DURGAPUJA IN KOLKATA : A NOSTALGIA LONG LASTING

DURGAPUJA IN KOLKATA : A NOSTALGIA LONG LASTING

This afternoon while returning from the nearby vegetable market we both, myself and my grand daughter, were walking too slow during the last lap of our journey, for, we were crossing the pandal of our neighbourhood Durgapuja. We stopped for a while, and, watched how the women members of the organizing group preparing themselves for the last rituals for the final journey of the Durgamata and her four children. Most of the decorative items of the pandal were already stripped down. At this point my grand daughter made this comment “I always feel sad on this day, the Doshomi….. this means the Durga Pujo is over and a wait begins for a whole one     year !” I had no option but to admit that I too since her age, always felt the same way. I bet, you ask any Calcuttan, of any age, belonging to any state or religion, she or he would always felt the same way.

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cs-05Durgapuja, in Kolkata, and, all over the state, is a festival dear to one and all and a show-case of true secular spirit. Everyone whole heartedly participate.

images 2How the pujas are held ? Let us get an idea. There are various types of pujas now.

Bonedi Barir Pujo (Puja held by erstwhile zamindars or famous families of Bengal). These pujas are normally held at the permanent Thakur Dalan (Festival Arena). These are the oldest pujas, and there are many such family-pujas still being celebrated .

images 3Baroari Pujo (Puja held by Community of Friends) “Baroari” literary means twelve friends. Legend has it that 12 young men from a zamindar house came together and started the first community puja. This is the lifeline of the Durga Puja of Bengal There are 28000 such community pujas in Bengal. Kolkata holds about 3000 large size such Friends Community pujas. These are held by collecting donation from locality, sponsorship and patronage by various shops, factories and industries.

Housing Estate Puja – These are the new entrants. A large number of multi-storied buildings with many flats have come up all over the state. Each building organizes a Durgapuja.

images 5So, in all there are a large number places pujas are held with pomp and glories. The decorations made, especially by the Community Pujas, on the Puja Pandal (Puja Arena) are spectacular. Each one is a creative and very unique exhibit. Various industries announce the best pujas and make cash awards to the best decorated Puja. This made the event competitive and interesting ! It is normally a 4-day event, but, these days many pujos linger on — they start a few days early and delay their “final day” . There are a large number of crowd from early morning, through whole night on pandal hopping ! There are many temporary food stalls and restaurants who arrange additional chairs and tables.

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THIS TEMPORARY ALL-SILVER PANDAL HAS RS. 40 CRORE TAG !

PHOTO SOURCE : GOOGLE IMAGES

 

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VISWAKARMA – a celebration: DOWN THE NOSTALGIC LANE

VISWAKARMA : DOWN THE NOSTALGIC LANE

This is one Puja which always fascinates mvk004e. For several interesting reasons.

This is the only Puja which follow an English Calender and held every year on the 17th of September !! Therefore easy to remember the day.

  • – This is a very secular event which is celebrated ardently by one and all.
  • – Viswakarma is the god of machineries, in all forms, be it factory machines or automotive for that matter. Viswakarma will have a chisel in one hand and a hammer in the other
  • – Somehow, in this part of the land he is also the god of kite flying !.

Every moving or stationary machinery is offered a puja on this day – computers included ! Flowers are placed on the machine, a incense stick is lighted and the puja ends with distribution of sweets. If affordable, sometimes gala lunch for all dear ones.

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Deep is all excited about the day and could not sleep the night before, and, at least three times woke up and checked the wall clock – no, it was still time for sun rise. He got up from the sleep with the loud noise of a loud speaker playing hindi songs ! Ha, it is the Viswakarma Puja day, and, the local plastic factory is celebrating its first Viswakarma Puja . He is Mr. B Sarkar, an enterprising Christian young who started this factory recently. Soon there are noises vk003of many loud speakers playing songs and there is an air of festivity in the area. Deep took out his Latai (the wooden reel for storing cord) and a variety of Kites and went up to the neighbour’s roof top for flying the kites. The kite flying session went on till evening, with a short lunch break, for this Deep had to come down to his home and some how gulp something.

By evening Deep had a bath and came out on the street for a puja pandal (decorated arena) hopping. He was joined by three other friends, all teen agers. They went straight to the large factory near the railway track. This is the only day when the main gate of the factory will be kept wide open for a free for all entry. There was a very friendly worker of the factory who took them around the factory premises and showed them the huge machineries which make railway parts. A little later there was a film show and Deep joined the crowd gather there and enjoyed the movie.

vk001There after they came down to the medicines facotory. Here they attended a musical show. There after they joined the dinner ! It was an elaborate fare with rice, dal, curry fish and meat curry. A large number of people of the locality joined the dinner.

