Purnendu Sengupta, and his wife Arundhati, both NRI IT professionals, had no idea that housing complexes in Kolkata turn into festive zones during Durga Puja until they visited their apartment last year this time around. Durga Puja, without a doubt, is special for any Bengali, more so for the Sengupta family because this is their first visit after purchasing a new apartment in the southern part of Kolkata.
Purnendu and Arundhati, before departing from the UK, carefully prepared a ‘things to do’ list so that nothing is missed during their stay in Kolkata, but they never actually thought that they will be anchored in their apartment complex right from Saptami till Dashami.
And why not? Most housing complexes in Kolkata host their own ‘Pujo’ complete with meticulously decorated pandals, elaborate menus, and cultural functions during the days of festivity. The spirit that one gets to see at these complexes during Durga Puja surpasses man-made barriers of race, religion and caste, with residents from all caste and ethnic backgrounds participating in the fun.
As soon as the couple’s taxi dropped them at their apartment gate, a friendly looking person came to greet them. After a brief chit-chat, he introduced himself as the secretary of the Durga Puja committee of the apartment and before disappearing into the crowd standing in front of the Durga idol in the community space, said with a smile: “Lunch kintu shobai kar shonge … ashte bhulben na.” (We are having lunch together… don’t forget to be there). The festivities were already in full swing, with the pandal and mandap all decked with flower garlands and a huge ‘jhaarbati’ (chandelier) being hoisted up for decorations.
Mr. and Mrs. Sengupta, were aware of the inclusive culture of Bengal and the warmth that radiates from the residents of Kolkata especially during the pujas — this they heard from their parents. But this was beyond their expectation. All their calculated plans slipped into oblivion, and the only plan that seemed obvious was to dive in the frenzy of Durga Puja in their apartment complex.
The couple took a brief time to freshen up after their long journey, and the moment they stepped out of their apartment, they got caught in the captivating atmosphere of Saptami morning. The introduction phase got over in just a few minutes, and from thereon, everything appeared to be so familiar, so homely, and so very friendly for Purnendu and Arundhati. The connection was instant, and they naturally got drawn into the scheme of things quickly.
Immediately, Arundhati became busy, discussing and making arrangements for Saptami Puja, the afternoon Bhog, and the cultural event planned for the evening. Purnendu was welcomed into ‘the famous Bengali debates’ by a group of fellow residents, which spanned across a range of subjects from politics to economics, cricket, and of course Mohun Bagan and East Bengal.
There were a variety of cultural events lined up not just for Saptami, but for all the other Puja evenings. It surprised Purnendu to a great deal seeing Arundhati getting so involved in making phone calls to the sound technician, monitoring the stage decoration, and helping the kids with their rehearsal for the evening’s cultural function.
The bonding here is so fascinating, Purnendu thought, as he couldn’t stop admiring the efforts put into decorating the complex with lights, pieces of coloured paper, and chain ribbons. After having the Bhog, deliciously prepared by some members of the complex, Purnendu settled in for a fresh round of ‘Adda’ accompanied by tea, as Arundhati sprinted here and there to make everything perfect.
The Saptami’s evening cultural program was fun-filled with songs, recitals, and a dance drama played by the community members. The event attracted kids, adults, and even the 80-year-old grandpas and grandmas. This was followed by Anjali on Ashtami morning, unlimited Adda, and a performance by children from a nearby orphanage on Ashtami evening, who were invited to be a part of the festive mood.
The passion, the emotion, and the spirit that oozes out of Kolkata during Durga Puja are unmissable. As Bangla band Fossils rocked the stage on Navami evening, a sense of melancholy somehow crept into Purnendu and Arundhati. On Dashami, Maa Durga will leave her parent’s home, and so will they. The sound of drums (Dhak), made both of them teary-eyed.
The next morning, while leaving their apartment complex for Kolkata international airport, the Senguptas just had one thing in their mind – “Ashche Bochor Abar Hobe.” The waving hands and the friendly faces in the distance slowly faded out as the taxi raced its way forward to the airport.