[This was first written in 2009, on my second pujo away from home. Now that I am back, and the Pujas are upon us again, I find I feel largely the same way. Familiarity with Bengali required for some parts]
What does one miss about the vibrant, vivacious, dazzling, crowd-clogged, loud, sumptuous autumn festivities? Well, *I* miss complaining about them. They say in Bengali that one doesn’t appreciate one’s teeth while one still has them, and this might well apply to the pujas… for some. But not me. The first time I got away from them — and I left town a week or so before Mohaloya last year — I had the distinct feeling of a narrow escape, fortunately accomplished. One does not appreciate being woken up by the dhaak at four-thirty in the morning after being dragged around town and through an ocean of sweaty, elbowy, loud people on the pretext of ‘thakur dekha’ till three bloody AM. And one certainly does not appreciate the nasal delights of Reshammiya or high-pitched pleasures Kumar Shanu blaring from the mikes at all hours.
Actually, about the music, I’m being unfair. There’s been a cultural revival of sorts in the city recently (although, like most populist revivals, a very poorly-informed one). For the last four or so years, our parar pujo has chosen to play music one wants to hear (especially if one were a Bengali One, brought up in the subcontinent in the last four decades): Hindi film classics from the sixties and seventies — lots of Asha, Mukhesh, Rafi, Kishore — in the evenings, and plenty of Hemonto, Shyamol Mitro, Sholil De, Srikanto Acharjo, Orghyo Sen, Konika Bannerjee in the mornings. A lovely blend of robindroshongeet, and what is still called ‘adhunik’ despite its now-classic status. I never quit understand why people leave Debobroto out of their playlists, incidentally. His renditions of Tagore’s songs are often my favourites. But anyway, even with tiny lapses of taste, we have these sterling mixed-tapes being played for our aural gratification all day, and I would have been pleased. Except.
1. The same songs are repeated ad infinitum on a tedious loop, which, no matter how much one loves listening to Kishore singing Gulzar’s lyrics to RD’s music, is very, very painful.
All in all, I was quite happy to fly the nest before this year’s Decibel Assault was launched. But in doing so, I was also withdrawing all claim on the pleasanter sounds of pujo — the call to awnjoli on awshtomi mornings, the montropaath interspersed by ghonta bajano during shondhipujo, dhakir naach, dhunuchi naach [tiny video of just the first moves], the broken snatches of private conversations picked up by the microphone, people rushing around overseeing the serving of communal lunches on oshtomi and dinners on nobomi (“Bannerjee kaku ke luchi diyechho toh? Uni kintu chaichhilen.”, “Ei ektu dekh toh Uma mashi khete boshlo kina, shokal theke mondope kaaj korchhen. Ei fol-mishtita diye aaye ontoto”). I even like the dhaak at more reasonable hours. In fact, provided I have managed the requisite eight hours (or even three), I quite cherish being woken up by the slightly intoxicating rhythm that gets under one’s skin, and whispers to the blood. It gives the peaceful glow of a crisp autumn daybreak a primal undertone of excitement — pujo eshe gaechhe! The goddess is coming home!
There’s also perhaps a sensual undertone to the association of the dhaak with the worship of the mother goddess. Feel free to treat this as a pop theory popped out by an amateur (I certainly do), but our goddesses are not pristine submissive vestal virgins in white, spending their days in seclusion. Or, for that matter, virgin goddesses reknowned for their intellect, but lined firmly with patriarchy. Our goddesses are far more sweat-and-blood, far more raw power that smites, far more protective love tempered by firm disciplinarianism. And although we in our pseudo-Victorian way shy away from it, far more powerfully, sensually, playfully sexual. Despite the ridiculously fake blindfold of ‘Indian culture’ that we wear voluntarily, perhaps this subterranean association seeps into the romantic overtones to pujo celebrations. And not just the sweetly romantic, neither.
While the pujo pandals are a favourite first-meeting type place for potential sweethearts in Bengali films and novels, pujos are also the time when, slipping away from the performances like this, lovers go off to… do what lovers are always sneaking off to do. You couldn’t ask for a better background score. And if someone raised an eyebrow you could always say you were embodying Shiv and Shakti, and enacting their reunion post-bijoya doshomi 🙂 (not that I’ve ever heard anyone use that excuse in weal life, but I would love to.)
And perhaps that is why the only piece of commercial pujo “music” I’m missing is an ancient Thums Up! commercial. It’s not on Youtube or Google videos. Does anyone remember it? “Shoptomi te prothom dekha, oshtomi te haashi… nobomi te bolte chaoa, tomaye bhalobashi. Doshomite hothat kaeno aakul holo praan… praan protima tumi ebar jaabe ki bhashan?”
Praan protima, tumi ebar jaabe ki bhashan? Our goddess, who resides these few days in clay idols and our hearts… is it time already for you to return, and leave us empty and bereft?