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The annual gainless pain …

A typical Bong (Bengali) will always look forward to buy new clothes or other associated things just before the start of the Durga Puja. That’s a tradition that is there for centuries and some of these traditions are good to keep – I don’t have any problem with that. But when this annual thing becomes a big blister on the poor backside of myself, that’s when I feel the pain. Shopping is an activity that is generally loved by all women and absolutely loathed by majority of the men (at least that’s what I have observed over the years). Again, I have no problem with that fact of life. But being induced into “forced shopping” mode is something that can bring in sweat even in the coldest of the winters.

It all starts with the sentimental bombarding of “you need to go as this is a tradition where the entire family buys stuff for the rest of the family”. At times, I give a damn about traditions – and this is definitely the most appropriate timing to exercise that. When that foils, then comes a rapid fire intense round of negotiations with kind of risk-reward scheme of terms and conditions.

“Ok, lets do one thing – we will visit New Market or Gariahat for 2 hours and after that we can still have that mutton biryani, even though your doctor has advised against it”. Never before I have witnessed such Mother Teresa equivalent kindness – this is that historic moment of individual’s life when the Home Minister can overrule the doctor’s years of acquired knowledge and experience. That’s the only time when that elusive “mutton biryani” suddenly becomes devoid of all cholesterol, LDL’s – even though the same biryani is served for the rest 364 days a year. But that’s when lesson’s learnt are applied and I think of the last year when I was butchered like an innocent lamb who just fell for that extra bit of ‘lush green grass’ coming free. So, I stand up tall like Netaji Subhas Bose and counter that satan-like greed for biryani – “You just give some space and I will get freedom for myself”. Normally that statement is followed by a nasal humming of “amake amar moton thaakte dao, aami nijeke nijer moton ghuchiye niyechi”.

But as always, it’s the home minister who passes the law and as a common man, inspite of how much rebellious you can be, its the time of execution. The only hope in all of this is the agreement on three contractual clauses of:
– the ordeal will be not more than 1 hour maximum and limited to one shop only. So the participation will be in the final selection round and not during the initial never-ending rounds of shortlisting things
– playing mobile games are allowed even during the exercise – not because I don’t want to participate, but I claim that I am good at multi-tasking
– this clause is more of a request to be complied on a “best effort basis” – very feebly the petition is raised that if this happens in an non-air-conditioned environment, this poor soul will feel very near to Satan. That always is met with a steely ice-frozen look (without words) – and that’s when you can not only hear the sound of silence, but also realise the power of silence !

Now I enter the shop with a mood that can scare the friendliest of any living being. Because just being dragged out of a half-sitting-half-sleeping stupor while watching a nonsense movie like Housefull-3 is not always energising. Nevertheless the ordeal starts. This is normally accompanied by unique characteristics like:

– running around like a headless chicken with the only rule of “follow thy master”
– pausing to check Facebook or Whatsapp amounts to threatening of “the time spent on these useless activities will be deducted from the 1 hour negotiated time”. Nawaz Sharif will also be looked upon as a toddler, given the intensity of these threats
– hands should be occupied by holding dresses. You will never realise that even after “short listing”, there will be still so many dresses to be tried out
– looking at oddly shaped women in front of trial rooms. 80+ kg women darts out of the trials rooms wearing skin tight dresses only to get a nod from an impatient husband waiting outside the room, who just happened to hide a big yawn before giving a million dollar smile and saying “looking too good” … and then the transition from that smile to a big frown comes in a lightning speed, that will make even Usain Bolt feel proud !
– once the trials are over, then comes a period of intense subjective and objective analysis on which 3 dresses out of 12 are the best. If you try play smart and want to end the ordeal by quickly selecting any 3, then you will be virtually guillotined by the AK47-like spraying of bullets of defending the selected 3
– finally standing alone in the queue with 3 ladies dresses. Why alone ? Well usage of idle time has been recommended by all. The waiting time in the queue can be executed by any dumbass like me while a last minute tour of the remaining store can be utilised.

