Dress, sweat, jostle, shove, wait, hog, repeat.
Dress, sweat, push… you get the picture.
In a nutshell, that is the four days of Durga Pujo (that’s Bengali for Puja) for every Kolkatan who chooses to brave the ‘elements’ during Kolkata’s biggest carnival. I use the word elements deliberately because for these four days, the city is not ruled by any weather system. Instead, the whims and fancies of some other formidable and indiscernible monster gains precedence. The monster in question is a huge blob of humanity that comes from nowhere and takes over the city. So, on Dashami — the last day of the festivities — the city breathes a silent sigh of relief without even realising it.
You see, the tyranny of Durga Pujo is such that most Kolkatans will give you the patent “durga-pujo-is-the-world’s-largest-art-festival” answer when you ask them about it. Only if you scratch deeper do the cracks show. So, in a very un-Kolkatan fashion, here are five reasons why we are (actually) glad that Durga Pujo is over.
Gudda of Suburbia
Kolkata, as a city, is not really dismissive of its suburbs. Unlike Mumbai, which makes Thane sound like a swear word, we embrace far-flung suburbs such as Barasat, Sonarpur, Konnanagar, Khardah. During Pujo, ‘Guddas’ from Khardah in their new drop-crotch pants and ‘Monalisas’ from Barasat in their shiny Anarkalis, stake claim over most of the city. We make way. That is the tacit understanding between the suburbs and the city. Traffic is a nightmare, Metro racks whiz past in a shiny blur of silk and polyester, buses don’t stop at scheduled stops, taxis disappear, we don’t complain. But now we want our city and our life back!
Let’s face it, as far as metropolises go, Kolkata makes no bones about its drinking habits. We love our rum and coke; we love our beef steak. And we enjoy them best in a dimly lit, smoky corner of a place called Olly Pub. Then there is Broadway and New Cathay, where the scowling uncles in tables around you are the perfect antidotes to the overload of joie de vivre outside. They reinstate our faith in humanity. But, hey, Pujo takes away even that right from us. For the last four days of Pujo, Kolkata is a dry state!
A popular shoe brand had an iconic radio jingle in the 1980s that eventually became an anthem for every Bengali kid out for Pujo shopping, with his or her parents. “Pujoy chai notun juto” (I want a new pair of shoes for the Pujas). Well, that demand came with an aftermath — the inevitable Bengali (I have never heard of any other race complain about it, except probably Monica in that boot episode of Friends) occurrence called ‘paaye phoshka’ (blisters on the feet). Because the unrelenting eyes of our parents will ensure that we wear the new pair of shoes for all the five days of Pujo, our feet, at least, send a silent prayer when the Pujos are over.
So, here is where Kolkata’s reputation of being a ‘lazy city’ rings true. Seasoned Kolkatans will advise you against eating out for the five days of Pujo. Not because the city shuts down for afternoon naps — as is commonly perceived — but because for these four days, the restaurants of the city take it upon themselves to tell you what to eat. They come up with a ridiculously stunted menu that in no way does justice to their reputation. You want kebabs in an Awadhi restaurant? No go. You only get to choose from their Pujo special menu, which has biryani and chaap. You want calamari in the city’s most popular Italian restaurant? Have chicken pizza instead because that’s all they serve during Pujo.
We are Kolkatans, we love melancholia
Without Pujas coming to an end, how would we be able to indulge in our second favourite activity after ‘pyet kharap’ or bad stomach (which, incidentally is another aftermath of Puja) — ‘mon kharap’. Mon Kharap is one of those feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia that is supposedly characteristic of the Bengali temperament. It makes us take gloomy pictures of diyas flickering in empty pandals and post status messages about the skeletons of Pujo pandal. Very emo, very Bengali.