The brick-maroon golden zari-dot cotton sari on the Shashthi? How about that sea-green pure silk on the Saptami? The fire-red Kanjeevaram is meant for the Ashtami only. The dark blue Dhakai Jamdani can’t be set aside on the Navami. And, Dashami is all about that elegant white and blood-red Tussar. I could never have a luck to sort my picks for the Pujo days, blame it on the rift between life and livelihood, or you may say, passion and provision. The fate has scarcely been different for any other television journalist like me who loved their jobs from the core of their hearts. Five days. Not really enough to visit most of the Pujos across the length and breadth of the city. But those five days have always been the most awaited in every life, every year.
Pujo has always found me sandwiched between seven-eight production assignments and playing the presenter on the small screen. But my love for the job did the magic. The hard toil never pulled me down and, I moved on. Whatever it be, the Bong blood runs high, when it comes to Duggapujo. It is the same ‘dhaan bhante shiber geet (anything you do, everything boils down to signing paeans on the Sihva)’ that defined the community through its history.
Even before the formal duty roster would be made, a 12-hour work diktat used to be issued to everybody in the newsroom with a blanket ban on additional leave during the week but for the sole saving grace of one off-day. I found that the night shift was the most hated schedule for the Pujo days, for obvious reasons. I took it up, of course, to quite a few curious frowns, year after year.
Panchami, Shashthi, Saptami, Ashtami, Navami and Dashami – I always offered to work all five days without any leave. The booms and the lenses would take me on a live sortie across the city every night.It was pandal hopping in the most blissful way – away from the madding crowd. In love with the quietness and solitude of the studio, nothing could be a better bargain for me.
Bhaadro, the fifth month of the Bengali almanac, brings the advent of the festival. The small clouds in the clear blue sky and the romancing of the rain and sunshine aver the arrival of the festive days. I always wondered how intricately audiovisual media is associated with the biggest festival of the community and the diaspora. The month of Aaswin heralds Mahalaya, which marks the beginning of the Devi Paksha (the period of the Goddess). And, Mahalaya is incomplete without Birendra Krishna Bhadra. For generations, the baritone and the chanting of hymns on the radio in the wee hours of the day have been creating an atmosphere,where all deep breaths and despairs frozen deep in our mind begin to thaw.
Seven more days. That’s the last leg of the year-long wait for the Pujo. There’s so much light in the city that darkness finds no room to relax. People in multitude swarm down on Kolkata and Howrah from far-off places like Murshidabad, Lalgola, Shantipur, Krishnanagar, Brdhaman, Bolpur, Midnapore and Tomluk. Everyone waits as time ticks by before the drumstick begins to beat the leather, setting off a rhythm that can only be loved, and never hated.
The Howrah flower market by the river Hooghly stays abuzz in a seamless harmony with the frenzy that grips every single buyer and seller as the Pujo days come closer. The flower market caters to the entire city and the suburbs. Every year I saw my reporter wading through the muddy walkways snaking through thousands of flower sellers on the river banks.
Of all that awed memost through my years in the Fourth Estate, has been the march of the deities at Kumartuli in the run up to the Pujo. The Durga idols are lined up in long queues and are loaded on trucks after the final brushstrokes to their magical eyes. They are trundled out of the artisans’ squatters and headed for pandals across the world.
All these are the pre-Pujo packages, if I talk the language of a screen journalist. Capsules, stories, news and then the roll-camera-action take them to every household. I would be at my desk by 4 in the evening every day of the Pujo. I would always dash off early from home to avert the traffic. A quick rundown through the schedules and the news list, answering a few mails and a cup of coffee would make me ready to kick off the day. Another day of passion and perseverance to make it better than yesterday. Then makeup room, ready to go on air. Stand by, action, light take me on air. And, with me, thousands of people glued to the screen for a glimpse of the world’s most beautiful festival.
I always loved to start my trips from Kumartuli. Draped in their traditional heritage, the idols in North Kolkata gleam in their hues of elegance and excellence. Then to Ahiritola before reaching Bagbazaar Sarbojoneen. The Pujo has retained its century-old tradition in the purest form.
As I move on to the central part of the city, tradition shifts to modernity. It exudes a different feeling altogether. College Square, Mohammad Ali Park, Santosh Mitra Square have made their marks with their unique pandals and idols. As countless people throng the heart of Kolkata, nothing moves in the city, only happiness reigns.
Dhaake kathi, paye hanti (the drum is beating, let’s get going) – I would head on to East to Dum Dum Park with this euphoria. Any of the Pujos on the VIP Road snatch the crown for the best idol or the best pandal almost every year. My reporters would beam the wave of people, the dazzling pandals and the iconic idols and I would see everything quietly and narrate it to all those watching it live from their homes. Sreebhumi Sporting Club is one of those that everybody would wait to see. It draws record number of people every year for its uniqueness.
Going south, I would reach New Alipore. From Suruchi Sangha to Ekdalia Evergreen and from Babubagan to Jodhpur Park – south puts me in a fix. Every Pujo competes with another. It becomes impossible to allocate minutes on air for them as they vie for the top slot in all aspects – be it the pandal or the lighting or the idol. Bosepukur Shitala Mandir and Badamtala Asharh Sangha are among the top scorers every time for their innovative concepts.
I would touch down on Nalin Sarkar Street, Maniktala Chalta Bagan, Lohapatty, Telangabagan Sarbojoneen, Samajsebi Sangha and Deshapriya Park as I keep hopping from one pandal to another through the night.
Traditional private Pujo, better known as Bonedi Barir Pujo, has always been my weakness. Be it Shovabazaar Rajbari in the North or the Mallik Bari in the South – each of them stand out in the crowd. The way the families have retained their tradition and heritage makes me dazed. The deities are strikingly different, the hosts strictly maintain their traditional attires, the equipment and the utensils they use, the offerings they make and the practices they follow– in everything there’s a distinctive touch of an awe-inspiring past that makes us proud to be a Bengali.
I have made the best use of my life of a TV journalist, year after year. I travelled at ease from one end of the city to another, evading the crowd and ducking the traffic snarl. And, I loved every moment of it, and waited for the next Pujo after the lights turned off, actions halted and the camera shut down.
The Pujo is round the corner, again, but this time everything is different. An organism, far smaller than the smallest we could see in naked eyes, has changed the way of life for us. We redefined our lives, restructured our practices and recast our activities – only to save ourselves as the world woke up this year to its worst nightmare in history. We’re happy inside as we close in on the Durga Pujo, but we’re scared of being bitten by the dreaded bug. We don’t know how many people would throng the pandals this year, we don’t know how many more would be affected, we don’t know how the Pujo would unfold for us in this Covid age.
But we’re a race of unmatched resilience. It is the Devi who powered us to face every enemy head on and triumph every assault. It is the same Devi who would again give us the strength to revive and restore ourselves.
About the writer
Journalist, Producer-Presenter , Content Developer, Ad-Film Maker
Debjani Aich is a senior journalist from Kolkata . She has been a part of the celebration and spirit of Durga Pujo festival since her childhood days . She shares her dates with the Durga Pujo through her years in TV journalism.