Azure blue skies. White fluffy clouds afloat. A handful of fragrant white Siuli blossoms on the nightstand. These are things sure to stir the Bengali heart. For they are linked to something every Bengali holds very dear: Durga pujo! We had a Siuli tree in our backyard where I grew up. It was a nuisance the entire year with its infestation of centipedes. But during this time of fall, the tree floor would be strewn with fresh batches of blooms, every morning. They were gorgeous!
Thousands of these pandals mushroom all over my home state this time of the year. Shown to the right is one such construction in progress, built with excruciating care, just to house the deities during the few days of the festival. A world of local art, craftsmanship, and story-telling is showcased in these temporary monuments. Groups compete for recognition for being the grandest or the most thought-provoking in their conception of the pandal and the deities, all of it providing opportunity for artistic expression and interpretation.
dhakis. The air would thicken with smoke and the fragrance of burning incense and menthol. My eyes would burn but I could not tear myself away from the pure spectacle of those moments. Kalidada, an old man that had been in the service of our family forever, was a pretty good drummer himself. I would watch him bedazzled as he made magic with the drums.
Our community organized a feast of khichuri bhog for everyone for one of the afternoons. I remember the long tables lined with rickety chairs. The tables would have green banana leaves cut up and laid out to be used as plates paired with earthen containers to hold water. I participated in the serving of the food, typically the eggplant fry or lemon pieces. The adults would serve the real food, out of steel buckets purchased freshly for the occasion. It was nice to be part of that gathering set to the backdrop of everyone looking happy and relaxed in their new clothes with their families and spending their time off in this friendly setting.
1999 was my last Durga Puja in Kolkata. It was an amazing one, having just recently fallen in love with my current husband. Remember snuggling to the gorgeous (if inappropriate) tunes of George Michael's Last Christmas in a darkened room with multi-colored light bulbs streaming outside our verandah (this is credit to the puja lighting efforts by our community puja team that would steal electricity from home owners shamelessly). Everyone pitches in for the pujas, willing or not!! I have faltered into some community pujas abroad since, but it has never been the same. Certainly my religious engagement has severely dwindled. Here I am then, thinking back, to re-live some of the excitement from those many years ago.