Durga Puja

Togetherness of a culture !

We’ve been going here. For the last couple of years.

It took us a while this time. Passing through metal detectors and a desultory security guard who would look at you and make you wonder if you bore a resemblance to Bin Laden or somebody. He then, would proceed to ask, whats in the camera bag. You could tell him anything from ‘Rolls Royce’ or even ‘dirty underwear’. For he insists on opening each bag. ‘Whats in the bag’ is more of a greeting. Like a ‘good morning’ thats randomly spewed in one of those airlines.

Opening each bag with an interest which reasonable men can only do, if they were told that in one of those bags, beneath the camera, there were two rasagullas and a samosa. Such thoroughness. What follows is a frisking of the body by a volunteer, wearing a rectangular card with a thick red tag around the neck that seems to confer powers on him, that ma durga could envy.

If you would want to experience sensuous pleasures at their tallest crest, well, visit a Durga Pujo pandal. ( For some reason pronounced as you would pronounce ‘sandal’, with a P). Mind bogglingly endless feast of community, a superlative exhibition of whats loosely called ‘culture’, a sense of devotion. Not to mention wholehearted gluttony.

The gluttons that we are, we make it a point to turn up here every year.

For some reason, the Powai Bengali Association seems keen on bringing size and scale to Powai. Last year, it was the Sun Temple at Konark which was recreated. This year it was the Jor temple. Recreated, we are told, by artists from Kolkatta and thereabouts.

For one, there is Durga ma. In all her splendour. Like every year. A spear, an asura and his splatter of blood right through his pectoralis major. A roaring lion. Two other Gods and two other goddesses for company. All created in such resplendent finery that there is a gasp that escapes everyone that sees the arrangement for the first time.

Durga Ma has deep eyes and has always eyed me and my camera with some interest. Or so I would like to think. But these days, with more mega pixels in every mobile phone, there are more outstretched hands clicking snaps than those in prayer. There seems to be a new meaning in her look.

Housed as she is in an elaborate reconstruction of the Jor temple. A magic brought alive by thermacol, paint, wood and lighting. You almost feel your stomach muscles go taut, to think all of this will be in a garbage dump after Durga Ma finds her space in the Powai lake. But during the ten days of Pujo, these produce a certain energy. A source. A centrepoint of sorts. For everything else.

After jostling for space infront of the Goddess and wondering why a bald head always finds my elbow just as I am clicking a picture, we leave the place. Take two steps, and walk straight into a stall selling fish fry, chicken, mutton and such else. Ofcourse, best complimented by Chinese food, spelt with one ‘e’ less.

And you are right. Only a moronic mind can nitpick on the English spelling of ‘Chinese’ in a Bengali festival being conducted in Mumbai, with so much food in front to pick and choose from. But, goodness gracious me, what food !!

The divide between gluttony and devotion is the closest here. All hell broke loose. No. That was wrong. It was heaven.

While that statement is about food, well, I could as well, continue with a comma !

Picture a whole lot of beautiful women. In an array of costumes that could well pass for a giant mosaic of a fashion parade in sartorial diversity. Crisp cotton sarees rubbing shoulders with garish silks which somehow sit so pretty, seamlessly co-existing with the modern types : miniskirts and an occasional sprinkling of jeans

Some of them sporting Gold, enough to set some insecurity in the minds of the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India. Oh yeah.. and some foreheads adorned with bindis that could well double for a Frisbee disk and unleashed on anyone that acts funny. That big.

The men. Ah the men. Colourful free flowing Kurta-Pajama. That’s something of an ‘identity’ thing. You could hazard that guess without much danger. Bright yellows to garish purples. Violent blacks to spotless whites. All glittering under those big lights and sweat. (Some with so much embroidery that could get my curtains look so cheap). Many of them with the volunteer tag and a whistle.

There are streams of them. Walking by. Ofcourse, there is commerce. There are small stalls selling stuff from marble flooring to sarees to vada pav, all on one side. A divide apart, there is ‘enclosure’ space for cultural performances. The divide, perhaps to accentuate the thinly veiled struggle to keep a thick line between commerce and culture. Or so it appears.

Immense happiness permeates. People walk around in such joy. The young and old connecting up and coming together. For conversation, connections and chatter. Perhaps to catch up on the year that’s gone by and to draw energy for the years ahead.

There is energy here. An energy woven by a community coming together. An evident joy that presents itself in the twinkle of the eye and the sparkle in the laughter.

A passion that stays alive and ever present, to bring a certain part of West Bengal here. To keep alive a tradition that made their growing up years. To resurrect nostalgia by indulging in the present and perhaps laying the foundations for the year ahead!