After all this, when you come home, sip a cuppa on the sofa with a game of football on, and then thank God by saying “thanks for giving me strength this time”, you hear from another room that I need to go again tomorrow as we have forgotten shopping for a loved one !! Why do we have so many loved ones ? Why, why ?

Come on !! Not again !!! “Bidroho aaj, bidroho charidike, bidroho aaj” ….. that’s the only time when the socialistic concept of rebellion comes to life for me

Happy last minute Puja shopping everyone !

 

The ordeal that comes on an yearly basis …

I had been outside home for last 3 years to spare me the shopping experience that is associated before the start of the Durga Puja. Having to stay 100 miles away from shopping malls for so many years, I was expecting that this time, there will be no sparing of the so-called wonderful experience that is named Puja Shopping. Frantic negotiations started few weeks ago – the ask was for 3-4 complete days and my initial position was no such visit at all. Finally, it was mutually agreed (didn’t have the documented proof though) that at least an afternoon is the ordeal that I need to go through.

So here was I telling bye bye to the coveted post-lunch siesta on 2nd October as I started the car in the afternoon. The incentive that I managed to coax out of the last minute adjustments was dinner at home from Oudh 1590 with the classic mutton biryani. That was not approved – but was under consideration if I participated in good spirits during this expedition. The greed was substantial from my side and hence I decided to try my best in the most difficult probation period in my life.

Entered the shopping mall at City Center with the biggest yawn – which unfortunately got noticed. Smelt immediate danger, the angry glances just increased the risk level by an exponential curve. The objective of the trip was also decided very clear in black and white terms. Did not allow any speck of grey – thanks to my professional experience – though it resulted me a loss of great amount of fluids through profuse sweating. Objective was buying of 2-3 items for me and that was presented with the clause “see, everything it is for you, nothing for me”. I feebly tried the tactic “I don’t need anything, so let’s forget this trip” – but that just went down the drain. So, after that big yawn, went into the Men’s section and tried to focus upon the job in hand. Within 5 minutes, I finalised a shirt. But that was perceived as a tactic of closing down the ordeal fast to my advantage. So, in spite of finalising the one in few minutes, had to look at 20+ shirts with running commentary from the salesman why that cotton quality was so great, why this one is such a value added buy, etc. Irritation finally overcame me and I had to cut short the salesmen saying “thanks for the advice, if you can instead get me additional 30% discount, I will be more happy”.

Finally went to the jeans section. I thought that just holding the jeans in front of me and taking a judgement call of good fitment will be good enough. Instantly turned down quite vehemently. Trial is a must and the trials should be in the ratio of 1:3; which basically means that if the target is 1, you need to trial at least 3 pieces. So, had to finalise on 3 and went to the trial room. Never realised that there can be such a big queue in front of the trial room – making innocent face did not help as no one could identify the pains within me to allow me to break the queue. Agreed on the lucky piece and now was the turn to pay.

Suddenly another twist –  if the total sales is more than x, then you will get Rs 500 discount voucher which can be encashed only when you do next shopping of Rs 2500+. Basically, the trick was that for Rs 4500/- money spent, you just get a Rs 500 discount. But the word “discount” was too tempting for some – so had to scamper around to buy something that added up the total which will enable to cross the threshold. Another 20 minutes to buy that “add on” and another 20 minutes extra in front of the payment queue. What an irony – here you spend your own hard earned money and yet you need to wait for 20 minutes without even thinking of losing your patience and temper. After all this was Puja Shopping.

