It’s Maha Ashtami today. Traffic is going to be murder on the roads of most cities where Durga Puja pandals have been set up. Pandal hopping and eating-till-we-burst is a common feature during these five days, for those of us who are bengali or have bengali friends and relatives. So what is the DNA of a Durga Puja pandal. We have tried to categorise what we have found, so read on and tell us what you think.
The Quintessential Bong
This person is wearing their absolute best outfit and has purchased 10 sets of clothes. One for every morning and one for the evenings. These outfits are probably bought keeping in mind the increasing importance of that day during the Puja. So the outfit worn on Saptami will most definitely be of less glam value than the one planned for Ashtami. Considering that these five days of the year are the absolute social highlight of a Bong’s life, they have accessorized to ensure maximum impact amongst peers and have devised ingenious yet subtle ways of mentioning the successes of spouses, children, and anyone else knowing whom, would be considered a major social coup. They will be taking part in some cultural event during the Puja and if they aren’t then their spouse or child or sibling or parent most definitely is. They are the very life of every Durga Puja pandal. Without them there would be no life, energy or buzz.
The Angrez Bong
They are well spoken, with perfect diction. Well read and talented in some form of the arts. They have great fashion sense and take extreme pleasure in highlighting their bong-ness. They walk with a straight back, hold their heads up high, have deep (but loud) voices which are trained for theatre or radio, can quote from Shakespeare and Tagore, and they sport the iconic large Bindi. Mostly dressed in silks and tussars, they laugh loudly, have big patronising smiles on their faces and will only hang out with others of their own kind. They cannot be seen eating at the stalls, but they may seen carrying a bottle of Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi with ‘mixed’ content.
The Bong by Choice
They are not Bengali by birth but has been either adopted into a Bong family or follows Durga Puja tradition out of love for a Bengali in their social sphere. They are dressed up in their best clothes as well, is probably carrying a DSLR camera. They are smiling and looking around at everything with bemused interest. Every few minutes a photograph is clicked. They are being called out to, every few minutes by their surrogate family and is being involved in all activities. When they are introduced to other bengalis, they smile and shake their head to display that they don’t quite understand everything that is being said to them. They will stand in line for bhog, they will eat the Mughlai paranthas and they will even pick up a dhonuchi (smoking coconut shells in an earthen pot) and start dancing in front of the goddess during evening aarti. They are much appreciated by the bengali uncles and aunties, who observe them and then declare that they are “khoob bhalo chhele/mei” (very good boy/girl). They participate in everything with honest enthusiasm and genuine joy.
The Bong Watchers
They are not involved in any of the traditions. They know that every year around this time the ‘Bangali’ community has their Durga Puja which involved stalls and shops. A lot like a mela. After work or their daily routine they take their family or friends and go to visit the mela. Sometimes they will visit multiple pandals in one night. They will eat from the stalls, look around at everything with wonder, click photos of their families and friends. Take a lot of selfies. They are the visitors from different states who come over to experience a little bit of the revelry that is going on at these brightly lit places.
Related to the Bong
They can be identified by their extreme need to prove that they are not in fact Bengali. They have chosen to marry into a Bengali family for reasons best known to them, however they will not participate in this wonderful event. Absolutely not. In case they are “expected” to participate they will do so disdainfully, but will ensure that everyone within a 1 kilometer radius knows exactly how unhappy they are. They will wear a Saree but it will most definitely not be a Bengali Taant or Dhakai. If it’s a Kurta then it will not have any Bengali kadhai but may be from Fab India. They will eat at the stalls, but will most definitely not eat Fish Fry or Egg Rolls. They will stand in line for Bhog but will most definitely not smile at those who are serving them or say thank you. They will insist that their children not learn or speak Bangla and they will constantly have a pained expression on their faces like their own noses smell particularly bad.
So go ahead and visit a pandal near you tonight. Keep an eye out for one of these people and then tell us how many of them you were able spot. There may be other smaller groups that we have missed and we would love for you to add more to this list. As you will hear a lot today, Shubho Moha Oshtomi (Shubh Maha Ashtami)!