6 October 2013

Durga Puja


Durga Puja is the best thing that happens in Calcutta. The City of Joy becomes realistically magical on those five days. After the monsoons, Durga Puja is like a steroid injection that boosts up the economy and along with it the lives of the ordinary and extraordinary people. Celebration of the autumn harvest and victory of Good over Evil. Everyone gets a breather from their monotonous lives, gets enveloped in harmony and experiences an overall feel good factor as their familiar city transforms itself into a 24 hour live-wired wonderland. The city stops sleeping for these five days and experiences the mother of all trances. Durga Puja is indeed the greatest festival in this world. Nothing is bigger than this. The innovative, creative and mesmerizing pandals with their various themes make Durga Puja the greatest Art-Festival in this planet. Calcutta, for five days, becomes an open Art-Gallery where everyone is welcome throughout the day and night. 

The magic of Durga Puja actually starts a fortnight before Mahalaya. The anticipation of the coming carnival makes our pathetic lives suddenly become beautiful. We see the bamboo skeleton structures of the puja pandals sprouting in every nook and corner of the city. The intoxicating fragrance of shiuli and chhatim takes us to an ethereal place of bliss. The general feeling of pujo ashchhey, pujo ashchhey gives us a tremendous high. People say that we Bongs are made up of lazy-bones and are perennially lethargic sleeping beautiesThis is not true. We just reserve all our energies throughout the year exclusively for these five days of Durga PujaBecause this festival is Bigger thaChristmas, Eid, Hanukkah, Mardi Gras, Brazilian Carnival and all other festivals taken together. 

I have visited Kumartuli, the so called cradle of the Gods and Goddesses, several times in the last several years, especially on Mahalaya mornings and have seen the magical Chakkhu Daan with my own eyes! One sees professional, amateur and wannabe photographers crowding the place. These days any boy or girl who buys a DSLR, thinks of himself or herself as the next Raghu Rai. I have noticed an interesting trend on Facebook. Nowadays all jobless boys are mostly freelance photographers and all jobless girls are mostly freelance models. Anyways coming back to Kumartuli, those dingy narrow lanes and muddy skinny alleys look fascinating. Inside the poorly illuminated shabby studios, work goes on at a brisk pace and Ma Durga with her children and Mahisasur come to life. Magic gets created here at Kumartuli.  

In my childhood days in the late 80's and early 90's, it seldom rained during Durga Puja, though it is almost a recurrent feature these days. But even this rainfall, parts of the city getting water-logged, the constant nagging drizzles, the remaining dark clouds hovering on the sky above and threatening us with another round of heavy showers, still actually fail to dampen the spirit, zeal and enthusiasm of the general public. Some people get some sort of devilish pleasures when it rains during Durga Puja. They themselves don't go out of their home and enjoy the festival. For them there is no difference between the five days of Durga Puja and the remaining 360 days. These kind of Grinches get sadistic happiness when on TV they see the pandal hopping people getting drenched in rainfall and struggling in ankle-deep water. There is only one treatment for these kind of people. These Grinches just need a regular dose of some Jadoo Ki Jhappis

In my childhood I always hated waking up early. Only on the dawn of Mahalaya I liked it. In still a half-sleepy mode I loved listening to that timeless creation Mahisasura Mardini on Akashbani. In those days I only had a single deck cassette player. In the mid 90's I once recorded the priceless radio broadcast on a TDK blank cassette. Later on when I played it, all my relatives were amazed. Mind you, in those days there were no mp3s and everything was not so easily available. 

