11 December 2013

December

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Every year at the start of December I listen to the songs of Jim Reeves, Pat Boone and George Strait. I have been doing this for the last many years. 

On December dawns I usually take the first tram from Charu-Market and go to Esplanade. The slow ride through the fog makes the journey ethereal. The high-point is when the tram reaches the Race-Course area. 

On December Sundays I usually go to Territti Bazaar for delicious pocket-friendly chinese breakfasts. 

December makes me go to New Market. Pastries at Nahoum's. I love hanging out at the Sim-Park with a friend, preferably a female friend. 

December makes me walk throughout the length and breadth of the illuminated Park Street, especially in the evening. 

On Christmas Eve I usually go to St. Paul's Cathedral for the midnight mass. 

On Christmas I usually go to St. Xavier's College and enter our College Church. Love the huge decorated Christmas Tree on our campus which one sees upon entering from the front gate. I still love my ex-College very much and it is really the best place on this planet. Sadly only a few days back the College authorities have cut down that old tree. Really miss that tree a lot. 

On any one December evening I usually go and sit for some time at the park opposite Ballygunge Shiksha Sadan School and stare at the closed gate. More than ten Decembers back I had spent a lovely romantic evening there with my First-Love. I really miss her a lot. I still love her the same way.    

28th December makes me sad and nostalgic. That day I read the first page of my old Slam Book which was filled by my First-Love and then go to Menoka Cinema and have some tea there. 

Every year on 31st December I plan to watch theatre for the whole night but end up partying somewhere else...

(to be continued...)

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17 November 2013

Calcutta Film Festival 2013

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Kolkata International Film Festival 2013 ended today. 


This year the inaugural ceremony was awesome. Watched Rituparno Ghosh's hindi film TAAK JHAANK at the giant screen at Netaji Indoor Stadium. The bengali version of this film is SUNGLASS. 

Amitabh Bachchan delivered the best speech, just like last year. Added attraction was the presence of my favourite Kamal Hasan. Shah Rukh Khan as usual arrived late.

I have been going to the Film Festival from 2003. This was my 11th year. I used to watch five films per day for seven days. The show timings were 9am, 11am, 3pm, 5pm and 7pm. After coming back home on the last Metro from Rabindra Sadan, I used to take a Saridon tablet every night after dinner. Watching five films every day used to give me a headache. After having Saridon, I used to go on the internet and read about the synopsis of the next day's films. At night I used to decide which films to watch the next day. 

I have also been collecting the Film Festival Brochure all these years. Here are the booklets from the first two years. These two are extremely rare and only a few people in Calcutta have them. I am proud to possess these two brochures. From the third year the brochures started getting bigger and thicker. 





















Here is the brochure of 2003, the first year that I attended the Film Festival. 














This Film Festival is like Durga Puja for the film buffs. And the Nandan-Chattor feels like Maddox Square. In the last 10 years I have enjoyed watching films at Nandan-1 the most. That venue has always been my first preference. I simply love those push-back seats.

Sometimes what happens is that if you are late in entering Nandan-1 before a film starts then all the seats get occupied pretty quickly and then you have to sit on the stairs. I have seen so many films sitting on the stairs. 

There is another rule that once a film ends then the audience must go out of Nandan-1 and again come back inside through a queue. What I used to do was that once a film ended then I immediately used to go inside the toilet and maybe smoke a cigarette there and used to stay there for some time. Once the queue for the next film started entering the hall then I used to quickly come out of the toilet and join the queue. In this way I never had to leave Nandan-1.    













My second hall preference is Rabindra Sadan. Though from the 3pm show, this venue literally proves to be a pain in the ass. All the Delegates, Guests and Press Card holders have to fit in the steep balcony. The seats below on the ground floor are for ticket holders. The balcony gets overcrowded. And suppose if one doesn't like a film, then it becomes very difficult for him or her to come out from the over-populated balcony. 