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vk002This year the Viswakarma was celebrated in the area, but, it was quite a different event. There was no kite flying. Even a couple of years ago there were still some boys flying kites with a lot of enthusiasm. The plastice factory has long shut its door and a housing complex has come in its place. The factory on the railway track is stands as a show piece and not much production. The medicine factory still organize a puja – the only one survived the test of times, but, held the puja with much less fan fare. New entrants for the Viswakarma are different now.

Early morning met the Sikh Sardarji early in the morning who informed that his car is washed early in the morning and decorated with flowers and a puja was held for his taxi.

vk007The high rise building staff organized a puja, especially for the machineries like Elevators, Water Pumps etc. used in the building. The Viswakarma idol was very nice here.

Every taxi held its puja with tender banana trees and flowers.

Well !! This is the hard realities of life….. there are many things which remain alive only in write up like this, and, we have nothing to complain. “Charei betee, chareibetee” ( lets move on and on )!!

 

Every house celebrating the puja will have a decorated earthen pot with a little banana plant and a tender coconut, it is the basic preliminary ritual.

Fresh Vegetables at Doorstep: Organic Way

Kitchen Garden Promotion Programme of Swadhina

The train reached at Ghatsila station around 9 in the night. As soon as the train touched platform I could locate the smiling face of Laduram, waiving desperately at me. I waived back, assuring him that I too have located him. As soon as I got down at the platform, Laduram took from me the carry-bag and now I only have my shoulder

bag. We were all set for the little walk till we reach our destination – the local Swadhina camp office located near the daily village market (Haat). Swadhina, a voluntary organisation is working in this area of Jharkhand on a women’s empowerment and livelihood enhancement programme for the past many years now.  Laduram is the able field- organiser for Swadhina here.

After finishing the packed dinner, of chapati and vegetable curry procured from the local eatery , we spent a little time about the next day’s visit to the villages. My sole purpose of coming here was to visit the Household Vegetable Farming or Kitchen Garden Programme of Swadhina.

Next couple of days Laduram took me in villages around Ghatsila  in his over-used motorcycle ! It gives relatively more sound than speed, and, I anyway had no complains to make since I myself drive at a moderate pace ! At the end of the trip, with the help of the project documents I could gather many insights which are shared here.

IMG-20171128-WA0083Objective: The basic objective of the programme, supported by SARRA,  is to raise Kitchen Garden not only to have Food for All In The Home, but also to enhance nutrition intake in the family. It is also envisaged to promote organic way of farming, with organic fertilizers and organic pesticides. As a result this programme would

– Provide Food Security & Nutritional support to families using their available household land resources.
– Provide scope for local women to stake claim on family plots
– Change the attitude of the families and the society towards women’s land ownership
– Encourage land-based livelihood among communities. As a follow-up activity, efforts will be vested on encouraging people for seed preservation. The programme was facilitated by: SARRA, under ILC and implemented by: Swadhina

Activities3 participants from Swadhina participated in the Training of Trainers (TOT) organized by SARRA at Tirupathi last year4. Mr. Laduram Mahato , Ms. Yashoda Mardi and Ms. Karmi Kisku participated in the 3 day intense training programme on the Basics of Kitchen Garden preparation, Food and Nutrition through Kitchen Garden, preparation of organic composts for Kitchen Garden.

Later a 3 day Training Programme was organised at Ghatsila, East Singbhum in Jharkhand. The trainers who had attended the TOT, along with Resource Persons from Swadhina explained the process of kitchen garden preparation and organic fertiliser/pesticide preparation and usage, through charts/ posters/ Flash-Cards.  

Through socio-economic family survey, the field workers identified potential implementors of the Kitchen Garden programme. These women were chosen for the Kitchen Garden Training and trained accordingly.

The implementation of the gardens initially received a huge set-back as Jharkhand experienced a massive rainfall in the region continuously throughout August and September. The plots that were being identified and prepared couldn’t be developed as a result of the continuous rainfall. However work began with rapid ferocity as soon as the rainfall subsided. The families members supported the women in developing plots, applying primary layer of organic fertilizers (as prepared by the trainees of SARRA training). Fencing was given to all the plots.

Seeds of red amaranthus, pumpkin, green chillies, tomato, brinjal, ladies finger, and several variety of leafy-vegetables were provided to the women.

This programme has been taken up in four villages, covering 21 families who are mostly belonging to Scheduled Tribe and backward class communities in East Singbhum district in Jharkhand state.