Mahisasura Mardini is a maginificent piece of audio drama uncomparable in Bengali culture. With its mythical theme and Vedic mantras, this programme is a landmark composition and has now become an inseparable part of Bengali culture. Without it Durga Puja seems incomplete. It was scripted by Bani Kumar and narrated by Birendra Krishna Bhadra, the magical voice behind this composition. The enchanting music was composed by none other than the legendary Pankaj Kumar Mullick, and the songs were rendered by famous singers of yesteryears. The programme, which started off as a live-performance in All India Radio, has been broadcast in its pre-recorded format since the late nineteen-sixties. Its great popularity remains undiminished even today. The artistes who had taken part in it were Birendra Krishna Bhadra, Sumitra Sen, Sandhya Mukhopadhyay, Pratima Bandopadhyay, Utpala Sen, Hemanta Mukhopadhyay, Rabin Bandopadhyay, Pannalal Bhattacharya, Dwijen Mukhopadhyay, Manabendra Mukhopadhyay, Sachin Gupta, Shyamal Mitra, Bimalbhushan, Tarun Bandopadhyay, Arati Mukherjee, Krishna Ghosh, Abhabati, Manikmala, Prafullabala, Beenapani, Prabhabati, Angurbala, Ila Ghosh, Ila Bose, Shailadebi, Suprabha Ghosh, Supriti Ghosh, Shipra Basu, Ashima Mukherjee and Krishna Dasgupta. Only in the year 1976, for the first and last time, Uttam Kumar had recited the Mahalaya composition at the tune of Hemanta Mukherjee at All India Radio. Here is Uttam Kumar's version :


But the Bengalees refused and rejected the above version by Uttam Kumar and stayed loyal to the original version which is still playing on All India Radio on Mahalaya mornings. 

Also during my childhood days, the weather used to be quite cold during late nights and early mornings. My parents used to take me, my brother and my cousin brother out for pandal hopping in our Ambassador car. We used to start after midnight and finish by morning. We used to visit almost all the major pandals of south Calcutta. My mother used to keep a set of warm clothes in the car as we needed them around dawn. We kids also used to burst caps in those tin pistols and we also used to shoot at balloons with those toy guns at puja pandals. We kids also used to wear new clothes. From my very childhood, I never had any demands or fascinations for new clothes and shoes. Whatever my parents got for me, I was happy with that. Most of my friends in school used to compete among themselves as to how many new clothes one bought during Durga Puja. I never indulged in such competitions. I used to think that so many poor children in this city do not even get one set of new clothes, atleast I am so privileged than them. Once during the early 90's phase, we had gone to the Bakulbagan pandal. As a child, I got my first Durga Puja shock when I saw that the idol of Ma Durga was wearing, hold your breath, a boob tube!

Another night would exclusively be reserved for north Calcutta. I used to count the number of pandals that we visited, because after school reopened, I had to tell my friends. Whoever saw the most pandals won an invisible imaginary competition. We all took it for granted that everyone would tell the truth and some sort of an honour system used to exist between us. And I still remember the excitement of seeing that Titanic pandal at FD Block Salt Lake in 1998. I had tremendously enjoyed the long drive to Salt Lake anback. Salt Lake in those days used to be and feel like an alien land to me. These days Calcuttans start their pandal hopping from two-three days before Sasthi. Thus the duration of the festival stretches to a week. A wonderful week which gives strength to the Calcuttans to survive for another year and they wait with bated breath for next year's Durga Puja


In those days in Calcutta, load-shedding was as common as sunrise and sunset. However during Durga Puja, it seemed that current has been flowing here from all the States of India. At night, special attraction was seeing those captivating Chandannagore styled lightings which told various interesting stories of the previous year throughout the city. I still remember there was once a case of a man jumping into the tiger's cage at Alipore Zoo and this incident was beautifully portrayed in illumination in one of the pandals of south Calcutta. Another year there were milk-drinking sparkling baby Ganeshas everywhere. And in 1996, the magic of electric lights recreated the duel between Aamir Sohail and Venkatesh Prasad magnificently. Hats-Off to these talented and creative electrical wizards. 

In the early 90's, I remember one particular year when only one bangla song played loudly at almost all the puja pandals where we had visited. And that song was Aami Kolkatar Rosogolla from the film ROKTEYLEKHA. Another year both the hindi and bengali versions of the song Gutur Gutur from Mithun Chakraborty's DALAAL played at almost all the puja pandals. And roughly around that time the so called Jibonmukhi revolution had already started. Some of the puja pandals also started playing the songs of SumanNachiketa and Anjan on a regular basis. As a child I instantly fell in love with this new kind of music and started looking forward to these songs at puja pandals. 

