The time of unlimited excitement and cheer for all the residents in the state I call my home. The Pujo talks in my hostel always start after midnight and always during the tests we have to give before we could claim happiness over a ten-day long holiday. It is always about which side of Kolkata has the best Pandals and Pratima, which outings have the best food (because food is an inevitable topic in all our conversations :P) and all the plans to be made and dresses to be worn during the festive time.
I am a listener in this conversation because not being a resident of Kolkata has me feeling left out in many conversations of a friend circle who belong to the City Of Joy. I enjoy these conversations as much as the ones I take part in though, it is fun just to listen sometimes.
Pujo in Kharagpur is completely different (Or that is what I have concluded from my listening sessions over three years of pre-pujo talks at hostel). Rather, I should say that Pujo in IIT Campus Kharagpur is done in a different style. Technology Staff Club which organizes the Puja, has a huge ground with a concrete pandal built on it which is basically for the Durga Puja but is also used for multitasking like a bicycle exhibition to rob the freshers (:P), Khadi merchandise exhibitions, Marriage buffets etc etc etc.
Try going to any Puja Pandal in Bengal. I swear that even if it is a moderately famous place, you would have to stand in a huge line, be herded like sheep inside, and shooed away mere minutes after you extract your leg from the crowd and pause to take a breath. I say this because it happened to me just a few hours ago. My poor already sprained ankle :'(
But at Staff Club (The hub of Pujo festivities inside the campus as mentioned above), things are very very different. You don't visit staff club to see the replica of some famous place made in absolute beauty or to gawk over an ingenious pandal. Because the pandal isn't makeshift. It is (as I said above) PERMANENT. And it is merely covered with cloth over bamboos in a simple way that would (if I am not mistaken) escape your notice.
So exquisite pandal- Nope.
Out of the world decoration/lighting- Na na na.
Unique Murti of the Goddess maybe- *shakes head* They do it the traditional way every time.
So what is it that attracts such crowds to this place?
The moment you enter the gate of the ground, you would see a crowd, yes, because come on, it is PUJO, why would there NOT be a crowd at a pandal? But there is no rush you see everywhere else. There are no lines. There is no squabbling to get inside the pandal and take a picture. The moment you enter the gate of the ground, you would see clusters of people everywhere. Clusters of aunties in beautiful tant sarees, clusters of school kids, clusters of college guys united with school mates, clusters of uncles discussing about NaMo NaMo, clusters of people standing and chatting outside, clusters of people sitting on red plastic chairs in circles of varying diameters, clusters of people around the cement barricade around the Pratima chatting about how Pujo robbed them out of a day of celebration this year and clusters of people chatting about one thing or the other in general.
So Pujo at my home place has got everything to do with ADDA.
People sit and talk for hours put together. You just need to enter the Staff Club once and you would see faces you haven't seen in the last two eternities before you. I went to give the Ashtami's pujshpanjali this morning and I saw what seemed to be like the entire staff of my school and I had to run from one teacher's feet to the other in rapid succession. I saw people I know who do not live in the campus because that is how famous the Pujo of Staff Club is, it is the magnet to people living in the whole of Kharagpur.
It is wonderful to see faces being lit into smiles on seeing a buddy you haven't seen after school and the delighted exclamations over one's saree or one's general appearance after a year. It is a wonderful place to be. I only wish I wasn't expected to go along with someone to this place.
There are many things I have come to know about myself after I joined college. And one of them is that I don't operate in crowds. I just don't.
I find the idea of being reunited with all my school friends and sitting in a big circle like they do at the Staff Club and laugh and have pictures taken and pose and laugh some more very exciting but I have never been able to do the thing.
Believe me, I have tried.
And that turned out to be my worst Pujo ever, back in my first year of college. It is only today that I read in the comment section on a HONY photo- "Loneliness is horrendous but the worst is being surrounded with people who make you feel lonely" and the memory of that day washed over me and I felt a mixture of sadness and incredulity over how silly I was and how naive.
I lied to myself that I was as close a friend of the people who came to my house for reasons other than just taking me along, I lied to myself thinking that people I had never even talked to at my school would open me with welcoming arms and pretend to know all my interests and swap college stories with me, I lied to myself in even thinking that the reserved girl from school who had zero guy friends from class would suddenly be greeted by all the guys in question as if we were buddies.
Wishful thinking anyone?
So, with my doing, I was sitting in a big circle like I had always imagined I would in school days, I was staring into the faces of people I had known for 8 years of my school life, I was trying my best to smile and laugh at the jokes that made absolutely no sense to me and yet there was something breaking inside me with each attempt; the laughter around me was so loud, yet I could hear someone sobbing inside.
But I refused to admit it to myself.
But I refused to admit it to myself.
I was miserable and I did not even know it! Award for the stupidest girl alive anyone?
I came back home that day and was entirely normal and then, out of the blue, deep into the night, I started crying uncontrollably :P
I felt friendless, unwanted, unloved and there is no saying how much, how much hurt I felt that day. Kirti, the girl who always laughed in big groups at school, the girl who shared tiffin with no less than 10 people at school was excluded out of all conversation.
The next day, my tears continued flowing and Arpita whom I freaked out with my emo messages on FB called me some time later to ask me if I would go out with her in the evening. Her parents took us both out for Pandal Hopping that day. They gave us a treat at CCD and then left us to walk back home. I will never forget that day. Did I say that year was my worst Pujo? It was also the best for this one reason.
I felt extraordinarily small that day. Arpita is a girl who is awkward socially or at least believes to be. I was always the person who (according to her) has a huge group of friends and could socialize easily.When that myth of mine got broken so harshly that day, I marveled at the simplicity with which she accepted the fact that she did not have many friends at school. And here was I, lying and lying to myself, forcing to believe something that was not true! How many friends did I have from school despite all the facade?
It makes me laugh now, the stupidity with which I hung on to what wasn't the truth.
I stopped pretending after that. My closest friends from my batch Antara and Sattu, never came to Kgp during Pujo. Arpita always packs off to Cuttack. Sushmita was the only one who stayed and I went out with her, just like I used to do during school days. I kick myself even now for even trying to be different after I joined college.
Tanamika is the only one who cared enough about me not making an appearance at the Pandal to come over to my house and ask what was wrong.
Suranjana is another friend I love to hang out with during this time. We catch up only during Pujo and getting nostalgic over school days and bitching about the people we didn't like with someone you used to sit beside for two years of High School is so refreshing. And no one makes better jokes than her :D
With Suranjana this year, even the sting of being called in and then excluded from the big circle of school-buddies-rejoined was forgiven. The shock over a specific someone being extra sweet to us was forgotten. Friends give this gift to you and we should be so thankful for people in our lives who don't make us feel lonely.
I had fun this year. I had fun in my own quiet circle of few friends and friendships that run deep. I had fun this Monday when I went out of town with my best friends and saw a crappy movie but took the best from it anyway. I had fun showing the cards Sushmita made for me over the years to Sushmita herself and laughing over how silly we were back in 7th grade and how creative she was from the very start. I had fun laughing over Mania Ki Duniya with Tanamika yesterday and hogging that delicious Samosa Chat with her. I had fun waking up early for the Pushpanjali today and sitting with Surajana and Sushmita at the Pandal and pulling each others' legs.
I will keep these laughs with me. The aren't very loud, but they are strong enough to drown the sobs I might heave some day I am sad.
The plastic chairs around me aren't too many. The don't even make a circle, a triangle maybe on my best days but then, it is not done for everyone to have everything. And the big circle of red plastic chairs just isn't for me.
Happy Pujo :)