Ashchhe Bochhor Abaar Hobe

Written by  //  October 18, 2010  //  Philosophy, Religion, Culture  //  4 Comments

This year, fate, a roommate’s wedding and the Oxford timetable conspired to ensure that I celebrated Durga Puja in London. Being the quintessential Kolkata pandal-hopper, I was unhappy by this turn of events, accentuated by the unwelcome prospect of spending my five favourite days of the year engulfed by Gen- X BBCDs and their strange, incomprehensible Bengali-British accents. To allay this dampening development somewhat, I decided to volunteer at a nearby pandal, hoping against hope that by cutting fruits to be offered as prasad and serving the khichuri prepared as bhog, I would feel festive, despite being far away from where I wanted to be.  And as it turns out, it was the best five days I’ve had in a really long time.

Three reasons made this Durga Puja truly special: The sheer joy of volunteering, the exhilaration of pandal hopping in London and the endless entertainment provided by Bengalis dealing with each other.  In Kolkata, I’d never volunteered for anything during Durga Puja; I was too busy preparing lists of places to visit, scouring the lists of awards to see who had won the Asian Paints “Sharad Shamman”, roaming the streets of North Kolkata on my annual expedition to that Great Unknown, dashing off to the nearby South Kolkata pandals, to get in before the crowds did and generally having a “pandal-hop till I drop” five days. In London however, my Shashthi was spent decorating the Goddess and her children, ensuring the right weapons were in the right hands, and that the town hall was in readiness for its five days of annual oriental glory. Saptami and Ashtami came with their demands of serving bhog to thousands of visitors who thronged the hall. It was an elaborate enterprise, trying to squeeze in the khichuri, labra, papad and mishti into a packet too-small-by-half, ensuring there was no inequity in my delineation of portions while at the same time attempting to satisfy thousands of diverse and sometimes inane requests, most notably for more food to satiate the near-insatiable Bengali appetite for khichuri at a Pujo Pandal.

Nabami however was different and it was my day out. And what a day it was! From Ilford in the East to Ealing in the West, Harrow in the North to Tooting in the South, we conquered London in a manner Hitler could only ever have dreamed of. With a diligent driver at the wheel, whose sheer love of driving had to be seen to be believed (8 hours and 80 miles in crawling City traffic and not the slightest sign of exhaustion!!) a prosperous lawyer friend providing the Blackberry with its indispensable, in-built GPS, a skilled navigator with a penchant for short cuts that sometimes backfired spectacularly (yours truly) and two women who provided the most outstanding moral support possible (whenever you looked they were there to help, not doing much, but there), we traipsed through the tree-lined side-streets of London on a beautiful, sun-soaked Saturday from puja to puja, khichuri to khichuri, Bengalis to more Bengalis.

In fact, the opportunity to watch Bengalis in action from close quarters, which volunteering provided, was a spectacle in itself. Having been in Oxford for the last two years and Bangalore for the five before, I had almost forgotten what being part of a large, fractious Bengali enterprise was like. There was the omnipresent Ashoke da (all names changed) who milled about looking important but doing nothing, Mridula di, who arrived fashionably late and wanted everything changed as per her specifications, Samir Babu who looked every inch the Bengali bhadralok and behaved like one in refusing steadfastly to work despite pretending to the world he was being overworked. Plus all the gossip about the new breakaway Puja and how it spectacularly failed to raise funds, the sexuality of priests, the upstart suburban puja which had managed to steal everyone’s thunder and how it was only a matter of time before it would subside…The sheer immensity of jealousy and the absolute dominance of ill-will for fellow Bengalis was simply astounding. But being Bengali uncles and aunties, I knew that it amounted to little more than harmless banter and could afford a few laughs.  If they weren’t, I would have been scared. Deadly scared.

And so my five days sped past in the most beautiful blur ever. Ever so briefly, Ilford was my Kumartuli, Upton Park my Baghbazar, Harrow my Maddox Square, Wembley my Chaitali, Kings Cross my Durga Bari, Ealing my Ekdalia and Belsize Park my Kashi Bose Lane. London was my Kolkata for a day and how beautiful she looked with autumn in the air, the Pujo smell wafting in the pandals and the white clouds as my imaginary kaash phool, shaking their heads in gay abandon in the comforting Ashwin breeze.  Only 360 days to the next time I feel this way- Ashchhe Bochhor Abaar Hobe!!!

Shubho Bijoya to all.

4 Comments on "Ashchhe Bochhor Abaar Hobe"

  1. Anisha October 18, 2010 at 6:28 pm ·

    Looking forward to another pujo in London?? What a probashi you’ve become.

  2. Anuradha Roy October 19, 2010 at 6:17 am ·

    We missed you here in India. The experience you had will surely not go waste! 🙂
    Every day I learn something new. Even from the mundane nothings there is so much to absorb.
    I loved the fourth paragraph particularly. Simple words entwined into sentences that said so much.
    …And yes, asche bochhor abaar hobe…question is kothaye? 🙂

  3. Pinaki October 19, 2010 at 9:05 am ·

    All Calcuttans have a soft spot for London, since we always believe that Samuel Johnson’s observation,” When a man is tired of London etc ” applies to Calcutta too. Calcutta Puja must have missed all those wondeful bright boys who ” illuminated ” the Maddox Square pandal and who now seem to be far away from Calcutta.Do they also miss Calcutta on puja days?

  4. Rahul October 25, 2010 at 9:25 am ·

    Lovely post, Arghya. While the flathunt-from-hell ensured that I didn’t really have much of a saptami and ashtami, I did make it to Camden Town Hall on nabami evening. Must say was very impressed. Would have loved to do the pandal-hopping though. As you very aptly said, ashche bochhor abaar hobe! 🙂


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