From History to Histrionics.... More Reunion than Puja....
With the Kolkata skies getting murkier by every passing minute, I'll have to say we are in for a pretty wet Pujas this time around. I guess, this has been eternally my worst nightmare wherein I'd have to spend the entire Pujas indoors due to rains or some natural calamity or even for some personal misfortune. I'm sure this syndrome has haunted everybody before every Puja ever since the time we became conscious about the variety of merriment Puja brings to one and all. Thankfully, consciousness about such inscrutable fun arrived early in my life.... Right from the mid-nineties, we've seen almost every Puja marred by rains... sometimes intermittent, sometimes torrential but mostly uncertain... enough to instill doubt and skepticism in the minds of the general Puja enthusiast. Hence each year, fortnight before the Pujas the only sort of news I used to be tuned into was the friggin' weather forecast. Those were days when the Alipore Met Department's forecast during the Puja days on the mind-numbing Doordarshan 19.30 hrs News was probably the most awaited source of information for me. More often than not the information imparted by Alipore's band of Goldars and Debnaths was more erroneous and farcical than Pakistan Cricket Board's assessment of the Match Fixing scandal. And adding to our list of woes was the hapless drainage facilities of Kolkata which contributed even more adversely to the already wretched condition of roads, parks.... I have witnessed some Sarbojanins partially submerged for most part of the four days. The situation hasn't improved much over the years.
Ballygunge Durgabari Idol (2010)
The weather in one of those years was so inclement and demoralising that our group of high school mercenaries decided to move our assemblage to what we had till that point of time had only heard of, but not experienced. Yes, Ballygunge Durgabari was, and still is an experience. Some of us crib even today why Ballygunge Durgabari did not happen to us much earlier. There wasn't a plausible reason.... the only inference that I could draw was that it was located right opposite to our school and at least during Puja vacation none of us desired to venture anywhere close to school, hence Durgabari did not feature in our Puja itinerary. But as luck would have it, we ended up at Durgabari in the course of one of those relentless showers on an Ashtami evening in the middle of Shondhya-Arati more to find a refuge rather than a Puja bustle.... the scenes which followed will remain with me forever. I was truly mesmerised by the Ashtami puja and the ensuing Arati. Primarily, as I had never seen Arati from such close quarters and secondly, the collective chants of the people gathered there were somewhat similar to a Family Puja which I had never experienced before.
A Quaint Setting of a Family Puja,
Ballygunge Durgabari (2010)
For me, it gave a whole new dimension to Durga Pujas. The idol (image above) has always been traditional, the Pandal is just as minimalist as you can get, virtually no outdoor lighting... all these in a setting which has managed to connive best of both worlds.... a Barowari amidst an ambiance of a Family Puja. Since it is organised indoors, it retains the various Puja nuances throughout the length of the four days.... the rustic smell of the dhunuchi, the reverberation of the sound of dhaak, the aura of the ek-chala idol, the community bhog and quite obviously, the Sari clad stunners..... almost everything converts the environment into a surreal one. And thus the addas at Durgabari have become close to being legendary. To my own advantage, Durgabari is also considered an annual alumni congregation for South Pointers.... something that has not dwindled with passage of time which results in a sort of ownership with this Puja for us Pointers. Durgabari has been a silent onlooker to so many adolescent/maturing love stories, lasting friendships, lifelong alliances that one can safely say that it has left an indellible mark in many a lives. I, for one, would never give Durgabari a miss any year.
Maddox Square Pandal, quintessentially in the form of a Nat Mandir (2007)
If Durgabari sketches a significant epoch of my liaison with Pujas then Ballygunge Durga Puja Samity would definitely be a point of reference in various facets of my life, in entirety. A first read would raise many an eyebrow as to what or where this Puja exists.... Ballygunge Durga Puja Samity is the grand brouhaha that is observed annually at Maddox Square. For the past 15 years or so it has been, and will be for quite some time the epicenter of Kolkata Pujas. What started out in 1935 as a queer residential Puja, has now revolutionised the way Barowaris are being perceived as an event.
