Monday, September 28, 2009

Durga Puja

my friend and colleague biswaroop sent me this mail this evening. i hope you enjoy reading it as much as i did. happy vijay dashami, everyone.

Durga Puja

As far as Bongs (Bengalis) are concerned, there are only three kinds of people on earth:

Bongs: They inhabit the Middle Kingdom and are the only people who really matter. We probashi Bongs or expatriate Bongs are cousins thrice removed, acknowledged only when we make it good in Bollywood.

Non-Bongs: All other people who don’t matter. We cannot afford to say it in as many words, now that we have fallen on such hard times having to queue up for all the jobs before the non-Bongs).


Hon-Bongs (a term coined by Jug Suraiya, an eminent journalist and humourist and an hon-bong himself) or honorary Bongs: They are a small breed of non-Bongs, who have lived in Bengal for a long time and love to eat rashogolla and mishti doi. They may or may not speak Bengali; that does not matter as long as they love (or profess to love) rashogolla and mishti doi. Spouses, domestic partners, or good friends of Bongs are also welcome to this privileged club as long as they love rashogolla and mishti doi. So much the better if the jamaai or bou-ma happens to be an Ivy League-academic or a Nigerian footballer). The others are not so welcome even if they love rashogolla and mishti doi.

One thing about Bongs that baffles non-Bongs is the mammoth enthusiasm about Durga Pujo that never translates into communal riots. Well, to begin with, the legend of Durga is such a bizarre, rich and heady mix of colourful mythology, high theology, and superb iconography (something like Jesus, the angels, Santa Claus, and the reindeers rolled into one) that it would be difficult for anyone to misappropriate it to suit narrow ends. Just imagine a Dravidian mother goddess elevated to the high table of the Aryan pantheon and showered with armaments by Aryan deities such as Agni and Brahma, just to make her kill a Dravidian asura in a masterly stroke of realpolitik. And think of the ultimate image makeover: the transformation of a fierce demon-slayer into a demure Bengali girl, who visits her parents on earth for four days every year with the four kids in tow. Portraying George Bush as Mother Teresa can only come a distant second. If you want to turn this spectacle into a mascot for mischief, where could you possibly start?

Perhaps it also helps that her devotees in Bengal are quite an irreverent lot themselves. Lots of Bongs these days take their faith lightly without belittling it and tend to be religious without being officious about religion. Every year, there are spoofs on Durga and her family in popular magazines and weekend supplements of major newspapers around the time of Durga Pujo. Thank goodness that we have not had champions of the faith storming the office of the Ananda Bazar Patrika to protect the honour of our gods, at least not quite yet. With luminaries like Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and Mamata Banerjee to look up to, this is one of the rare things that can still make you happy about life in Bengal. Vive le difference!

Unfortunately these satires are always in Bengali and that makes it a bit of a bother trying to share the fun with the non-Bongs and the hon-Bongs. This year, after ages, I have found something in a similar vein in English in the Graphiti section of the Telegraph of Calcutta. The author, Nabaneeta Dev Sen, a well-loved author, humorist, and teacher of comparative literature, needs no introduction to Bong readers. Those who don’t read Bengali might know her better as Amartya Sen’s first wife. I am attaching JPEG images of the five pages for you enjoyment in lieu of rashogollas for Bijaya Dashami. So, go ahead and join in the fun.

With shubhechchha, kola-kuli, pronaam and heartiest wishes for a wonderful year ahead, wherever you are,

Biswaroop, Madhuri, Mitti and Kabir


  1. mmm..I can't see the JPEGs.

    Love the categorization of people by Bongs..its so accurate! I am in a field that is dominated by bongs and being a non-bong, I know it a bit too well.

    Happy Vijay Dashmi to you too...

  2. did not post the JPEGs as yet. will try now.