I thought after the payment was done, this is all over. What a naïve innocent person I am ! Wearing not anything ethnic is supposedly a dastardly act that Ma Durga may not be able to tolerate. So, again had to change shop and went to FabIndia shop. The name has a “Fab” built in – Fab must be standing for Fabulous. No doubt – all items are Fabulously pricey indeed !! By that time, I was dragging my feet like a child. Colours, design were all meaningless to me by then. So I took refuge on a small tool, which was meant for the Security Guard. He probably also felt the pain as I was sitting there with my face down, looking at the design of the floor. But then my sixth sense felt that there is a fiery thing hitting my left cheek – I turned my head and saw someone staring at me with piercing eyes. Realised that I still have reflexes alive as I sprang up into attention position and went running again to the trial room. The ratio still was 1:3.

Finally, payment was made and then even the most timid person like me said with conviction “enough is enough!”. That moment I did realise that revolts and revolutions can happen en-masse; so there is still hope to all Marxists that one day “biplob” will run across the streets of Kolkata. And without even waiting for a reaction, I started walking towards the car. Desperation can drive people to daring acts and that I did achieve. Better senses prevailed as someone realised that slavery might be good, but slavery leading to revolution is dangerous.

That’s how I enjoyed the ordeal with a wish that next year, hope something comes up with a real strong excuse to be excused from this exercise once again. And the world still has some people who keeps their word – I did enjoy the great Oudh biryani in the night; even after India lost to South Africa in the first T20 match !

The immortal creation that appeals to generation after generation ….

With just a few weeks to one of the biggest celebrations triggering off across the Bengali community in the world, the first thing that comes to my mind is the evergreen creation of Mahisashur Mardini played at 4 am on the Mahalaya day. This creation still appeals to all generations, still is as popular as ever and still is one of the best ‘classics’ created by Bengal – scripted by Bani Kumar, music directed by Pankaj Mallick and rendered immortal through the unique recitation by Birendra Krishna Bhadra.

To me, this atmosphere at 4 am, every Mahalaya actually paves in the festive spirit of the Durga Puja and it symbolises a charm that even energises the most lethargic people as well.

You wake up at 4 am, switch off the alarm, grope your way in sleepy eyes to put on the radio, start listening to the fantastic recitation of Biren Bhadra and the songs of legends, sometimes go to a peaceful slumber, then suddenly wake up to another song, see the morning rays enlighten the blue sky, hear the first chirps of the birds, again go automatically for another short nap, waking up to the final crescendo of “Ya Devi Sarbabhuteshshu, Saktirupena Sanksthita, Namasteshwai Namasteshwai Namasteshwai Namo Namahah”, then take the morning tea and realise that the celebrations has just been kicked-off.

Durga Puja cannot be the same without our “Mahalaya” and the Mahalaya cannot be the same without Biren Bhadra and his immortal creation ! By listening to the same in next 10-14 days, let’s pay a tribute to the creator of this unique creation.

The great homecoming … a candid interview

Being a resident outside Bengal, it has been always a great occasion to come every year during the Puja’s with my mother and other brothers and sisters. Actually, with so many relatives and close friends and families in Bengal, I look forward to this visit every year. You know when the excitement starts for me ? Not during the pandal making nor during the puja shopping (as outside Bengal, I do not see that actually happening) – the actual build-up inside me starts when the Mahalaya comes up. I know many of you are so fond of getting up at 4.00 am, putting on the radio to hear Biren Bhadra starting to stay “Namastashyay, Namastashyay, Namah Namah hah …..”, multiplexing between sleep and the songs – what a wonderful feeling – isn’t it ? In older days, I did not hear that but once this came up and are broadcasted throughout the world (via internet, FM radio, etc), I have actually fallen love with that …. Now, please don’t make that public – as my sisters will pull my leg – you know why ? In our world, we are not supposed to be so much emotional with earthly things – but who cares ! I do love all  good things – irrespective whether my society classifies them as “earthly” or “non-earthly” ….