Well sometimes the output becomes hopelessly drab,
but the essence beholds... Maddox Square Pandal (2009)
Located strategically in the heart of South Kolkata, this quiet recreational square turns into a cauldron of activity through the duration of the festival. Every year, the footfall has multiplied disproportionately and yet the organisers have always had a method to this madness. I've been following this Puja for the past 16 years and despite the fact that the Puja has undergone manifold changes, the underlying essence has remained the same. Initially, Maddox Square became our Puja rendezvous when we were at the doorstep of leaving school. I still remember the faces of Abhra, Subho, Abhijit, Srijit, Avik, Amitava, Swarna and the rest of the Pointers' Batch of '94/'96 who formed the deadly posse which thronged Maddox Square on Ashtami and Nabami evenings primarily to check out the fairer sex. In those days, the wandering masses were limited till late evenings post which the elders of the locality with their families used to camp at the Mandap atrium to experience this puja as if it was happening in their own respective backyards.
The Super Embellished
Maddox Square Idol (2011)
The congregation of traditionally attired families added a very different spectrum to the image of this Puja which I think has kind of waned with the major influx of non-native crowd these days. Anyways, during my post graduation days, I happened to get introduced to a person named Arijit Basu who was a living evidence of a true Maddox Square aficionado by virtue of staying adjacent to it. It was he, who got me familiarised with the minute nuances of this Puja.... from the idol... to the Mandap... to the preparations... everything which probably I wouldn't have known otherwise. The Mandap has always been in the form of a Nat Mandir (Temple Courtyard), as seen in the snap above from 2007, which reciprocates the fundamental theme potrayed by the organisers ie. Durga Puja. The classic ek-chala Idol was earlier created by President's Medal winner, Late Srish Pal... currently carved by Nikhil Pal of Kalighat.
The timeless-ness of this Idol (snap below from 2010) charms me more than anything else.... year on year.... though, sometimes people do tend to overlook amidst other more frivolous attractions available here, but this is what actually makes this Puja roll on.... The "Daaker Saaj", hand-crafted by Krishnanagar artistes was earlier Silver in hue which was altered to Golden in its golden jubilee year in 1985.
Maddox Square Idol (2010)
This was also the year when this Puja won the inaugural Asian Paints Sharod Samman and even though nowadays the focus is on creativity and ingenuity, Maddox Square has always been a pioneer of "Shuddha Suchi Sustha Ruchi" (Artistic Excellence & Purity in Taste) in the words of eminent Bengali poet Subhash Mukhopadhyay. Apart from the Puja experience, Maddox Square has got me acquainted with the latest fashion crazes and evolution of the Bengali youth in general. The entire square during the four days gets tranformed into a huge ramp where girls and guys alike would strut in their new apparels adhering to the most up-to-date styles and trends. Well, I was a part of the large onlooking brigade who could just oggle at these contemporary fashionistas. Obviously like most other people, who've seen Maddox Square Puja from very close quarters, I too believe that Pujas have changed dynamically with a lot more money coming in resulting in a dour sense of professionalism which has encroached within the Puja organisers making it more of a corporate event than anything else. Four days of festivity has been stretched to well beyond a week of pandemonium. Our refuge at Maddox Square has undergone a makeover as well. Most of my friends have ventured out of Kolkata and I probably am the only one keeping vigil and visiting Maddox Square to find a glimpse of any of the "old hags". Believe you me, every year I find some familiar face amidst the hustle of the Maddox crowd. The Square is crammed with teen-agers and youngsters who've aptly filled the void left by us. In them I see images of our group close to a decade ago, in them I see all of you who miss Maddox Square. One thing which will certainly remain unchanged is the fact that Arijit Basu and Maddox Square will be my friends forever.
I guess that's what Durga Puja means to me. Its that time of the year where I try relive my past, our golden days of glory.... where there were different definitions for a lot of things..... deadlines did not refer to reports, it indicated the time by which I must be back at home; numbers did not signify targets, it denoted the number of pretty damsels noticed. Aah, those were the days.....