SOME REFLECTIONS: -Though the families are yet to experience the direct benefits of food security and nutrition from the kitchen garden, the fact that they have an access IMG-20171128-WA0030to direct nutrition in their back or front yard is an exciting prospect for the beneficiaries.
– The trainings have convinced the local families of the benefits of organic farming, they have especially learnt to use local natural fruit and vegetable resources to prepare organic fertilizers at home itself.
– Earmarking a plot in the name of the woman of the family has given a strong message to the society about women’s land ownership. To the woman, it is her personal piece of land.
– Those who had successfully implemented FAITH Gardens earlier could set a very good example to others about the farming abilities of women. In the words of Karmi Kisku – “The quality of my produce was so good that my husband took tips from me on how to actually grow such vegetables. He and his friends used my technique and had a good produce”

 

New Year – Celebrations Continue !

IMG_20180107_213715Celebration Continues !

It was the first Sunday of this new Year and Jojo, the present generation of the Nathaniels   came around noon to inform that there would be a small family get-together at the Nathaniel House.  The next thing he did was to rush to the Entally market to get the items to be cooked.

It was a dinner party and we were about 10 people- young and old, and, of course the children. The menu was simple – rice, dhal, pork vindaloo and pork sausages, green salads, dhania chutney. No  eating in Bengal is complete without sweets, and, there were sweet items galore. Sweet Curd, Sandesh, a special  IMG_20180107_213250rosomalai and rossogolla dipped in nolen gur syrup.

The pork vindaloo cooked by Jhumpa  i.e. Mrs. Jojo was awesome, after ages I could taste such a perfect vindaloo and despite a lot of warning (agreed I am quite old now- but if the food is too good !!)  I took large helpings.

It was a nostalgic journey. I was narrating about the good old days when Christmas at the Nathaniels meant basically Pulao, roast and  chicken kassa. My aunty alias Bordi Mashi alias Mrs. Sunny Nathaniel was a great cook, and, I was a great eater !

The function continued till late night. Thanks dear Jojo-Jhumpa ! This indeed is a very nice memory to cherish.

(Nathaniel House christened as “Sunny Side”, and the senior Nathaniel i.e. ‘Sunny Sahib’)

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Christmas Time @ Ballygunge Christian Para 2017

Its CHRISTMAS ! A sure time for the area to enjoy to the fullest. It is Ballygunge Christian Para. This is a small community of Christian families. This settlement is about 100 years old. Not many are aware about this tiny Christian Para (area) in Ballygunge, in the southern most corner of Kolkata.  From Ballygunge Phari if you come down to Bondel Road, opposite Deys Medical Factory you would locate a lane, besides the Shiv Temple. Come through this lane…. You are at Ballygunge Christian Para. Now a days it is easier to locate because of two high-rise buildings that came up recently i.e.  Orbit Sky Garden and Asha Towers.

The Christmas celebration centres around the small church here. Earlier this was a mud walled church with tiled roof, until recently when a two storied church building

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Church adorns a large hording -Santa on his sledge !

came up. The celebration is not limited to Christians only,  all communities of the locality happily participate in various activities like decorating the area etc.

Come…. Join the celebration !

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Every family decorates. The Nathaniels has a bold banner !

The church entrance has been decorated with a nativity display which attract good crowd.

Mukherji family has an elaborate christmas decoration with a lots of coloured lights !

 

 

 

Sunny Saahib

THIS INDIA, ONE INDIA

Despite our varied cultural plurality and many known – unknown sectarian identity, at the core of us we ARE ONE, JUST ONE INDIA. No amount of difference, be it religion, region or language can  break our tolerance.  I have planned to pen down a series on this very bondage that makes us  One … ONE INDIA.

This is the first in the series….. “Sunny Sahib” !

There was a festive mood in the air, at least till this morning. Since one month every youth in the locality, in this end part of Ballygunge, was engrossed and busy. The reason – “Mahanisha”.  This is the name of the play or drama that the local youth planned to stage. Those days, it was very much in vogue to stage a drama in the locality with a large number of youth participating and there were regular rehearsals in the evenings. The local youth caught hold of Shambhu Uncle, a veteran drama director of the locality and the drama selected was Mahanisha.  Shambhu Uncle also agreed to spare his sitting room for the rehearsals.

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This roughly is the spot for stage… Shambhu uncle’s house at the backdrp

Everything was going on as per schedule. That evening was the show ! The day before the tent-wallahs brought in a lot of bamboo poles, tarpaulins, bundle of ropes, and, they promised to put up the tent this morning…. And…. Then…. There was this thick black cloud visible on the sky since morning.