The time to come home is also excellent – the harvesting of rice and food is over, the skies clear up after all the great rain, the grounds flutter with “Kaash” flowers and I can literally “smell” the great festivity :-) Actually, when I come from the North towards Bengal, I feel that the entire earth is dressed up in white (kaash flowers), great blue skies on the top and the entire Bengal actually welcoming be to come to my home and meet my relatives … what a great feeling ! Even the eagles seem to be more gracious during their flights over the land – ha ha ha .. just kidding – they are always gracious, isn’t it ? But nowadays, I am getting a little concerned with the change of weather patterns – you can actually feel that every year. This year there was less rain in Bengal, quite hot and humid compared to last years – am I right ? Well, what are you guys doing then ? Earlier we used to joke that anything that goes wrong, blame it on global warming. But now I think we are actually feeling the change – so I urge you all to be conscious and do something. If you need any help from me, just call me out – I will be the first volunteer. But you need to start acting first – isn’t it ?

Offfffffffff .. sometimes I get carried away giving so many lectures :-) Do forgive me for that. So just after the Mahalaya’s, we all get excited to come home – believe me, my Mother also becomes so excited even after so many years. And don’t ask about my sister’s – they start looking for what’s the latest trends in Bengal and how they can plan to enjoy that while we are in Bengal. Again, in our society, we are not supposed to express our feelings – so, you will not see any expressions whenever we come home every year. Even if you send sting operations, you will not see that in our faces – we are so much trained up … ha ha ha ha

Finally we arrive at Bengal and what a welcome we see from every friend, every relative of ours … this is really amazing – all of them decks up in their best clothes, the entire localities gets lit up with lighting and the pandals – how to describe ? Sometimes, even I get fooled to think that this must be an actual Rajasthan Fort or the great Konark temple :-) Fantastic work done by the people – only at occasions I feel that the real architects, the real workers – do they actually get justified compensation for their great thinking, hard labour and work ? I have heard complaints from some of them – would really request the organisers to look after them. After all, they are very often exploited and when the entire state celebrates on the basis of those people’s hard work, I sometimes feel sad. But I am sure my friends and relatives will definitely look after them – I am really optimistic on them.

The next thing that strikes me is what you call as “the next generation”. Every year, I come to Bengal and I see a more confident, a more bold, more aggressive (in the right way), more technologically savvy, more educated Next Generation. This really makes me feel proud. Years ago, whenever I used to come, I thought that most of you seems to be unsure when it comes to face the entire country, forget the world. But, now I see a confident India ready to face the world – pursue the right things quite strongly and if need comes, quite firmly as well. However, I still don’t understand one thing from the “NextGen” – their language through the internet chats, SMS’es, etc …. ha ha ha … have to do lot of learnings, I must say :-) What I have noticed from some of the older generations is that they feel that the older era was much better than the current one and the future will be much worse. If you ask me a frank opinion – I do not agree at all … One thing that I have learnt very early is that there is one thing that is constant in life – that is Change ! So the earlier we accept that, the easier it will be to see the good things of the present. All generations had their own share of positives and negatives – hence, no one can say “mine was the best of the best”. Tastes, cultures, behaviour, confidence, values – all will change with generations after generations. But I am very optimistic that if you draw up the balance sheet of overall values, happiness and progress each time a new generation comes, you will see net progress happening. I am always for the younger generation at all times …. I know all of you say that I am always “evergreen” and always symbolise the “youth” – well, I take that as a compliment only – after all, who doesn’t like the attention from younger generation ? Ha ha ha ha ha

The love that I see for me and my family during my homecoming is simply amazing. It becomes difficult to visit all family members and friends – but I definitely try to meet them during these days. And when I do visit them, I see only love and emotions. Fantastic feeling for everybody. I see so many people praying for their well-being, for their relatives well-being – that speaks of humanity and fellow-feeling. I know there are some sporadic incidents of hatred happening now-a-days, but as we always say good will prevail over the bad, I am sure we will progress as a community, as a country, as humans. My Mother gets so excited once she comes here that she actually puts on different dresses, even different looks while she visits all the pandals. This year, I have even seen her dressed up in a saree which resembles the colours of Kolkata Knight Riders …. ha ha ha … But whenever I seen my Mother looking at the traditional pratima’s like at Maddox Square, Baghbazar and so on, she actually becomes nostalgic for a moment :-)