In the 90's, Durga Puja also meant watching Chhuti-Chhuti on Bangla Doordarshan. In one such season the title track of Chhuti-Chhuti was composed and sung by Suman Chattopadhyay. Back then, the last four lines of the song really had touched my heart. Durga Puja holidays for me meant waking up late, going to sleep very late at night, unbridled fun, delicious food, lazying around, no school, no tension and not even a single care of the world. But somehow somewhere at that age those last four lines had disturbed my inner peace. The lines were : 

Jey Chheley-ta Kaaj Korey Khaai 
Raastar Cha-er Dokaaney 
Taar Chhuti Paalalo Kothaai 
Taar Chhuti Aachhey Kon Khaaney...

Durga Puja also meant those unputdownable AnandaMelas. Clear blue autumn skies with white clouds here and there, kash phool near eastern bypass, and the best part was that there was no need to study. Ofcourse there was the burden of holiday-homework to be done. But I used to begin doing them only towards the fag end of the holidays. In my childhood days we had a shiuli tree in our backyard. Loved those early morning shiuli flowers. The only problem was those irritating caterpillars living on that tree

I personally believe that people who leave Calcutta during the five days of Durga Puja must not be allowed to come back here. I mean its like betraying your own country during times of war. Even if these kind of strange people don't want to go outside their home during Durga Puja, atleast they can stay indoors and eat, sleep and watch Puja-Parikrama on Bangla Doordarshan! They can stay at home and also read about the history of Durga Puja in Bengal, and about how Gopeshwar Pal, after returning to Kumartuli in 1935 from a sculpture course in Italy, permanently decided to do away with the Ekchala image of Ma Durga and separate the quintet and thus revolutionizing Durga Puja foreverHe also wanted to capture the action of this cosmic battle. Ma Durga's trident got raised to pierce Mahisasura. The priests were furious at this break with tradition and initially refused to worship this kind of an idol. Yet the general public loved this new image and ever since the style has caught on. 

Durga Puja achieved democracy much before India did. Around 1790, twelve Brahmin friends at Gooptipara in the Hooghly district started the first Baroyaari Puja and ithe process brought Ma Durga to the masses and paved the way for the future all-inclusive Sarbojanin Durgoutsabs. Whoever wants to know more on this subject, please read the book DURGA PUJA : Celebrating the Goddess, Then and Now by the journalist Sudeshna Bannerjee. 

My heart really goes out to those people who have to work during Durga Puja. I feel sad for them. But because of these people, Durga Puja turns out to be a grand success each year. Special mention must be made of the Police Force who do a great work during this festive season and help us all to have a good time. Salute and thanks a ton to the Kolkata Police. 

The beauty of Durga Puja lies in the eyes of young boys and girls. Young boys roaming in groups in their new shirts, jeans and shoes. Young girls roaming in groups too in their new sarees, salwars and fancy footwear, which also give them terrible shoe-bites. The eyes of the boys wandering here and there. The girls behaving as if they don't care, but from inside are actually curious as hell and are mentally counting the number of boys that are checking them out. 

The girls act as if they are not noticing the wandering eyes of the boys around them, both known and strangers. But they are actually observing everything and simultaneously making mental notes. Believe me, they are observing even the minutest details and the tiniest of things which even the boys are not aware of, something like say, which boy's shoe laces are untied. 

During Durga Puja, each and every boy and girl presents himself and herself in the best look possible. Checking out members of the opposite sex during those five days is a complete must. And the beauty is that everybody secretly wishes and desires to be checked out. It really gives them a mighty high and uplifts their self-esteem to himalayan proportions.

Here I must mention the plight and helplessness of the girls who are not that beautiful and whom no boy is checking out. She knows she is not that pretty, yet she has dressed wonderfully, and is secretly hoping against hope for some cute looking boy to give her that extra glance. She is secretly also a bit jealous of that pretty girl in her group, whom all the boys are checking out.

On the other hand I must also mention the condition of the boys who are not that handsome. They know that they are not good looking and do not even have a wild off-chance to score with girls. Thus they immerse themselves in alcohol and indulge in ogling at hot babes all around. 

