Thursday, October 01, 2009

Bengali Scrooge

I would be the Bengali Scrooge when it comes to enthusiasm over the festival de jour of our community - Durga Puja. I never got the point of pandal hopping and weeklong rabble rousing in the name of religion though as an extended carnival it is quite alright - specially if carnivals are your thing. It seemed to me that with each passing year, the religious and spiritual elements of Puja were harder and harder to discern in these over-crowded community events. My distaste for the festivities grew in proportion.

This year, thanks to an over enthusiastic acquaintance, J and I made a trip to a city some hours away from where I live to participate in the Durga Puja celebrations at the temple there. It involved us getting up at the crack of dawn, driving to their house, car-pooling to our destination with a few missed turns and wrong directions thrown in for good measure. Three hours later we arrived. The Puja started one hour later than schedule, J got extremely hungry and looked at me like I was punishing her. The crowds has swollen to the point where making an exit was difficult - besides I did not want to offend our host.

So we sat through the whole thing. The priest chanted mantras that sounded like a Bollywood-style bhajan. He kept repeating invocations to the whole pantheon of Hindu gods but the names of Durga remained conspicuously absent. Nothing else about the rituals looked familiar - he appeared to be improvising as he went supported by assistants that appeared just as clueless.

Then there were the conch-shell blowers, drummers and cymbal players. Between them, the decibel level in a closed auditorium was a force to be reckoned with. Around me the ladies gossiped about what was growing in whose backyard, whose in-laws had fallen ill, where they had bought the sari they were wearing and such.

When we finally got home at the end of what seemed like the longest day ever, J said to me "I can't believe you made me sit in that car for five hours just to listen to that racket". This was supposed to be her introduction to a slice of "bengali culture" that she has seen very little of. Clearly, that effort had not amounted to much or perhaps being Scrooge is in her DNA.

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