Finally, as all good things comes to an end, the time comes for us to return back. I know we don’t show much emotions – but believe me, inside all of us, we feel so sad to leave all the relatives and friends. However, the good thing is that we need to just wait for another 365 days … sometimes I feel that it is so good to have this every year and not like the world cups, which happens once in 4 years :-) :-) Whenever we go back, I always think of the great learnings that I have gathered from the “NextGen”, appreciate the artistry in display throughout Bengal, think of the taste of the great Bhog, listen to the great music and read the literature burst happening this time of the year and overall – the great love of the people of Bengal. No doubt, my Mother, brother and sisters feel sad – but as life needs to go on, we need to take that in our stride and move on – isn’t it ? Only thing that we keep behind is happiness for all with the wish that next year when we will come again, we will see more happiness, prosperity and growth for all people, across all levels of the society.

 

Thank you all for your love and affection. Thank you for giving the opportunity to talk to you from my heart … Take care, keep smiling, work hard and be a great person. Bye

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By Karthik Thakur as told to Ayan Majumdar

Interview date : Aug month, every year

Freedom now !

The journey from 1947 to 2011 has been long and steady, fulfilling promises and aspirations and yet troubled at parts. And I am sure that this road will go on and on for many more years to come – because, we and our country have fundamentally that patience, respect of other’s views to survive the onslaught of time.  But still as a free Indian, I want Freedom NOW from some important aspects of my simple life.

First is the embarrassment of subjugation & defeat of our beloved cricket team. We can lose matches – that’s not the point. But we cannot be literally toyed by our opponents in all departments of the game, match after match – and that too when we were supposed to be the World Number 1 in the same version of the game ! Come on, it becomes difficult for me to speak to my English or Australian friends – always have to change the discussion topic to UK riots or Australian sledging to save my back. I want freedom from cricket embarrassment !

The next one is also related to sports – for a very localised rivalry that many of my friends might not be knowing as well. We cannot have a scenario when East Bengal loses to Mohan Bagan – naahhhhhhh, not acceptable. The players, the coaches, the officials must understand that after each match, I have to go home, have to go to office, have to meet my friends – hence, they will understand the amount of tension, the amount of mental harassment I have to go through after each match. Good that we are still 20+ better in our head-to-head records, but who knows what lies in the future. If we cannot win, we should always settle in a draw – at least I can then say “okay, this time we have let you guys pass through” ……

Many people like roller coaster rides – I DO NOT ! If you ask me the reason, then I should say honestly that I don’t know – but the end of the day, I do not like such rides. But recently, I am forced to have two such rides on a daily basis … this is too much ! If you are wondering that I am on a great big holiday, well, you are mistaken. I am referring to the roller-coaster ride I am forced to have while going to office and coming back. Haven’t understood yet ? I am referring to a road popularly called “Bypass” – whose condition is in an ideal condition for a true bypass operation. That’s why I hate to go to office – don’t know what reason I will give if the road condition is improved ….

Do we all eat to live or live to eat ? Well, I am a strong believer of the latter and hence, like any true Bengali, I look for any occasion, small or big, to feast on to something delicious. But for that, I want freedom from all the pathological centers situated all over the city who claim to carry out cholesterol, sugar tests – but actually acts like a contract-killer. They systematically drive a person insane by showing high levels of certain invisible things residing inside the human body but has the potential to do harm … remember the word “potential” – no one can guarantee that, but everyone uses that word “potential”

I love to lead a straight and simple life and hence go by straight and honest predictions. That is why, I want freedom from the meteorological department who specialises in predicting weather. They do have that subject matter expertise on weather prediction to such an extent that their wives carry out the opposite behaviour based on their prediction. Generally, I want freedom from that entire community.