Everyone said it is just a matter of minutes….. there would be heavy down pour of rain and it would surely ruin the drama show ! Everyone wore a gloomy look, and, at this juncture someone suggested “How about asking Jhantuda for some kind of  err….. way out?”. Jhantuda was the local thakurmoshai (priest) for all puja functions.

When approached, Jhantuda thought for a while and suggested a way out. “ There is a way out…. That is if you all have faith ….. and I am sure we will have the blessings of Devimaa”.  What Jhantuda suggested was this “ We must find out a person in the locality who is the only child – a son. He should dig a deep hole, all by himself, and then place a small metal bowl in the hole…  then fill up the hole with sand and lose soil..”. And now there was some cheer in the gloomy faces – every one went on different directions to fetch someone as per order…. Only child….. Only son.  But the cheer was short lived… they could come up with some names, but most of them had one or two sisters….and none was the only son.

At this juncture some one yelled “Jhantu da, there is one, at the very next door. But if   I spell the name you may not agree…. He is Sunny Sahib, our anglo-Indian neighbour.I mean after all he is not an  er…er..”. At this point Jhantuda rebuked him quite loudly “Shut up.You are talking non-sense….. what is important is how sincere the person is in seeking from the heart that rain must not ruin our drama show”.

When the youth group reached Sunny Sahib’s house, he was busy in doing push up. He was a fitness freak,a good horse rider ! He was all thrilled at the idea of digging and came out in no time with his own sets of crow-bar and shovel . Soon he dug up quite a large hole -more than what was needed. Someone brought in an old aluminium bowl.Sunny Sahib neatly placed it in the middle of the hole and in no time replaced the loose soil to fill-up the hole….. all along he wore his signature cap on his head.

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That evening there was a full house show of Mahanisha – a large number of people from neighbourhood gathered, under the clear sky.They said some of the local youth performed very well, much like the professional actors. I, for one, remember a bit. Our neighbour Kumar Uncle was in the lead role! He was a good looking hero. But perhaps, the actual hero of the day was Sunny Sahib – an anglo-Indian Christian who gave all his time and might to please Devi Maa!

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Sunny Saahib’s Bungalow still stands tall in the locality !

Chinese in Calcutta : Memories Old & Sweet

I was barely 8 years old then.  Come Christmas, my father would take me to a place called Toy Land. This was a small shop located in Brabourne Road, beyond  Writers Building – the Ministers Office. During the Christmas there was a Toy Packet, for distribution among neighbourhood children, sponsored by some benevolent organisation in UK, which was delivered from this shop. It was  perhaps 1962, as I was happily proceeding after collecting the gift packet, I noticed a ground floor office in a paper-lanterns-chinese-new-year-decorations-2large building with broken glass panes and windows… a lot of pedestrians were peeping through the broken windows. I was too short to see much, but nevertheless saw an abandoned office, with deserted office tables, chairs and the sundries. My father explained “this was a Chinese  Bank, once the war started, some people pelted stones.. and the office is now closed and abandoned. .. there is no bank now.”. I  heard that there was a war, but  I was a little confused and asked “But dad, the war is somewhere near the Himalayas …. Why breaking window glasses here …” ? My father did not answer to this but gave me a blank look, and, I was sure he did not approve the idea of breaking windows right here in Calcutta mid-town. Our next place, every year was the China Bazar where we bought some paper-lantern (we had only one variety then)  and some coloured paper. We used to buy them from an old lady from her road-side spread. Those were all home made and there were a few other chinese sellers along side her selling space… there was no formal shop for them. (Last I purchased those was about a decade ago… since then those sellers vanished. In their place there are now stationary shop owners who stock the paper lanterns…… all imported straight from China, available in nicely wrapped packets, and the products are machine made. I surely miss those nice people who made those passionately crafted decoratives.)

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old china bazarIt was late evening. All four of us.. my three elder sisters and myself, were busy preparing our school lessons in our front room when our uncle entered the room. He was working with a paint factory.   “Here is something very special for you” saying this he placed a box on our table. “Try this, this is called Chow Chow….  a chinese preparation…. Very tasty…. Try it.” We all jumped on it and indeed we all agreed that it was very tasty….. our first taste of a Chinese food !

