Sunday, 17 October 2010

Durga Pujo at Minnesota

Had it not been for the exuberance of Debu’s wife Chandrani, our weekend of 16th-17th October, might have been as peaceful as any other weekend. But alas –that was not to be.

About a month ahead, Mrs. D started googling around for Durga Puja celebration in Minnesota and hit upon BAM and as they say rest was history. And, so let me take you through that history.

Debu and I were asked [or rather informed] about our plans for attending the Puja –it was over a weekend, the place about 30 mins drive from my house. We had lost the argument even before the discussion started. So we decided, let’s look forward to it.

We visited one Mr. Mallick to hand over our contribution for the puja. He had migrated to the US some two decades back and calls this place home. After having met the couple, even I was interested in attending the Pujo… only regret being that my wife would not be with me.

Here in Minnesota the Pujo is celebrated only over the weekend irrespective of the tithi… guess that’s the case almost everywhere else in the US… though this time around it actually was over the weekend… at least the ending. On Friday evening we were among the first 30 people to reach the Pujo'r Pandal [which actually was a school]. At that time the preparations and decorations were underway. It was overwhelming for me to see so many Bongo Shontan in kurta payjama and saari. Maa Durga with her kids was yet to occupy the stage.

Debu and I were not able to fool around for long and were assigned the task of serving food to the under teen Bongo Shontans with pizza. These little BS were a wonderful lot. Not only had they acquired the American accent but a few of them even managed to acquire the more than necessary attitude to go with. We had only two types of pizzas which was not too well taken by a young BS –“you don’t have pepperoni??” he asked as if accusing me of some shortcoming. Though I wanted to say –“Pizza Hut kya tere baap dada ki jagir hai?” but quickly dismissed the idea and simply said –“No we don’t”. Mr. Attitude had no other option and so he tried to screw up his face to show intense disgust as he thrust his plate forward and accepting the food of the lesser mortals. [Later when I was talking to a friend of mine, he told me that had he been there, even though Mr. A thrust his plate forward he would have said –“we still don’t have pepperoni”]. So much for the American dream. But at the same time there were a lot of sweet little kids who readily accepted whatever they were offered… for how long I wonder. Finally it was time for the ammas and abbas of the BS to queue up for the dinner. It was here that I realized that serving food is the best place you can be if you’d want to socialize. I had no choice and I kept my eyes checked, least should they wander to some unchartered territory. Moreover it was my first day. About an hour or so after that I dropped the serving game and joined the line.

Before this, we were assigned the task of pasting the directions from the entrance of the school. I did not find any worth in that since we BS were making enough noise to guide anyone nearby as to where the adda was taking place.

Day Two. Saturday.
We were in time for the last but one anjali. No volunteering today. Maa Durga had a bigger and richer audience. A lot of our office folks were able to make it. The food was simple –khichudi and torkari. After lunch there were a few short plays but I preferred the comfort of my car and hence spent the time continuing a novel and occasionally dozing off. Debu’s call woke me up to inform me not to miss the highlight of the Pujo –“Ballavpoorer Roopkatha”; a
hilarious play where a young entrepreneur/doctor tries to sell his parental villa [of almost 300 years old] and invest the money to open a cabin in Calcutta. He finds a buyer and tries his best to impress him with his aristocracy while trying to belittle the age of the villa. The buyer on the other hand was interested in the villa because of its old age. With the limited facilities, the play was very well enacted.

Dinner was mutton jhol with fried rice/pulao …and well it was ok, nothing remarkable.

Sunday, the last day and the most dramatic!
Those who had to do their anjali, puja were doing that. The crowd was quite thinner compared to Saturday but at the same time gorgeous. Chandrani was overheard in a conversation with one of her new friends about how beautiful the jewelry looked on the ladies who had donned them. Shanti jol was sprinkled over all who wanted a little bit more of shanti in their lives. One puja followed by another and then it was time for Chandrani’s much awaited shidur-khela… she had waited for 26 long years this and even got married to qualify. Debu was given strict instructions to not miss any photographic moments while she busied herself with the experience… My friend not only captured his wife but other’s wives in his [sigh] camera. Gradually someone turned the music volume up and people shed away their initial inhibitions and joined wholeheartedly to the tunes of “Munni badnaam hui...”, “Hare Ram Hare Krishna”… and the likes. Kakus and Kakimas, Dadas and Boudis joined one by one to the foot stamping music while someone in the background kept saying “Durga Maa ki jai” as one after the other the idols were moved away from the stage… They would not be immersed in the Mississippi but would be stored in the Hindoo Mondeer to be brought out again next year. Having spoken to a few old members of the association, I came to know that the cost of transporting the idols from India to Minneapolis was double that of making them.

And that was the end of our much awaited puja… did I enjoy it? It sure was better than being at home for the weekend and well this was my first puja in the US, so yes I liked it. The folks here were also quite amicable and pleasing. A few questions that were asked are –how long have we been here or where did we come from in Desh…

This Pujo was good, but not comparable to the ones we had back in India and for obvious reasons. I’m sure everybody present there would have done a comparison of how was the puja celebrated back home and how it was celebrated here in Minnesota or for that matter any place in US. There were limited plays, no movie shows, no yummy food stalls dishing out bangla pulao, mangsho khosha with luchi, muglai porotha, mach bhaja, fish chop, luchi aloo’r dom, mishit doi… No kid’s play stuff like wooden swords, bow, bubble blower… But then puja here and puja there is a big difference.

I’m not a very religious person but I like the gathering that the Puja attracted. Here also in its own way, there was a crowd and it was good to see [if not know] so many Bongo Sontans… till the next Pujo. But like I said, had it not been for Chandrani’s exuberance –I might have missed even this much!