It starts with a few murmurs, here and there. Snatches of conversation overheard in the bus or auto.“Pujor ar matro koekta din baki…” ”…ki re, kenakata kichu holo…” “….rastaghater ja obostha kore rekheche, pujor thik age keno je kore……” Little bits and pieces of sentences hanging in the air that reminds you of its imminent arrival. Then you spot a countdown clock ticking away in one corner of the screen of the regional news channel. It’s a bit of a jolt, realizing how few days are left. Streets get busier, and crazier. Big, hulking bamboo skeletons go up even as everyone, from your maid to the paperwallah starts dropping hints that expenses are going up and it’s time for the pay packet to be a little heavier than usual. Autowallahs are suddenly eager to share their thoughts on the economy, specifically on the rising cost of living, with you. You don’t mind, of course…ten bucks here…twenty there….even when nothing less than a sheaf of hundred will suffice. ‘Tis the season to be merry, and to spread the merriment.
Then the naked bamboo structures are clothed in fabric, plastic, cardboard, cellophane, gold and silver foil and so much more. Art is layered over craft and each skeleton becomes a pandal, fresh, new, and unique. Marketplaces choke up with people, but the people never tire of the markets. Complaining every step of the way, they pause long enough only to haggle, argue and shop. Every shop front, every stall, every temporary shed where a man can find space for his assortment of trinkets buzz with activity. Eyes light up as shoppers find EXACTLY what they were looking for. They usually do. The air tastes of electricity.
And then you hear it. Sometimes it wafts in from the distance, a faint rhythm that only just drowns out the beat of your heart. Sometimes it’s close enough to be deafening. The big, barrel like drums, and the tough, weathered hands that wield them make it official. Pujo has finally arrived.
I am not a romantic. Nor am I a believer. I can’t find the aroma of kashful in the air in the middle of the city, nor do I enjoy standing outside packed pandals for a glimpse of the idol’s face before a mix of overzealous volunteers (who clearly signed up only because they’d get to wield bamboo batons with impunity) and impatient crowds poke, prod and propel me towards the exit. I don’t enjoy eating out because it usually involves a potent combination of long wait, bad food and criminally marked up prices. I don’t enjoy returning home two o clock at night, only to be prodded awake with the rising of the sun by overzealous “friends”. Extended exposure to dhak give me a headache, dhunuchi makes my eyes burn and you couldn’t get me on a truck and make me dance even if you encouraged me with a scalpel. And yet, I love that wonderful week of festivities, family and fun. I love the pujo.
I can’t define it. I don’t WAN’T to define it. But I know that pujo means more smiling faces on the streets than on any other week of the year. It means looking out the window at midnight and seeing packed lanes with children eight to 80 having the time of their lives. Pujo is the buzz from the street lulling you to sleep. Pujo is staying in bed until you are good and ready to get up. Pujo is celebrating, not something personal and closed like a birthday or a promotion or a degree, but something larger and grander; something you know every single other person in the city is celebrating with you . Pujo is smiling at people who scream from the rooftops, even if you don’t do it yourself. Pujo is being happy, because so many around you are happy. Pujo is being happy, because Pujo is here.