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A decade later I was at a Leadership Camp. It was a camp for university students organized by St. Xaviers College, and, even though I was  studying in another college, I was attending… there were a few more like me from other colleges. During day time there were interesting sessions on leadership, and, in the evening there were cultural exposions.  Singing was my fort, especially hindi film songs, and, obviously this cultural session was my favorite part. There was one Ricky….he played guitar very well who sung many Beatles numbers.. and  he could compose songs instantly. Bangladesh liberation war was on and in one evening Ricky composed a song called “Joi Bangla”… it was a very good rendition and I became his fan. Returning to Calcutta I landed up in his house. His father was a businessman and they lived in a big two storied building in central Calcutta. There after very often I came to his house and we spent good times listening to Beatles on cassette player, and, of course many numbers sung by Ricky live ! He was my first Chinese friend. He explained that their family business is making Electro Magnet, an important component meant  for various industries.

The same year we had a group or Chinese University students, from Hong Kong,  visiting the city on an exposure visit. The entire programme for them was managed by a group of six university students of the city, including myself. We hired a mini-bus for the week-long programme, and, had good fun. We were 16 altogether, 10 chinese and 6 bengalis. Most of us spoke broken English, but we soon realized that language is indeed not a barrier before true friendship !  During the period we went on a long trip to a small village called Khari in Sunderban forest region. The villagers prepared rice and some curries. It was then we realized that our Chinese friends was not used to eat by bare hands, and in any case the villagers did not have so many spoons ! Ranjitda, oneof the villagers, soon worked out quite an innovative way out. He quickly managed to cut nice long thin tree branches, shaped them neatly, and made good chop- sticks, and they all enjoyed the meal !

On the last day of the visit, it was planned to hold a fellowship dinner. There was a restaurant near our home at Garcha  Road called Kim Wah. My good friend Tarun and self went to the place that morning and met the owner. The Chinese gentle man was quite nice and quickly understood our problem. He explained that Chinese food are not very expensive and there are frequent such programme for college goers in his place, and, that we should not feel nervous about the expenses. In the evening when we all reached there was a nice sitting arrangement. Several tables were joined together to give the look of a very large table…. On top there was a white linen. With chairs around it was indeed a gala show. This was the first time we noticed that the place had nice lamp shades … golden-red coloured. There were a number of songs presented by enthusiasts among us,  before we settled for our meal. The menue was mixed chow, mixed fried rice and chilly-chicken…. Only a few full-plates were ordered but very efficiently shared by the restaurant friends. As promised, the bill was not at all expensive…. (And then on for all our gatherings, even now , we go for the same menue) At the end there was a special performance …. Magic Show by one of us … Raja. Raja was studying science at a city college and all along the trip days Raja was very helpful…. He would get down from the bus every time there is a traffic jam and help us to have smooth ride.  His magic items were simple. Piercing a balloon with a long needle… and the balloon would not burst ! Then he will take out various colour ribbons from his mouth…. real long ones…. And finally his special item. He would gulp a long piece of white thread. …. He would then make a slit on his stomach… and then pull out the thread…. Real blood- read in colour ! Clap…..clap……clap !!  At this point Deborah Chou, the youngest Chinese friend shouted with tears on her eyes “oh no, you should not do this trick again…. You can not hurt yourself like this !”  (Little did she know that it is only a hoax, a pre-coloured thread piece was already pasted on Raja’s stomach with a transparent sticky tape, and, then in a dramatic way he only had to make a slit on the tape, to pull the red coloured thread piece !!!)

The next day when we went to the Airport to bid them good bye we were teasing Raja…”Did Deborah said Good Bye to you Raja “!! Before the departure the team leader of the Chinese students said that there should be more to this…. It was suggested by them that one of us should visit Hong Kong on an exposure trip. We all agreed that Raja should get this opportunity. A couple of months later Raja indeed left for Hong Kong. Within a week Raja’s air-mail letter arrived us…. Yes. He had a good time there…. A special mention was there that he visited Deborah’s house….and that her father was a very nice persons.  By next year Raja married Deborah and they lived happily ever-after !

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wellingtonBy next year I got my first job. It was at Bangalore and every one advised me that I should be well dressed… complete with a nice pair of shoes. As usual my good friend Tarun came to my rescue. He told me that he knew of a place, a shoe store… a Chinese “uncle” sells nice shoes at an affordable price, and the styles are quite good for young people like us. The place was on Wellesly Street near Wellington crossing. There was a signboard which simply said “Any Shoe 14.50”! Yes, Rupees Fourteen and fifty paise. I had Rs.20/- with me and guessed I could afford this luxary ! Uncle showed me a large variety and we settled for deep brown crocodile designed shoe. “You may put on and walk around so that you may know whether it was comfortable”… uncle suggested.

Now I was all ready for a new life….. I have entered the earning line !