There is a general feeling of envy-tinged awe among non-Bengalis about the spectacle that goes by the name of Durga Pujo. I mean, four days off bang in the middle of October usually coupled with the nearest weekend - how did we manage that? And hey - it is a religious thingamajig so no government worth its red-lighted Ambassador would try to stop a god-fearing Bengali from taking the week off!
The closest an Indian festival comes to such a high level of shutdown is probably the Navratri in the West but even there, the Gujjus pack in a full day's trading at the stock market and tuck away a few millions before making a beeline for the Falguni Pathak show. No taking the day off for religious ceremonies.
So, in an unwanted effort to de-mystify Durga Pujo, here is a simple primer on the festival... in six easy-to-understand commandments.
I: Durga Pujo is everywhere. I mean, EVERYWHERE.
Thanks to our race's geographically divergent successes, probably the only place not to have a Durga Pujo now is Guantanamo Bay.
If there are no Bengalis, there are enough Calcutta-lovers who decide that they simply cannot live without the mayhem of those four days. So, they commission an idol, cook some khichdi and potato mishmash, get a Brahmin to perform the rituals and even hire a Bong Indian Idol finalist to make a DIY Pujo.
II: Durga Pujo is like amoeba. It multiplies within its environment.
In Year 1, there is one Pujo. From Year 2 onwards, the number of Pujos = n where n is an integer (greater than that of the previous year) dependent on the number of original organisers, their wives, their origins (East or West Bengal), their blood pressure levels and a million other variables thereof.
Squabbles arise out of momentous things like the haughty behaviour of the Treasurer's wife, blatant nepotism to give the sit-and-draw prize to the President's nephew while the Secretary's own daughter is the reincarnation of Van Gogh and suspected corruption in awarding the catering contract.
And the law of the land states when in squabble, split.
III: Durga Pujo is an outlet for the latent creativity of the Bongs.
In olden days, creative Bongs used to write novels and make films. After Asian Paints started their Pujo contest, the award for the Best Idol / Pandal was valued slightly higher than an Oscar and slightly lower than a Nobel Prize. Consequently, 95% of Bong creativity got channelised into designing Pujo paraphrenalia. The remaining 5% started getting used for judging the creative output for the aforementioned contest (and their clones).
So, we have Greg Chappell, Hogwarts, WTC Towers Collapse, Capitol Hill, Rashtrapati Bhavan, idols made of ice-cream sticks and pandals made of condoms in a misdirected frenzy of 'creative' chest-thumping!
(I made up the last one.)
IV: Durga Pujo is culture. Or, an interpretation of it.
Again, to reinforce the perception of the Bong monopoly on culture, they show off at every public gathering (and Pujo is the largest one). And the result is that Rabindra Sangeet is generally considered to be a fate worse than death.
Kids barely able to walk are made to perform elaborate dance dramas. 85 year olds are given long soliloquys to recite. The Treasurer's wife gets to sing. And the show stealer turns out to be the Indian Idol wannabe, who gets whistles and claps when she sings Kajra Re! And Bongs talk proudly for the rest of the year about the upliftment in the appreciation of art in this country, brought about by having Udit Narayan sing at the 'cultural night'.
V: Durga Pujo is money, honey!
It is by and large an accepted belief among marketers that about 24% of Bengal's GDP is directly or indirectly influenced by this one week. This is due to 103 million people who are caught on CCTV at the Ekdalia Evergreen Club Pujo, trying to catch a glimpse of Moonmoon Sen (who has come to inaugurate it). Of course, whether these multitudes choose to purchase prepaid plans basis the pictures of Moonmoon Sen's daughter on the entry arch is debatable.
But since the public is grateful that there IS an entry arch and the marketers are grateful that the arch is branded, nobody really cares beyond a point. And till then, you have Hindi newspapers sponsoring the Elocution Contest and all is well with the world!
VI: Durga Pujo is Food (with a capital F).
Bongs lose the use of most of the lobes of their voluminous brains at the sight of any concoction that involves fish, mustard oil and batter. Nothing demonstrates this fact better than the stampeding crowd that assembles in front of the fish fry counter at the pandal while the Goddess and her four children twiddle thumbs.
No kidding - Pujos in C R Park are identified as the 'Karim's Pujo', 'Nathu's Pujo', 'Bijoli Grill Pujo' and so on! Within a couple of weeks of the event ending, the purported innovation in the idol design would become a hazy memory while the delectable Mutton Pasanda Kabab would remain clear & present, thanks to the home delivery menu helpfully distributed at the counter.
Maybe, I should have called this post Durga Pujo for Tummies!
Season's Greetings to all! Burrp!