During Durga Puja, all young boys and girls suddenly become flirtatious. The same thing is true for some middle aged men and women and even for some senior citizens too. Okay, lets keep the senior citizens out of this. They had their fun in their day. Lets talk about the young boys and girls. They desperately want to flirt with each other. No body else cares or bothers. Even their parents give them this freedom atleast for these five days. The young boys think that they are the mini versions of the Shah Rukh Khans and the Hrithik Roshans and the young girls think that they are the mini versions of the Priyankas and the Deepikas.   

Another thing that women observe is other women's dresses and accessories. They are also comparing the other women with themselves. Which woman is wearing what and from where she has bought it, the price of her necklace, her handbag, her footwear etc. The feeling inside them is like, Hey, I am more beautiful than you are or I know from where you have bought that fancy purse of yours or My boyfriend is more handsome than yours or even something like My husband earns more than yours etc. 

Here is a familiar scenario where a group of friends are sitting at Maddox Square on an Ashtami evening. Everyone is chatting, looking here and there, fidgeting with their mobile phones and just chilling out. The boys are looking handsome and the girls are looking beautiful. The boys are overtly checking out the girls of the entire park while the girls are covertly checking out the boys surrounding them. 

Suddenly something very subtle happens. Aaha! That divine female pleasure when one girl catches that boy, whom she secretly fancies, staring at her for that extra nano-second. Nothing is said, but then and there, an enormous love-ballad comes to life in that extra special nano-second. 

No one notices anything. Everyone else in the group is busy chatting, looking here and there and fidgeting with their mobile phones. Except the other girl who also secretly fancies that boy. She notices the importance of that precise nano-second. Instantly she feels as if someone has put a sharp cold sword deep inside her heart. She deliberately avoids talking to that boy and even looking at him for the rest of the evening. She feels a strange mixture of anger, hatred and jealousy. 
She feels like saying to that boy: 

You stupid heartless boy, you ungrateful idiot, I have secretly given my heart to you, and this is how you behave? This is how you repay my love? By stealing glances at some other girl, that also in front of me? Do I have to scream from the rooftops that I love you? Can't you read the signs? How come you are so dumb? Is that girl more beautiful than me? Cashe love you more? Will she remain faithful to you? She will cheat on you at the very first chance that she will get. You will have to come to me eventually. Then I will play very hard to get. And that will teach you a good lesson... 

Once one enters Maddox Square during Durga Puja, it is then very difficult to leave. One feels like staying there for the whole night. The place seems like a huge college canteen. Food, Music and Adda everywhere. Couples very much in love roam throughout the park. They also roam hand in hand around all the roads surrounding Maddox, for example Earle Street. Sometimes this love could also be like a Puja Special Love where it lasts only for the duration of five days. Other times this kind of love starts around Durga Puja and the break-up happens around Kali Puja! 

One funny incident happens almost every year inside Maddox. There is a gang of trans-sexuals who come at night in very loud make-up with 75% cleavage revealing tops and short pants. Then almost all the single boys start wolf-whistling, cat-calling, start making funny noises and start following this group. This has become almost like a tradition in Maddox Square. And the best part is that the gang loves this kind of attention. Someone inside the gang says, Dekh dekh, amader dekhey kirom korchhey ora. The other one replies, Chhar toh, shob frustoo maal. A third one asks, Baritey ki Ma-bon nei toder? Another one chips in, Uff aar parchhina, oi chhele takey ki handsome dekhtey rey, ekkhuni chai oi hyandu taakey...

A decade back Maddox Square was a bit different. In those days the rickety and wobbly chairs were available for everyone on a first come first serve basis. Back then, I had spent all five days of Durga Puja with my First Love at Maddox. We used to meet there arounnoon and then spend the whole day there. We used to eat those tasty candy flosses, papri chats, chicken rolls, ice-creams etc. She used to love fuchkas a lot. She could swallow fuchkas for breakfast, brunch, lunch, snacks and dinner. I once told her not to eat fuchkas as they might not be good for health and could be unhygienic. She instantly replied, Fuchka kheyei toh beNchey achchi, Fuchka na kheley toh morey jaabo. I didn't argue further and just let her eat her fuchkas peacefully

On Ashtami, I had specifically asked her to wear a saree. She wore a blue saree. She was looking very beautiful in that saree. She was having a bit of difficulty walking around in it, thus I had to hold her hand almost all the time and save her from tripping. She had come with her group of friends. One of them was wearing a brownish coloured saree and was looking extremely gorgeous. I kept on teasing and pulling my girlfriend's leg by appreciating her friend's beauty. She got very jealous and a bit sad too. Later on I told her that I was only kidding and that I really thought that my girlfriend was the cutest, sweetest and the best girl not only inside Maddox Square but also in the whole universe! 

