For a Bengali, there’s no bigger festival than Durga Puja. I have fond memories of four days of bonhomie during this time. Memories, because ever since I landed in the Capital some 20 years ago, I haven’t been to a single puja pandal here. Why? Well, Puja is mostly about bonding with extended family and gang revelry. Alone in Delhi, I missed the trappings, so I chose to skip it. Do I miss it? You bet.
Bongs really go crazy during Puja — in a good way. Parents become more liberal, the usual curfew is relaxed, the girls become more approachable and the boys tend to get a little mushy. A survey in Gujarat revealed that the maximum number of pregnancies happen during Navratra. If somebody did a similar survey during Puja, the number of Bengali love affairs blooming would be at an all-year high. Puja in Delhi is enjoyed by all, not just Bengalis.
Hip guys from my tony neighbourhood hit Chitto Park at this time on a mission of ‘bird-watching’. Thanks to the Bollywood Sens — Sushmita, Riya, Raima and Rimi — along with Rani, Bipasha and Tanushree, Bong birds have serious sex appeal. And during Puja, they display the most magnificent plumes while flitting around the pandals.
My neighbourhood dudes come back smitten, but I warn them, “You have just seen the beauty of Bong babes. Wait until
you see them in Chandi (Durga) roop.” Bengali women, in my experience, have domineering personalities. Don’t cross them lightly.
Fortunately, there is a perennially delicious side to Bengalis — their food. Puja is the best time to discover this cuisine in Delhi. There is much more to it than kathi roll, mishti doi and sandesh. And yes, there is culture (a word that often sounds like ‘kaalchar’ on some Bengali lips). Many Dilliwallas discover at a puja pandal that Kishore Kumar was a Bengali.
Kishoreda’s voice will come out of pretty much every loudspeaker in every Bengali neighbourhood on these Puja days — Nayana sarasi keno bhorechhe jole is a particular favour. Many Bengali men love to think they are Kishore Kumar reborn, and a platform for their talent is the mandatory evening jalsa organised by any puja committee worth its bill book.
Puja also enlightens Delhi denizens about Bong fashion. Though rare, you can still find bhadroloks in silk kurtas with sleeves specially ironed to create concertina pleats (gile kora) and crisp dhotis. Many fashionistas love this look. Women in red-bordered off-white silk saris or stunning baluchari and dhakai saris allure, at least temporarily.
Indeed, Puja is the Bengalis’ Mardi Gras. The mood is irrepressibly festive, the damsels are at their seductive best, the boudis (married women) are playfully naughty, rum-and-cola flows in the guise of ‘innocent’ cold drinks and ‘scandalising’ incidents like a couple stealing a kiss behind a pandal are aplenty.
Don’t ever expect a true-blue Bong to work on these four days. Did I hear somebody say, “Durga, Durga”?