Shubho Bijoya

Happy Durga Puja to all! In case you were wondering what's that all about, Vir Sanghvi, Editorial Director of the Hindusthan Times has a famous piece entitled What 'Pujo' means to a Bengali. An excerpt:

It's like Christmas, they told me. Imagine Christmas in New York: Puja means that to a Bengali. Others found more home-grown parallels. It's like Diwali in North India, they said. You know, the shopping, the parties, the festivities and all that stuff.

Actually, of course, it was nothing like Christmas; and certainly nothing like Diwali in North India.

Nothing, in fact, can prepare you for the magic of Puja in Calcutta.

To understand what it means, you have to be here.

As the years went on and as I went from Puja to Puja, I tried to work out why nobody could explain to outsiders what it was that made Puja so special. Why was that I failed as completely as everybody else in communicating the essence of Puja? Why did all the time-honoured comparisons not really ring true; with Dushera, Diwali, Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and God alone knows what else?

The answer, I suspect - and after all these years, it is still a suspicion, I have no solutions - is that you can't understand Puja unless you understand Calcutta and unless you understand Bengalis.

Of course, none of this really explains what Durga Puja is about. There's a very funny flash animation that explains it more. Click on the image to view. In addition, there's more stuff available here. Thanks to Anindya Basu for the original link, BTW!

Coming back to Vir Sanghvi's statement on understanding Bengalis and Calcutta, he has another great article on this very subject. Naturally, I can't resist quoting:

Most modern Indian cities strive to rise above ethnicity. Tell anybody who lives in Bombay that he lives in a Maharashtrian city and (unless of course, you are speaking to Bal Thackeray) he will take immediate offence. We are cosmopolitan, he will say indigenously. Tell a Delhiwalla that his is a Punjabi city (which, in many ways, it is) and he will respond with much self-righteous nonsense about being the nation's capital, about the international composition of the city's elite etc. And tell a Bangalorean that he lives in a Kannadiga city and you'll get lots of techno-gaff about the internet revolution and about how Bangalore is even more cosmopolitan than Bombay.

But, the only way to understand what Calcutta is about is recognize that the city is essentially Bengali. What's more, no Bengali minds you saying that. Rather, he is proud of the fact. Calcutta's strengths and weaknesses mirror those of the Bengali character. It has the drawbacks: the sudden passions, the cheerful chaos, the utter contempt for mere commerce, the fiery response to the smallest provocation. And it has the strengths (actually, I think of the drawbacks as strengths in their own way). Calcutta embodies the Bengali love of culture; the triumph ofintellectualism over greed; the complete transparency of all emotions, the disdain with which hypocrisy and insincerity are treated; the warmth of genuine humanity; and the supremacy of emotion over all other aspects of human existence.

Hear, hear! Why else would I slave over this site when I could be (theoretically) figuring out newer ways of making money in Silicon Valley? Sanghvi continues:

That's why Calcutta is not for everyone. You want your cities clean and green; stick to Delhi. You want your cities, rich and impersonal; go to Bombay. You want them high-tech and full of draught beer; Bangalore's your place. But if you want a city with a soul: come to Calcutta.

Having highlighted all these good words, I should add I did find the city had changed in my last visit. But that's for a future entry.

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- October 13, 2005 12:06 PM // Bangla