quintessential detox of the Bong mind….just throw up all the snide remarks, nose twitches, lop sided smiles, sarci jokes at one go and there you are the decontaminated pure spirit ready to absorb the blessings of the sacred mantras and indulge in more observation of the clan around you.
For once, even I cannot slip into my self-assumed social anthropologist’s role watching the antics of a known tribe without identifying with it. So let’s get back to the real scene. Did you read “battlefield”? Oh no! We are the “kaalchaared” intellectual genes. PNPC is never done aloud. We do all this very subtly and if you are the probashi Bong, there are chances you would not even get it. It could start with a simple query: “Tumi Kolkatar?” (Are you from Kolkata?) . You are dead, if you dare say “yes” and later reveal an address that’s indicative of a pincode in South 24 Parganas. “Narendrapur abar Kolkata naki? Bollei holo!” ( Since when did Narendrapur become Kolkata! Crap). Well…to the unsuspecting mind, it is just the beginning to a compartmentalization, almost as definite as the MBTI test if you have ever taken one. The next lines of questions are somewhat predictable. Ghoti na Bangaal? North Cal or South? Which school did you say? You are saved again if your school has a reputation to be hip. Even better if you have a convent tag attached to your alumni and can sing the commonest school prayer “Our Father, thou art in heaven….” to perfection. Also, even if you do not drop slangs as punctuation marks in your conversations, you must know what they mean! “JU? No wonder!!” With each question, mind you, you are becoming a part of a quadrant and don’t ask me the axes!
Now that you have been measured (up and down) and somewhat fit into a prototype of a certain creed of Bongs, we will look at your clothes…yes, the saree and goyna cannot find a better exhibition than the puja mandap. Commissioned designer exclusives to Gariahat morer stalls, copies of Sabyasachi and Satya Paul to online carbon prints, displaying your wardrobe over five glorious days is the heart of Bong Durga Pujo. There can be nothing as traumatic as discovering the lady standing beside you at pushanpanjali wearing a saree similar to yours. Did I say traumatic? Read catastrophic! The dokaandaar who promised you “ektai piece didi” is dead and so is dear hubby who spent some few hundred dollars buying you the best this Pujo. The shoes too would not go unnoticed. Dare you show your heels and mismatch your Dhakai saree with red velvet shoes or don’t have a Kolhapuri mojri to accessorize your Dhuti Panjabi and see how the world drags you to your feet! Also, be sure to watch a few mobile PC Chandra versions walk up and down the aisle and pujo stage. As a kid, I wondered why women dressed up in sheets of gold, jewelry that looked like Raavan’s collection to me. With age, I have learnt that the catch here is not to be demoralized by the bullion market. It is also not about what you flash but when you procured it. How much of what you own is heirloom and how much of it has been acquired recently. Nouveau riche or ancestral wealth determines your genre again. A typical bong compliment could be: “ Natun gorali? Bah besh” ( Is that a new one? Wow nice) and the aside remark to follow can be as “conclusive” as “Kichhui chilona agey; shobi ekhon goracche.” (Had nothing before, see she is getting them now) Ahem! The complexities of what’s right and what is not, is debatable.
Of course, we are not a bitchy tribe. We are fantastic intelligent people, almost always bestowed with good looks or some talent, be it painting, singing, writing, acting, dancing, photography or simply dressing up. And one could find ample demonstrations of each in the Pujo Mondop. We do it well and we do it with all our competence. In other words, we are competent and we are competitive. The only flipside is, sometimes, everyone is clamoring for a space on the stage and there are few cheerleaders and audience on the ground: Bathroom singers, gawky dancers, school sketchbook artists, birthday card writers and everyone with a DSLR camera or with a husband who has a DSLR which is one and the same thing in this instance. Having said all that, pujo is what tugs at the heart of all Bongs everywhere in the world, no matter whether it is a “ghoroa” pujo in Johannesburg or the full on “dhoomdhaam” at Singapore or London or the weekend get together in Bay Area. It is about community bonding, and all things Bong, food, adda, music, dance, dressing up, and if PNPC is such an integral part of the BONG DNA, so be it!!
We do not even spare our gods. I just heard someone say, “Maayer mukutta ektu byenka. Kartik ki ektu tyera naaki re? Uff Lokkhir sareeta ki gyeyo. Sarashwatir hashita bhari mishti. Ar oshur ke dekh, puro tamil movier hero…” ( Isn’t ma durga’s crown a bit tilted? Kartik looks cock eyed, Lakshmi's saree is so behenji type and Saraswati has a cute smile. Asur looks like a hero from a Tamil film…”) Till the next one! Dugga Dugga!! Ashche bocchor abar hobe!
The article was first published in my regular column Shuddh Shakahari Desi on Bkhush.com
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