I remember how, when I was young, my worst fear was being lost in a large crowd (I don’t see why though. I was an unnaturally large child! Strange is the imagination of a 5 year old, I’ll have to admit) and going unnoticed, altogether. I was convinced, however, that I’d grow out of it once I got a little bigger. But some things are harder to shirk off than you’d think. Bigger though I grew (and trust me I did), the absolutely paralysing fear of crowds refused to abandon me, clinging to me and sucking on me- getting stronger with each passing year.
Thus I grew up in the metropolis of Kolkata, tugged and pushed, fear eating at me and my conscious mind battling it. But over the years I seemed to have developed a combat strategy- I began noticing different kinds of people, their little quirks, sometimes a little more than they mean to let on. And in my head I put them in these compartments, shabby though they were. This became my little sport (yes, you are now officially invited to think I am judgemental and opinionated).
In my years in Kolkata, the one time I fretted the most was the much celebrated “Durga Pujo”. Now I know all the Pujo-fundamentalists (and trust me, that is a thing) are going to lynch me, but I was never an enthusiast for those four days of waddling through insane swarms of human population to experience what has over the years come to be called “fun”. Neither was I a fan of the 20 preceding days of waddling through the human populace to buy new clothes for those four sweaty, grimy days of passionate “pandal-hopping”. Every time I’d tell someone I was going to spend the break tucked in bed, book in one hand and pizza in another, they gawked at me like I were the mad woman in the attic. And perhaps I was. Not that I’m complaining.
But then I moved to Delhi. And I was introduced to Homesickness. You see, Homesickness trumps Phobia in every battle ever fought between the two. So this Pujo I found myself doing what I hadn’t done in all my time in the land of Pujo- making my way to the much-talked-about pandals of C.R. Park. As I took this ambitious tour, I put on my coping best and before I knew it I was noticing people and their peculiarities. (What? It just comes naturally to me!)
So I bring to you, in the flavour of the judgemental observer, the kinds of people you find in a South Delhi Durga Puja Pandal:
1. The True Torch-Bearers
Also going by the Pujo fundamentalist name,they have either moved here from Bengal or have very Pujo-centric parents who have moved here from Bengal. They were the ones that had braved miles and miles of sweat and grime and had swum across oceans of human beings to be able to see “Harry Potter” themed and “matchstick” made tents that shelter the deity, when they were in Kolkata. They are up and about and everywhere. They are organising the four day extravaganza, they are volunteering to be there at all hours of the day, they are spotted screaming out instructions from the microphone (which is basically like talking to oneself.)
Because no one else really cares. But one must do what one can. And then some) and they are the ones dancing to the “dhak” (drums) when everyone else is tired and slumping in some corner of the pandal. They own these days, and they make the most of them. Even though they are far away from home, they manage to recreate a little bit of their past lives in these few days, and they are earnestly the ones that come out happiest.
2. The Food Enthusiasts
Ah! Found mostly near the “mishti” (sweet meats) shops and the “puchka” vendors by the pandals, this crowd really wouldn’t care if the whole place burnt down, as long as the next puchka had enough tamarind-water in it. Well, who doth blame them who live by food? These people are unapologetically just there for the food and nothing but the food, and are most often heard swearing by the exquisite Bengali cuisine. These are also the ones standing right in front of every queue ever made for the “bhog” and “prasad”.
They have a knack for sniffing those out. (What I never manage to understand is how they beat everyone to it, even though there are multiple lines, all formed at the same time. Beats me!)This is a mixed group of nostalgic Bengalis and those that hail from practically everywhere else. Eligibility, you ask? Nothing but the unselfish love and appreciation for a healthy appetite.
3. The Changers
If you hung around a Pujo pandal for long enough, and you had the eye for it (the second one, more importantly), you’d have noticed a trend in some people. Look closely and you’ll find the same faces and bodies, only adorned in four different sets of dresses in one day. Theirs is a race from the pandal to their place and back, every three hours. The routine (very simply) is this:
* Wear new clothes
* Go for the morning celebration
* Come back home n three hours (Never more than three hours. Never)
* Change into new clothes
* Repeat process in three hours.
Not willing to be caught dead repeating a dress in the four days of Pujo, this gang shops for the next Pujo right from the day after “Dashami” (Dashera). They are in the malls, thronging G.K. markets and haggling for the prettiest scarves at Sarojini- making the most important policy decisions of which sari to wear on the Ashtami morning- while you are probably still in your week old pyjamas. Well, the truth is, they wear the best dresses and the most fitting outfits, while most of the rest… well, haven’t changed from their pyjamas, really.
4. The Reluctant Participants
These are the black sheep of the family. Often found sulking in a quiet corner of the entire affair, this group is the one my heart reaches out to the most. Stuck amongst over-exuberant friends, family and parents, they the small square pegs in the round holes. Grimacing and frowning their way through the four days, these poor souls would trade anything for a break from the noise and excitement of the pandals. (“What is the fuss all about?” they grumble. Under their breath of course.)
Unable to relate to the day, the rituals and the sudden spurt of Bengali nostalgia, they get dread this time of the year and the influx of loud, interfering neighbours and unpleasant cousins that it brings with it. (And just when they thought they had gotten away from it all, not that they lived in Delhi!)
5. The Boycotters Association
The truth is that the number fours grow up to form this association. They join the rebels, and stay shut in their rooms, refusing to see daylight till the storm has passed and the relatives have been sent packing. “We have had enough. Thank you very much!” is the slogan. The only way they are visible from, or are around the locality Pujo, if they pry through their windows to make out a relieved figure stretched out in bed, counting blessings and resenting the revelry-stricken earthlings outside.
6. The New Recruitments
Starry eyed, the grandeur of the festivity reflecting in their beady eyes, they come- expectant, alive, soaking in the novelty of all that they see. There is cooing, but there is disappointed sighing as well. These are the section of people who come for their own little tryst with Pujo- having never seen it before. They come for their small flavour of the festival, and while some of them savour it and cherish it- becoming annual visitors thereafter- others go back crestfallen (“What’s the big deal about?”)
Well. You may be an absolutely different brand of Pujo-pandal-dweller and lucky for you, you weren’t cast into one of my boxes of judgement. (Slow clap). But the important part about Pujo is that, like all other festivals, it brings out the human in us. It cherishes that social (or not so much) being that reacts in various ways to the four days that mean something to all of us. So what, if it brings out the bizarre in us? We get to cut out our own little world, bite into a slice of our curious but affectionate surroundings and (for some of us) relish four days of observing the human bits in the others of our kind.
By: Sneha Roychoudhury