Another day, most probably, on Nabami, me and my girlfriend were sitting on those chairs. A group of girls were also sitting close by. Now when my girlfriend went to buy some cold-drinks or something else, one of those girls came upto me and said that she had seen me earlier at some College Fest, and started chatting with me. I was quite amused with this attention and was getting a kick out of it. The stranger girl was also smiling and in a jovial mood. Then she suddenly realised that someone was standing right behind her. And that someone was no one else but my girlfriend. She gave the intruder such a deep hard look that the other girl just left immediately and went back to her friends. I myself had to instantly plaster a bhaja-machh-ta-ultey-khetey-jani-na look on my face! 

Me and my girlfriend, we both really wanted to spend the whole night together by pandal hopping throughout south Calcutta, but sadly she had to reach home within 9 pm. That was her deadline. For just ten rupees, I bought those red anblue thin glass cylindrical tubes filled with water and glitter for her. She really liked them and liked turning them upside down. She had also named those two tubes as Lal-Swopno and Neel-Swopno. She used to give names to inanimate objects. She was like the Amelie Poulain of Calcutta and used to find joy, pleasure and happiness in the simplest things of life. 

Sometimes we would go outside Maddox for some time and roam hand in hand on the roads surrounding the park. Other times we would just sit on those chairs and chat. A lot of very cute and sweet children used to come with their parents. We both used to salivate at cute babies. The little boys used to wear dhoti and panjabis. The little girls used to wear sarees. Me and my girlfriend used to discuss among us that when we would have our own children, we would also dress them in sarees and dhoti-panjabis and bring them to Maddox Square during Durga Puja from a very early age. Sadly, I didn't have a camera then, otherwise I would have clicked lots of photos of me and my girlfriend together and also of Maddox Square in all its glory. I only bought a KODAK KB-10 camera later that year during Xavotsav in December. I should have bought it earlier, before Durga Puja. Mistake! Mistake! 

Today when I am writing this blog-post, I am realizing that emotionally I am still stuck inside Maddox Square during Durga Puja of the previous decade. The Peter Pan portions of my brain, heart and soul are still constantly refusing to grow up and move-on!

These days the central portion of Maddox Square just in front of the pandal is cordoned off from the general public. That space is reserved for club members only. All the chairs are kept inside. Outside that space people have to sit on newspapers on the ground. And everyone is comfortable doing that. Old newspapers are actually sold there by some people for this purpose only. Groups of young boys sitting together, checking out pretty girls and lusting over those sensuously ravishing boudis. Unlike most other animals, we humans are on heat on all the seasons. And this heat rises to meteoric levels during Durga Puja. Sometimes when the wandering eyes of the boys accidentally meet the demure eyes of the girls, then it is not love, but lust at first sight

Some of the boys get drunk, doped and stoned. During Durga Puja some boys have a tendency to booze until they start puking. This is very bad. Durga Puja is a time to enjoy the festival to the fullest, not to get sloshed, wasted and stoned. Sometimes the Police have to step in and arrest these drunk, doped and stoned boys. Another set of boys have a tendency to go for pandal hopping in north Calcutta and also at the same time pay a visit to Sonagachhi, fondly called the Golden Tree. Uttering the bengali name sounds cheap, vulgar and downmarket to these set of boys. They visit this red light area to see a prostitute's naked dance or to have sex with her or both. Around 1994, when I was just twelve years old, I heard for the first time Nachiketa Chakraborty's song Baaro Taka from his album Ke Jaay. As a kid I was simply shocked to hear this kind of a song on this kind of a subject. Not many people know this, that the name Sonagachhi is actually derived from a Sufi saint named Sona Ghazi whose tomb or mazaar is located in that area. I myself didn't know about this before, and only came to know about it after watching the theatre DarjiParar Marjinara at Sujata Sadan a few years back. The play was written bBratya Basu and was performed by Kaushik Sen's Swapno-Sandhani. There was a time when this theatre-group used to perform every Saturday evening at Sujata Sadan and I used to go there every weekend to watch their performance. 

