Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Puja times

It is that time of the year again, when high-profile stars with Bong roots are interviewed by Bombay Times in an attempt to unravel their childhood memories. It is Durga Puja (or Pujo, if you will), the most important Bengali-Hindu festival, as my Bong friends would never fail to remind me.

I am not a Bong, I have never lived in Calcutta and I do not understand the feverish excitement the festival brings with it. I am an ordinary Tam Brahm born and brought up in small town Chennai, where Poojai is not pronounced as Puja, let alone as Pujo.

But, I do have my own set of memories of what you may call the Pujo, not so noisy and crowded, not so in your face colorful, but sweet, laid-back and soft memories, as is the wont of the town I come from.

Yeah. It is an important nine day long festival for us too, that mostly used to coincide with my Quarterly Examination holidays, year after year, as a school going kid.

I could do a Wiki search and sound intelligent, but I had rather be honest here, one of the very few arenas I am honest in these days. I still have not completely figured out the significance of the “Kolu” or, for the uninitiated, the nine-day long “Doll festival”. I do not know why we arrange nine steps (or perhaps 6 or 3, depending on the space in the house) and place ceramic dolls (the Gods largely, sometimes a cricket ground too, and then significant Godly events like Ram’s coronation and Krishna stealing butter).

What I do know and remember is the fun I used to have doing it all then. Mom used to be completely against buying a 9-step ladder and covering it in fancy embroidered cloth for the festival. She would say, “What will we do with the ladder later? And, besides, that sounds so templatized.” So, we would convert the dining table into the main stay broad step; keep one carton on top of it, a small table in front of the dining table and then maybe a smaller carton ahead of that. And then we would cover all of them in different colored fancy clothes. That means one whole room was cordoned off for this purpose and the family ate not at a dining table during that period. Mom was also against buying random play ground themes from the store. “That is so un-Godly-ish,” she would say. And, no, we would not have any innovative themes created by us either, as we both, actually all three of us (including Dad) were super artistic people who could draw straight lines as perfect curves. The steps would be adorned with the usual Rams, Lakshmans, Krishnas and the likes – all nice, bright dolls from Khadi – Khadi being the mecca of all Navratri dolls then (perhaps even now).

The Kolu might not have won even a consolation prize in the annual Kolu competition (I reckon something like that happens these days) but it was homely and inviting, making people come back year after year. Or, perhaps, it was the snacks mom would prepare untiringly, that would make people want to come back for more. The festival itself would end with two days of special celebrations, the first day being “Saraswathi Poojai” when all books, notebooks, pens and my Veena would be kept in the Puja and there being a complete ban on any kind of productive work (wow!). The next day would be celebrated as “Vijayadashami” when all the items placed in the Puja would be taken out and used, signifying a new beginning.

It has been donkey’s years since I attended a Kolu, what with spending “Saraswathi Poojai” in office year after year, feeling guilty using pens, notebooks and laptops that day. The family doesn’t follow the practice religiously any more, the city shuttling and inherent loss of interest in such niceties being major contributors. But, whenever I get an overdose of the Durga Pujo celebrations from the intense coverage in the print and visual media, I become randomly nostalgic, missing small town Chennai, an unpretentious Kolu in a 2 bedroom house, an endless list of guests and a lot of Carnatic music.