Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Autumn Examination :-)

Since everyone reading this has already read this, we shall begin from familiar territory and work our way up (or down, if you're a scrollbar-sympath) from there. Right at the beginning of his 'I have nothing to do with the Pujos' puja post, Arnab says:

Whenever I am away from Kolkata, I impose a total media ban on anything related to the Pujo, taking a leaf out of the Government of India’s Ostrichian principle that if I bury my head in the sand and censor the flow of information about a certain thing, then that thing ceases to exist any more.

The last bit of the sentence isn't entirely necessary, but it hurts the popular Bengali image to edit a dig at the government.

So anyway, like I said here, it's been the same since the e-boom hit the country: a pre-puja buildup in online communities, people asking each other if they're going 'home' (which more often than not is Calcutta), cribbing about being forced to stay away, ranting and reminiscing on blogs. Every year. It's the (Hindu?) Bengali's autumn imperative, by all available proof. Before you start shaking your head vigourously and pointing to own blog and stamping feet, let me direct you to this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this and especially this (no, I insist).
And that's just from about a quarter of my blogroll.

I wonder now. Is there much that's said that hasn't been said last year? Isn't being said on five other blogs simultaneously? Not really, no. The same rhetoric, the same nostalgia: the (fast disappearing) kaash phool , smilingcrying reunions, distant homelands, dhaaker shobdho (which I can hear as I type -- the dawn drums that rouses and summons on a grey-blue moist Saptami morning), new clothes, long sleepy dusty annual trip to the ancestral home, sepia-tinged memories of the myth of happier times.

I was writing my puja post too. And it was very personal, and beyond the first three sentences I just couldn't go on (right words are such a bitch) and I was in a state of high-middle despair. It's Saptami, dammit, when will I finish it and put it up? Which is when it occured to me that I needen't, really, you know, put up a puja post. It's not a Pujabarshiki that I publish. Sit back. Hit 'save as draft'. Relax. Is okay.

But why the automatic attempt? I'm not away from home. In fact, I think I've always been in Calcutta during puja. Maybe missed a couple growing up, but that's all (my family's not bitten by the Bong wanderlust). The comfort of shared memories, do you think? Herd mentality? Peer-pressure? Or, as I said, the creation of a pool of semi-mythical memories fed on enforced notions of how the perfect puja should be?

All this is idle conjecture, you understand, and not children of my usual stunning intellect either, because there is only so much thinking you can do in your 28th hour without sleep. I'm superwoman, but only just.

However, since we are (tangentially) on the subject, have you noticed the determined 'cultural awareness' of regional channels? Looking at the prime-slot programmes on popular cable channels, I'd say the focus was on creating (check) and sustaining (also, to a large extent, check) a flauntable ethnic identity based on an almost-identical lifestyle* made distinct with token symbols of regionality. Red-bordered white sari for the Bengali girl, for example, with a Durga Puja sequence always thrown in. For, one presumes, the allegedly too-cosmopolitan-for-their-own-good city kids.

"I know all about Bungali culchur", said a girl I once met.
"You were born and brought up here", I pointed out.
"Arrey but who mixes with Bengalis? Chhi! (Ewww!) I am knowing from Devdas and Kasauti Zindagi Kii only. They are showing all about you pipple." (Please check the links. Please)

Ah. Of course.

Not that the Bengali channels are any better. They flood you with this constructed Bangaliana of elaborate kaantha stitch kurtas and the coloured dhotis (yes, him, but also an increasing number of men who're not him), heavily embroidered saris, pora matir goina (red clay jewellery) and chunky metal 'n semi-precious stone jewellery with which I was utterly unfamiliar in life. And which have suddenly become the epitome of urban 'ethnic' Bangali - 'a', not 'e' - chic. Along with the once dreadfully unfashionable jhola .

I've been wondering if the pujo jingles and verse-advertismenst one sees in pujobarshikis can be seen as a revival of the dying culture of pujor chhoDra and pujor gaan ('Puja special' poems and music albums, as it were), but even I think that's pushing it a bit too far ;-)

*Which must be maintained to protect in the interests of urban consumerism. The advertisments, of course, tap into this culture of superficial difference awl the time. The potency of images that the media pieces together from life and from yearnings have been reiforced by their recurring presence in 'critically acclaimed' films. Or maybe it's a symbiotic relationship. Large families scattered all over the urban landscape returning to the big, sprawling autumn (as opposed to summer) home in a village conviniently close to Calcutta with all sorts of feudal comforts and the joys of a stylishly traditional family puja (or bits thereof) - the Shalimar puja ad jumps to mind. Or the cosy togetherness of para'r pujo complete with a romanticised version of what might equally have been harassment or pujo'r prem (love that starts during the pujas). Another inherent part, we're told, of the Bengali's Pujo. See Thumbs Up and Coke ads for proof. Not that bloggers haven't covered this aspect as well. Although the take is entirely different:

The whole hullabaloo about Durga Pujo, simply put... is this... for most bongs it's a one-week window to fix your social/love/sex life. The friendly neighborhood pujor pandal, is nothing but an exotic singles bar.

**As you can see, the Bengali non-Hindu is rather left out of the game.

Originally posted here on my personal blog.