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.
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.
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.