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Durga Puja in Kolkata is Not Just About Fish, Old Heritage Houses and 'Dhunuchi Dance'

Durga Puja in Kolkata is Not Just About Fish, Old Heritage Houses and 'Dhunuchi Dance'

Can we please stop stereotyping Bengalis and Durga Puja already?

Jashodhara Mukherjee
  • Last Updated: October 5, 2019, 11:10 AM IST
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Women clad in red and white sarees. Ancient North Kolkata buildings. Dhunuchi. Shiuli flowers. Dhaak.

If you're a true blue Bengali, you know what we're getting at by now. Durga Puja is just around the corner, and if you're sitting in an office hundreds of miles away from home as you're reading this, 'pujo-centric' ads and videos on social media can be your only source of respite. However, here's what really bothers me, the whole concept of Durga Puja has become one giant cliche - which is all the more evident if you scroll through the myriad videos that have been flooding our Facebook and Twitter feeds.

In each case, the recipe is the same - throw in generous helpings of Bengalis performing dhunuchi nachh (Dhunuchi Dance is a kind of dance form that involves an incense burner used during aarti), impeccably dressed men and women running about in old Kolkata heritage houses, Kumortuli photoshoots (traditional quarter for potters and idol makers in the city) and of course, a few dramatic shots of the magnanimous Howrah Bridge - there you have it, the perfect Durga Puja video. But ask any Bengali, and they'll tell you, puja (pujo, as we prefer to call it) is more than that.

Most of the videos that are available in abundance on any social media platform revolves around the same themes - the purpose is the same, to trigger a sense of nostalgia and to urge Bengalis living away from the city to come back. As any Bengali would testify, there is nothing more heartbreaking than missing the cacophony and grandiose that engulfs Kolkata during these five days.

But then, who knows how to romanticise a festival so much other than Bengalis?

For Bengalis returning home for Durga Puja, there will always be butterflies in the stomach when the pilot announces "Welcome to Kolkata and enjoy the Durga Puja celebrations" as the plane touches the ground. For children, it means a month-long vacation and no bickering about homework for at least five days. For youngsters, it means staying out as long as you want without curfews to worry about. For some, the upcoming five days require meticulous planning and strategizing, in order to ensure that not a single pandal is left for 'hopping'. For others, it means rushing to mandatory shopping destinations like New Market despite the very real chance of getting elbowed or your toes being stepped on in the hustle and bustle. For most, it is a ritual. We do the same thing every year, and yet the excitement is real.

For me, it simply means waking up to the sound of aarti in the nearby pandal, soaking in the "pujo-pujo" scent entwined with that of autumn in the air, meeting the same set of friends you meet the rest of the year (albeit, in jazzier clothes than usual), a whole lot of junk food (despite numerous warnings of deteriorating food quality), arguing with my mother as she helps me drape my Ashtami saree, fixing plans only to cancel them at the last minute, a phone gallery with nothing but "candids", gorging on phuchkas (because gol gappas or pani puris just aren't the same) and waking up on Dashami morning with a sinking feeling in your stomach.

No, we're not saying that the videos are entirely wrong because after all, Durga Puja is nothing if not a concoction of cliches and traditions. No one knows how the tradition of these ads started. Was it Shalimar who started it? More than a decade ago, Shalimar released an ad that captures the essence of the festival. It is 2019, and the overall idea behind these ads have remained the same, without any sense of originality. And what's weird is that none of these pseudo-aesthetic videos seem to be advertising any product or product. Instead, they advertise Durga Puja. To Bengalis. Wow.

Also, think about the idea such stereotypes and ads create in the minds of our non-Bengali friends who fail to grasp why every Bengali, in every corner of the world, begins to feel restless and distracted this time of the year! No, pujo is not just about egg rolls and fish and exchanging shy glances with your significant other.

On the contrary, here's another video which portrays the same enthralling world of colourful pandals and crowded streets, but provides a montage of common scenes during Durga Puja. Even without a single dialogue, the video manages to paint a picture of what Kolkata is really like during these five days.

Can we please stop stereotyping Bengalis and Durga Puja already? While Pujo is indeed about machh, mishti and more, there is more to it than these cliches which have somehow managed to define one of the biggest festivals in India.

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