It is hard to be a Bengali during Durga Puja if like me one has left the warm cockles of Bengal’s heart 18 years ago. Come Durga Puja, and one is forced to reincarnate one’s universally appealing persona into native Bengali’s. Like Tenualosa Ilisha (Elish Fish), the stalwarts of Bengal expect the natives to abandon the sea of anonymity (meaning other States of residence), swim upstream to spawn the eggs of Bengali Brotherhood in Kolkata, and partake of the ‘real’ thing…resplendent pandals, goddesses, gluttony, and including strangers.
Outside Bengal, it is a Herculean task. If you must imprint these un-replicable experiences, then start early. Seek out all the Bengalis in your neighborhood; count the number of Chatterjees, Deys and Gangulis in your office; and, if you are the sort to take it a bit far, reconnect with estranged friends (non-Bengalis) who have friends (Bengalis) affiliated to one of the few Bengali clubs or committees in the city. However, your diverse attempts to swim upstream and regain your ‘Bengaliness’ could leave you exhausted.
To retain visibility like a fish out of water, float between Indira Park, Keyes High School, Banjara Hills and Kalibari in your finery at Hyderabad. Make a fat donation to the biggest samiti. Use colloquial phrases – “Dada, ektoo jaagaa deben?” meaning “Sir, could you give me some space?” Greet grim Bengali brothers and sisters. You want to be ‘one’ with the community. Still, you go unnoticed, unappreciated and unanswered. Self-doubts…Is this a Chinese New Year celebration and am I deciphering the riddles on lanterns in Beijing?
Suddenly, after hours in the cue for a splattering of afternoon bhog, an epiphany occurs. Surprise, surprise! Every Bengali becomes an ‘outsider’ in local Bengali communities when out of Bengal. It is Bijoya Dashami. Good triumphs over evil? Involuntarily, you peer into the mirror. At least, you still resemble an arty Bengali.