You don’t realise it unless you wake up early enough. The sudden .. no, not a nip, but a pleasant coolness in the morning air. The change in the quality of the light. Perhaps that’s what woke you up in the first place? And strangely enough, you do start waking up early, about a week before it happens. To revel in .. well, to revel in something.
When it starts, you can’t quite admit it to yourself. Especially if you’re pushing 40 and all mature and respectable and too old to sing on the balcony. I feel like singing Robindro shongeet (Shumon Chattopadhyay, SHUT UP already about ‘Robindronather gaan’. It always has been and always will be Robindro shongeet) I know which one, too – Ey din aaji kone ghorey go khuley dilo dwaar. Not in the affected min-miney pursed-lips Dokkhinee style but the way Kishore Kumar sang it in 1982, full-throated, a chest full of song.
Because the sunlight is suddenly sharper and more mellow all at the same time, the morning air smells different, and is that .. yes that IS a stray banner of kaash phool in the corner of the park.
Kaash phool. I saw so much of it, growing up in Salt Lake in a time before the houses grew together like fungii. Somehow I didn’t associate it with Pujo then, because it appeared in the last months of the monsoon, before the rains cleared and the air smelt like crisp new cotton. Now we have to drive ten miles to see kaash phool. No, wait, there are waving expanses along the Rajarhat expressway, silver-tipped where the setting sun sparks off them. (That exhilarating sight is the only good thing about catching a 5 p.m. flight).
There was a sea of kaash phool around the 40-acre field in the Sainik School in P*. Lovely in the morning when the late sun slanted through the morning mist, the beauty heightened by the clean feeling at the end of a good run in fresh air. That is not really a Pujo memory, but all memories of cool air and crisp weather seem to be linked to Pujo because it signals the start of the travel season for Bangalis. I remember we were in Shimultola just after Pujo one year … “Aaji joto tara tobo aakaashey”, the first time I saw constellations spread out three layers deep.
And of course, the last of the kaash phool in the low sun of November.
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What IS it about Durga Pujo?
Digression – Puj-OH. ‘Puj-AH’ (or Puj-AHS’) is only used when we are all so propah and anglicized and taking a letter to our class-teacher asking for some extra leave because we have to rush to the bedside of an aged relative who may not be long for this world and tickets are just not available till the day after Doshomi .. And SHE knows and WE know that this is so much bumph, we’re all off to Rajasthan for Pujo’r chhuti, but we shall be civilized and dissimulate and ooh and aah and get it counter-signed by the Vice-Principal and if it's nice Mrs. D’ Souza, she will wait till January and then ask how our great-aunt is. With a smile hovering somewhere behind her misleading hatchet-face.
‘Puj-AH’ is also used when we have become terribly smart career people in suit and phitey deowa juto (as distinct from kaabli choppol) and must make small talk about how terribly primitive it is to have so many days off from work, when will we ever develop a work ethic, it’s so professional in our head office in Boston yadda yadda yadda. Can it, McDuff, try to swing a deal in Noo Yawk on 27th December before you give us all this first world shit!
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On-off, sing-song, loud over the radio at 4 in the morning, “Joshong dehi, dhanang dehi” and the theatrical intonation of Birendra Krishna Bhadro. Unique, inimitable, the voice of Pujo, Durga’s herald long after he died in his 80s. All the years past curled up in the corners of the room as I snuggle back into bed and listen to the Mohaloy programme through a pleasant haze. Mohaloy. Pujo. Durga Pujo. Pujo eshe gechhe!
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