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classic case of good triumphing over evil. It was easy to believe such a battle was possible. I was six. It was easy to believe in anything I suppose. Over the years…ever since my grandparents expired and we left our ancestral home in Kolkata, such mornings have been rendered fewer and far between. And, and yet, to a probashi (offshore dwelling) Bong like me, Mahalaya still holds that magic key – the promise of a home-coming. The chance to get back to Kolkata, in much the same way I left it almost thirteen autumns ago, a strange sadness suffusing my senses – an unresolved parting. Or maybe it has taken me all these years to understand why Dada laid so much emphasis on that one October morning, on why I was bought almost fifteen pairs of new clothes, changing into a new dress, as the day waned, what it meant to visit every pandal, circled carefully in red ink as soon as the morning daily came in, sometimes on his frail shoulders, making eye contact with divinity, rubbing shoulders with all and sundry at pada (neighbourhood) puja sammelans, rehearsing for months on our terrace, perfecting the role of Tagore’s bravest queen – Chitrangada, perhaps, slipping into expensive silk to eat out, every evening, scouring Park Street, sampling the latest eatery with a despicable vengeance, the nights promiscuously porous… the city bedecked like a bashful new bride to be drunk and delighted in. Loudspeakers on in full blast, the roll of the dhaakis (traditional drummers)adding to the din, thousands of people walking on endlessly, clad in fanciest attires purchased after months of careful saving, standing in serpentine queues to visit the latest Sharod-Sammanitto (a popular award conferred during Durga Puja to the best puja) mandap, a hedonistic frenzy in their sleepless eyes, carrying their infants high up in their sturdy arms, talking loudly, trying to navigate the din…the five day Calcutta carnival, a sensory trip that was supposed to have commenced first under the aegis of the Shobhabazar Rajbari, one of the most bonedi families of the city,

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by Raja Nabakrishna Deb in honour of Lord Clive in 1757. The puja was said to be organised as a way of Clive wanting to say thanks for his victory in the Battle of Plassey, and his inability to do so in a church as the only church in the city during that time was allegedly destroyed by Siraj-ud-Daulah. A colonial repository, the city’s religious roots are best savoured by a visit to its Northern quarters where till today many families continue with the tradition of housing the idol in their marbled courtyards, celebrating the five-day festival as a tradition of an ekannoborti poribaar – an unwieldy joint family that maybe live divided otherwise, and yet converge as one to maintain their historic family legacy. Unlike the glorious past however, most of these sabeki (old world) pujas, which once made British officers of the East India Company guests of honour, wooing them with sumptuous fares and expensive idol decorations and hiring the most expensive nautch girls to entertain their guests – today are seen opening their frayed wrought iron gates to ordinary proletarians, passers-by…peeking into a lost time and a faded glory, staring up at high ceilings, freshly painted in most cases in anticipation, glimmering Belgian cut glass chandeliers (the one that wasn’t auctioned in a distress sale), narrow, winding stairways, mighty canons that have fallen suspiciously silent – perhaps embroiled in a bitter family feud concerning property. And yet…this is not a sad story. Not quite the sadness a Kolkatan like me feels upon landing, cribbing about the irate traffic snarls or mourning the breaking down of yet another ancestral home to make way for a multiplex or a multi-storied – a faceless city in the constant throes of political ambiguity – a masterless mistress, left with nothing really, except tall tales of yesterday and yesteryears’. Durga Pujas helps us forgive Kolkata for what it has become and soak in what it will always be. These five days are about looking back and looking forward – the only time the city can carry the weight of both on its weathered

September-October 2013  

Spring, summer, autumn and winter. We love the flowers that bloom in spring, the watermelon we eat in summer, the yellow leaves that adorn t...

September-October 2013  

Spring, summer, autumn and winter. We love the flowers that bloom in spring, the watermelon we eat in summer, the yellow leaves that adorn t...

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