In 2006, inspite of having a Delegate Card and just for novelty's sake, I had watched a few films at the top-most balcony at New Empire during the Film Festival. This balcony has only small wooden seats and they are really uncomfortable. The ticket price was just 10 rupees then. To enter this balcony, one has to get in through a shabby gate on the right side of New Empire and then walk up a never-ending flight of stairs. 

(In the year 2000, I had seen the film GLADIATOR from this balcony. The ticket price back then was just seven rupees.) 

I have a nice group of friends for the Film Festival. We all have been attending this festival for so many years now. Throughout the year we hardly have time to meet up and only keep in touch through Facebook mostly but during the Film Festival we spend these seven days together like a family. 

After the 11am show gets over, then I have my lunch usually at Raju's Kitchen. Some days I eat masala dhosa, on other days I go for veg-thali or fish-thali, or sometimes I eat chicken chowmein or mixed fried rice. Throughout the rest of the day I survive on tea, coffee and cigarettes. Hori Da-r Cha-er Dokan serves the best tea in that area. The owner's full name is Horihar Banik. His tea shop is the most famous in that area and also serves as a landmark and meeting-point. After the 7pm show gets over around 9pm-ish, I usually stay back at the Nandan-Chattor for another half-hour and that is the time to discuss the day's films with friends and even strangers over tea, coffee and cigarettes. 

The beauty of Nandan Chattor during the Film Festival is that one can come out of one auditorium in the middle of a film and enter another hall and watch the rest of the film that is running there. I have so many times left Nandan-1 during a boring film and then entered either Nandan-II or Nandan-III or Rabindra Sadan or Sisir Mancha. I have even sometimes left Nandan-I in the middle of a film, came outside, had some tea and snacks, and then went back to watch the remaining of that film. 

Here is a pic of mine at this year's Film Festival : 











Here is a pic of my group of friends : 










For other pics, please see this link


I studied in St. Xavier's College from 2004 to 2007. In those years I used to bunk college for seven days to attend the Calcutta Film Festival. In our college we had a rule that if you bunk two consecutive classes then you needed an excuse-slip from the Vice-Principal to attend further classes. After the film festival, when I went back to college, the Professors used to ask me to get that excuse-slip. I used to go to the Vice-Principal but he used to get angry at me since I had bunked college to watch films. For the next seven days I used to go to him daily and every day he would refuse to give me the excuse-slip. So it was kind of a holiday for me. I used to go to college every day and spend time inside the canteen or at the green-benches or spend time surfing the internet at our computer lab. Most probably on the eighth or ninth day the Vice-Principal used to show mercy on me and give me that elusive excuse-slip. Then I used to again attend my classes. 

This year at the film festival we all had loads of fun. Saw some good films too. Attended some interesting seminars at Bangla Academy and Jibanananda Sabhaghar. Had a great time throughout these seven days. I am feeling a bit sad now that the Festival is over. The feeling is somewhat similar to the feeling one feels on Doshomi during Durga Puja. Have to wait for next year. Aaschhey Bochhor Aabar Hobey...
  


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5 November 2013

Sachin Tendulkar's 199th Test at Eden Gardens

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The above issue of The Telegraph Colour Magazine is from 28th February 1993. I was 11 years old then. In this post I wrote something about the Hero Cup. 

Here is another post on Eden. 

Yes, from tomorrow I am going to Eden Gardens on all five days. This is the first time I am going to watch a Test match on all five days at the venue. I have been going for Test matches at Eden since 1996, but previously I have only visited Eden for only a day during a Test match. Never have I attended a Test match on all five days. This is going to be my first time. Here are my tickets for tomorrow's match. 










Also one can see some more pics at my Facebook album

I have always loved Eden. Here is a bit of Eden history: 

In 1804, the East India Company's civil servants had organised a cricket match between a team of Old Etonians and the Rest. It was played on the large open field lying to the south of Government House, virtually the area which you will be looking straight at as you emerge from the gate of the present day pavilion. The Etonians had won the match by an innings and 152 runs. 