Music. Conversation. Tradition. Devotion. Food. Laughter. Connections. Culture. Giving. Art. And much more. Well, go on, try making a more fetching combination than that.

That night, I slept fitfully. In my dreams came a few kurta clad gentlemen, all of them with whistles and volunteer tags waxing eloquence on a tall subject. It was apparent that cows were a long way from home.

Only to be awakened by a giant red Frisbee spinning away under the watchful eyes of Durga Maa.

Links to earlier year’s posts are here, here, here and here !

Its not the drum !

Its a big hefty drum. With a red cloth to cover. Perhaps to cover its might. Perhaps to cover what lies inside. These are distinctly rural men. You can see it in their looks and the ease with which they heave it on to their shoulder, lean on to the other side, and let the beats do the talking!

Beats that you are unfamiliar with. But resonating with what you know so well. From your own land. You wince. As memories of another time flow. In some time, there is music. Here, these three drummers whip up your heart beat.

At the other side, the charcoal embers laced with incense powder fumes! At yet another, amidst the crowd, there is palpable expectation.

In a short while, hips, legs, head and all other parts of the body sway to the beats. In a synchrony that begs to find a new word. A word better than ‘synchrony’ !

The hands. Oh yes, the hands hold those pots fuming embers !

Your heart skips a beat. As the drummers and the dancer get into a jig now and then. Un-rehearsed. But flawless, for all of it is in the flow of the moment. You wonder, how he heaves such a big drum on on his shoulder, creates music, does a jig in response to the dancers steps. Smiling all the way.

You wonder how those dancers hold those hot embers yet stay connected to each step of the drum beat. So graceful. And so complete. Smiling all the way.

You get goose bumps. Dancer after dancer. Some are artistic. Others mesmerise. Yet others hold the eye. All in seamless flow.

You notice that the pictures that you attempt to click are getting blurred. The angles are missing. There is a lot of shake. You wonder whats wrong with the camera. And realise that the cameras just fine. Its just you moving to the beats from those big drums.

To you, it appears that the real dance is the one that’s on in each persons heart. As people smile. Clap. Cry. Go moist in the eye. Laugh. Cheer. Click. Record. And of course, dance.

Right there. As the drummers whip up the music. And the dancers catch it from thin air. And throw it right back at the drummer.

Perhaps everyone is connected to a different time. Perhaps a different place. Perhaps a longing to recreate that time and place, now. In a different distant city. Perhaps its a nested joy in being one with similar minds and very similar longing.

You realise that you are in a trance. Soaking in the unfamiliar drum beat, the dance and the fragrance. And something more.

There are you are. Aware. Unsure. At peace. Strangely happy. As those rural drums get the city dwellers dance in joyous abandon !

Later on, you lie in bed, thinking of the evening. The drums, the dance and the beautiful women and handsome men. You realise, that you can describe all of that.

And you are aware, of something else that was there about the air. An undescribable part. You know that its there. Yet, it eludes description. You try thinking about it.

You are tired. And you choose to leave it at that. Half asleep, you mumble to yourself, ” perhaps it is Durga. Perhaps its just the dance”.

You realise that sleep envelopes you. You know you will sleep like a log today. After a very long time.

And as you slip into sleep…you mumble…”Perhaps, perhaps… its just the drums.”

(Written after attending the Powai Durgotsav ’09. Danuchi Dance. Friday. 25th Sept ’09. All snaps from the event)

Powai Durgotsav ’09 !

Durga Puja has been a festival of intrigue and great happiness. The pomp, the revelry. The gathering. And ofcourse, art and culture. All are on display here ! Check out last year !

At Powai there is this wonderful recreation of the ‘Sun Temple’ at Konark ! Here are some pictures ! All structures here are made out of Plaster, thermocol and wood. And to be dismantled in a weeks time !

Yesterday, there was ‘Anondamela‘. Where people sold stuff that made at home. ( stuff as in ‘food’)!

For a southerner like me, to see chicken Kababs and Fish fry sold in the same venue where there is a ‘puja‘ on, to put it mildly, is strange. But then, when they are sold and they look delicious, they are to be had ! You bet they were delicious.

By the time we reached, there was gathering on stage. And was this mention by a gent ( i don’t know who he was ) about the Times of India carrying a bigger photograph of the Powai puja, than the one at Lokhandwala.

I wonder why that should matter. About being better than Lokhandwala ! Or about… TOI….But quite a lot of people were happy. And they all clapped. Sure there must be reason.

They have an interesting array of programs on the menu over the next few days ! Do catch a glimpse !

While the pictures speak for themselves on what you probably will find there, i can tell you, the festive air and the spirit of the Pujo are to be experienced to be believed !