On Ashtami evenings, practically all roads in Calcutta lead to Maddox. That is the place to be and be seen in. Maddox feels like the seventh heaven and cloud nine combined together during that time. Maddox is like the biblical Garden of Eden for Calcutta's Romeos and JulietsOne gets to see the most beautiful women ever seen by mankind. When the Gods come to earth, they bring these ethereal heavenly angels of flesh anblood with them and this makes Calcutta a much better place to live in. Every testosterone driven hot-blooded male desires for something like this Wild Stone ad to happen in his life. One's life is worthless if he or she hasn't visited Maddox on an Ashtami evening. Another feature of Maddox is that this is the place where one accidentally sees one's ex-girlfriends or ex-boyfriends walking hand in hand with someone else. Again here one also sees one's ex-crushes and ex-flames, either single or happily mingling with their special someones. And those ravishing boudis of Maddox. Someone once said that in Bangal we don't have MILFs, but we have BILFs. Maddox is the paradise where one sees young boys and girls sitting in groups and even after two decades still singing Ranjana, Mary Anne, 2441139, Nilanjana, Phiriye Dao, Shei Tumi, Bhebey Dekhechho Ki and ofcourse the anthem Telephone. In the pre-mobile phone era, friends in groups used to get lost, wander off and again miraculously find eachother. 

Since I stay in south Calcutta, therefore I must mention the names of a few twins like Mudiali and Shib Mandir, Jodhpur and Selimpur, Ekdalia and Singhi Park, Ballygunge Cultural and Samaj Sebi etc. In the last few years Ballygunge Cultural has really risen in pomp, grandeur and popularity. They organise musical shows almost every evening. Anjan Dutta is a regular performer. Bangla Bands get priority. The lane behind the performing stage becomes very happening. Cars are parked there. But these cars actually become temporary mini-bars. People booze, dope and get stoned there. Another beauty of Ballygunge Cultural is the presence of beautiful women of all ages. A few celebrities could also be seen here and there. Today Ballygunge Cultural is only second to Maddox Square in terms of popularity in south Calcutta. And ofcourse the Durga Puja sequence in Sujoy Ghosh's KAHAANI was shot here. 

Much before the advent of social media sites, women have always had a tendency to click their photos and make sure that those photos reveal them with slender arms, no double chin and flat stomachsWomen in general are obsessed with weight-loss. This obsession takes a violent turn just before the arrival of Durga Puja. Even when they are perfectly fine, healthy and attractive in the eyes of men, still they would love to lose a few kilos here and there. Believe me, men never like the zero-sized Kareena Kapoor of Chhaliya from TASHAAN and would any day prefer the healthier, voluptuous and curvaceous Bebo of Fevicol from DABAANG 2 

Men, among themselves, are always struggling with peer-pressure and are constantly dealing with the Mine-is-Bigger-than-Yours complex. Even if they want to, Society doesn't allow them to get out of this. Men, in general, love to show-off their gorgeous girlfriends and beautiful wives to other men. The feeling is something like, See, I am walking with this extremely beautiful and absolutely gorgeous woman, while you are only sucking your thumb and sitting alone like a loser. Its still cave-man instincts at work. The strongest hunter gets to mate with the most beautiful woman. The weaker ones will just have to live with this fact for the rest of their lives. 

