Those who know the Bengali culture well, know that Durga puja is one of the most important festivals in the Bengali community.
Prior to her marriage, my mother had started Durga puja in her paternal home. All my growing up years I used to be there celebrating the festival. Unlike in my hometown where the idols are brought from the sculptor’s places to the puja pandals, the idol in my maternal place is sculpted within the sanctum beside the house. I was always curious to see how the clay finally took human shapes and the Gods were painted and dressed in bright clothes, but I never got around to see that because I never had a long enough holiday to experience it – the idol-making starts way early, probably about three-four weeks before the actual festival.
This year too, preparations at my maternal household was in full swing for the puja. Sadly, everything was cut short by my grandfather’s unfortunate death. So, even though this time I am more than 1500 kms away from West Bengal, the heart of Durga puja, I am not really sad that I didn’t get to celebrate the festival the way we celebrate it every year.
That said, I did go out to see one Durga puja pandal last night. I joined a colleague (whom I had met during the interview) and two of his friends. Part of the forward journey was a little awkward because I wasn’t acquainted with the group, but then the group was very welcoming, so things started warming up soon enough.
The fun part about staying away from your native place is that people from your community who are staying with you in that foreign land become friends easily. Whenever I saw people in my circle going to different countries/cities and then on the very next day going out with other people in the new place, I wondered how they felt comfortable in going out with people they knew for only 24 hours. But having been there, having seen it, now I know how fast friendships develop when you’re from the same community and are in a strange place. It is pure bliss to be able to speak your mind in your own language in a place where every other person speaks a different one.
The Durga idol at the Whitefield Bengali Association Puja Pandal
The pandal and the idols weren’t as extravagant as it would be in Bengal, but we wouldn’t complain. There very fact that we were getting to celebrate the festival in a foreign land was enough. Beside the pandal, there was a stage where local bands performed to popular Bengali songs and all four of us sang with them at the top of our voices. We had egg-rolls and played pass-the-ball with a balloon! It is amazing how simple things that we wouldn’t even bother doing when we were back home could make us feel so good.
The best part of the journey for me was the walk back home. The road was mostly desolate and a little dark in places. But we four souls kept singing old and new Bengali songs all along the way. When someone faltered with the lyrics, the other helped. By the end of the journey, I became friends with the whole group. Getting along was never easier!