Since Bengal and Bengali’s have a strong cultural background and comes from the land of Rabindranath, Nazrul, Atulprasad, Rajanikanta, etc, everybody feels that every Bengali can sing very well. I want freedom from people making that assumption – as this will help me survive some toughest moments in my life – much severe than my ragging during the engineering days.

Finally, I want freedom from taking any pledges on Independence Day knowing very well that I will forget that the very next day. I am an honest man and hence cannot take a pledge which will have a life span of less than 24 hours !

So, while I proudly sing (silently, just because my singing can bring the best chorus from the dogs in my locality) our national anthem with you all, I am hoping that I will be soon free from the above aspects of my life !

JAI HIND !

The festival Bengal waits for … Durga Puja

The preparation for the Durga Puja has already started in Kolkata (even though almost 100 days are still left) with an occasion that all Bengali’s wait for an entire year to come. Apart from the religious significance, which still plays a major role in terms of its popularity, lies the broader context beyond normal religion. Religious stories associated with Durga Puja, the traditional beliefs and the trust towards this Goddess makes this festival a tremendous one. I personally believe that this festival will be definitely one of the most popular festival in India, if not in the world. To me, this actually signifies the resemblance towards a worship of not a Goddess but to remind mankind of the significance of a nation. It is a festival which finally champions the very cause of a nation, of a republic in action.


The various Goddesses apart from Durga represents the fundamental pillars that needs to be developed to build up a strong and independent nation. Goddess Lakshmi depicts the country’s Economy, Goddess Saraswati depicts Education and Literacy, God Kartik depicts the Youth and the Army, God Ganesh depicts the Wealth and Commerce. Leading the entire process is Goddess Durga – who depicts the ultimate concept of a Nation. The various “bahaan’s” of the different Gods and Goddesses actually complement each other – for example the peacock complements or balances the population of the rats, and so on. Hence, the “bahaan’s” actually depict the importance of an Ecological balance. So, in one point of view, Durga Puja is worshipping the very cause and fundamentals of building up a nation. This is an attempt to bring together the people within a nation and trying them to guide towards development and supremacy of the same nation.

The direct and indirect impact of this festival is huge. The first thing that strikes me is the impact of the economy. It is the time when there is a complete economic cycle – starting with the spending of excess money in terms of buying clothes and other accessories and this ending to the earnings of people who make the Gods and Goddesses in terms of idols. There are many families who actually thrive on this Puja and earn their living once in the entire year.

Then there is the impact of social togetherness. People will stop cooking food for these four days and will go out either to have the “bhog” or dine outside. This enables neighbours to catch up with each other – which normally lacks because of modern lifestyle. The younger generations tend to come close to each other and if there is a Valentine Day in the western culture, I believe the occasion of Durga Puja can definitely be termed as the second Bengali Valentine Day – to me the first Valentine Day maybe belongs to the Saraswati Puja.

The timing of the Puja is also normally at a time, when you do not have sweltering heat nor the actual winter in Kolkata. This is the best time of the year – with blue skies and occasional clouds, temperature much in the pleasant side than the normal weather experienced for the rest of the year.

Then comes the impact on literature and culture. This is the time when all the budding writers and also the established ones come out with the work of the years. Puja’s are always associated with fights within individual families on who will get the first shot at reading the Puja magazines. The cultural programmes that gets triggered in the evenings actually comes out with the budding artists of tomorrow. This is how a Kumar Sanu got recognized in the Indian musical arena.

For others like me, this occasion calls for two things – fun and relaxation from a hectic office life. So effectively, each and every Bengali pray for the entire year for these four days of celebration, worship and festivity.

Wish you a very happy Puja’s in advance to you all !

PS > I would also suggest readers to go through a fantastic article on Puja’s by Vir Sanghvi
http://www.studentorg.umd.edu/desi/annual_nl_2004/articles/pujo.htm

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