Coming back to Durga Puja, since childhood I have always loved the chandelier at Ekdalia :

Here is a picture of a left-handed Ma Durga : 

I have always loved those rides at Deshopriyo Park :

Did you know that an Egyptian father Jamal Ibrahim has reportedly named his firstborn daughter 'Facebook' to honour and give respect to the social media site's role in Egypt's revolution? And here is an innovative and fantastic picture of Sajano Pally Sarbojanin Durga Puja pandal from Siuri, Birbhum, which resembles a Facebook page : 

These days in some of the pandals, Mahisasura has become evemore muscular than the 38th Governor of California. The demon with his eight packs can easily put most of the Bollywood heroes to shame. And a few years back, I would have loved to see Greg Chappell's face as the face of Mahisasura

The puja-organisers in FD Block Salt Lake have always been obsessed with size and they have always believed in the saying - the bigger, the better. Over the years they have experimented with everything from Titanic to Hogwarts Castle. Here are a few examples  : 


On Dashami, married women gather at the Puja pandals and smear each other with sindur (vermillion). Its just like playing with colours in Holi. Women first apply sindur on Ma Durga's feet and/or forehead and then apply it on each other. However unmarried women and widows are not allowed to enjoy sindur-khela. It is only for married women who are celebrating the fact that they have a husband, even if he is a loser, worthless, pathetic, impotent, henpecked, jobless or even a wife-beater. But these days even spinsters take part in sindur-khela for fun and sometimes even men also take part in this ritual. This ritual marks the farewell of Goddess Durga. 

There is something called post-Pujo depression and Bongs start suffering from it from Dashami onwards. No doctor or psychiatrist in this world can cure this depression. There is no way out of it. After the magical euphoria of five days of Durga Puja, a Bong has to go through this depressive phase. Generally this phase lasts till Laxmi Puja, however in some cases it lasts even further. 


Soil from a sex-worker's doorstep or courtyard is an essential ingredient in the making of Ma Durga's idols. Without this punnyo-mati from the nishiddho-pollis, no potter can start work on Ma Durga. The most auspicious method of collection is to beg it from a sex-worker and have her hand it to the potter as a gift or blessing. If it is taken directly from the ground, the potter must know the correct way of doing it, including knowing which mantras to chant and how to position the fingers in a yogic-mudra while scooping up the soil. Very few people talk about this age old tradition. I myself didn't know about this Durga Puja ritual and only came to know about it after watching Sanjay Leela Bhansali's DEVDAS in 2002. There are several reasons for this custom. Firstly, a sex-worker is a woman and therefore mother Goddess resides inside her too. Secondly, it is to give a feeling of inclusion to these stigmatised and ostracised members of society during the festive season. Thirdly, clients visiting these Houses of Vice leave their virtues on the doorstep, thus making the soil there pure and virtuous. Fourthly, to honour the sex-workers who were traditionally famed for their proficiency in the arts. And fifthly, this custom could also be like a fertility ritual and to give proper respect to the sex-workers and ask for their forgiveness on behalf of the whole society. 

Last year during Durga Puja, when everybody was having a blast and enjoying to the fullest, there was a documentary shown on Channel 10 titled Ora Thakey Oparaai about the lives of the sex-workers of the various red-light areas in Calcutta during the time of Durga Puja. The documentary covered most of the red-light areas from Sonagachhi to Haar-Kata GoliIn one particular scene a middle-aged sex-worker reminisces that as a child she had asked for a gift from her poor father during the Durga Puja season after her father had bought a gift for her younger brother. In reply her father had slapped her very hard. She felt very bad and started crying. Later her apologetic father comforted her by putting his hand on her head and telling her that she was now big enough to realize that he couldn't afford to buy a gift for her, but her younger brother was still small enough to differentiate between affluence and poverty. This particular scene immediately brought tears to my eyes and I started weeping uncontrollably... 

Update : This year for the first time, the sex-workers of Sonagachhi have organised their very own Durga Puja and that also in their own area. Durbar Mahila Samonnay Samiti helped to tackle the legal hurdles. The Puja cost approximately two lakhs and this money was raised from individual contributions of as low as twenty rupees per sex-worker. In the evening there were performances by the children of the sex-workers. Next year the sex-workers of Sonagachhi are planning to organize Durga Puja on a much bigger scale... 

PS : Wish you all a very happy Durga Puja. May you all have the best time of your lives... 

PPS : Here is a picture of Ma Durga drawn by the four and a half years old Ellora Filiplic. Elly, as she is lovingly called, lives in Alberta, Canada with her family. Her Grandmother thinks Elly left Mahisasura out because it was too gory for her sensibilities, but retained the happy-looking Lion...

PPPS : Here is a link of all the pictures of Durga Puja that I have clicked this year. Enjoy...