Lord Auckland had created a ground on the northwest corner of Esplanade in 1841 and had named it the 'Auckland Circus Garden'. Later in 1854, to keep alive the memory of his two unmarried sisters, he renamed the ground 'Eden Gardens', as their family name was Eden. The British founded the Calcutta Cricket Club in 1825 and the present ground at Eden Gardens was created in 1865. Though the land originally belonged to Rani Rashmoni, ironically no Indians were allowed to play there till 20 years later in 1885. 

In 1885, the year of the founding of the Indian National Congress, the first international cricket match was held at Eden Gardens between the Clack Australian and Presidency Club teams. All the members of the Presidency Club team were Bengalis, and it was, along with the Wellington Club, one of the oldest cricket teams in India. 

The match had ended in a draw although the Bengalis had put up a stiff fight. After the match, in reply to a question put by the Captain of the Australian team, the Indian skipper, Nagendraprasad Sarbadhikari, said, " Although our British coach teaches us half-heartedly because we are Indians, we toiled hard and tried our best to be your equal. As a result, we were evenly matched". Later Lord Hawke had sent a letter of congratulations to the Indian Captain. A number of distinguished personalities had graced the stands during the match, among whom were the Prince of Wales, Dadabhai Naoroji and Sir Surendranath Banerjee. 

I didn't know about the above piece of history and have only recently read about it in the 30th December 1984 issue of The Telegraph Colour Magazine



DAY ONE (6th November 2013) : 












Reached Eden around 10 am. Gate No. 9, Block E. It was very hot. My seat was just opposite the Club House. Had an awesome day. Made a few friends. Had lunch together. West Indies got bundled out for just 234 runs. The greatest moment of the day was when Sachin Tendulkar came to bowl and got a wicket in his first over. At stumps India were 37/0. Looking forward to Tendulkar's batting tomorrow. Today there were a lot of empty chairs. Hopefully tomorrow we will have a full house. Since digital cameras are not allowed inside Eden, therefore I had to click all pics through my mobile phone which only has a 1.3 megapixel camera.




DAY TWO (7th November 2013) : 














Reached Eden at 9 a.m. sharp. Exchanged my ticket to Block D. The greatest moment came soon when the God of Cricket came out to bat. But 10dulkar could only score 10 runs before the Umpire interrupted. I was so disappointed that I immediately came out from the gallery and started loitering near the food stalls. Met an old friend of mine there. Had a lovely chat with him after all these years. Didn't feel like entering the stadium any more. Suddenly the colourful Sudhir Kumar Gautam walked past me. A group of young boys started following him and wanted to click pictures with him. I was too sad and depressed to do such things. After some time I entered the stadium and saw that five Indian wickets were down. Around tea-break I left Eden and went to the American Library




DAY THREE (8th November 2013) : 













Reached Eden around 10 a.m. Exchanged my ticket to Block L1. Went upstairs and crossed the bamboo barrier and went to Block K1. Now this is the best Block in the stadium, obviously apart from the Club House. First of all there is a constant cool breeze coming from the Hooghly river. One gets a beautiful view of the Vidyasagar Setu on one side and the Victoria Memorial on the other side. Also saw the High Court. Anyways the view of the ground below was simply marvelous. A group of people sitting near me, most probably relatives of some police officer, was having some ethereal food from Bijoli Grill packets. I am damn sure that all of them will soon have stomach upsets and loose-motions. The match ended. India won. But everybody in the stadium was unhappy. Everybody started abusing the West Indian team and demanded that 'Test-Status' should be immediately taken away from them. 

(A comic moment happened when Ravi Shastri verbally struggled and stammered to pronounce the name of the Police Commissioner of Kolkata. It reminded me of one particular scene from Uttam Kumar's Chhadmabeshi.)  

Anyways, I was tremendously unhappy. Left the stadium and went and sat on those benches near the Shahid Minar. After some time I got up and started walking towards the Metro station. Suddenly an Esplanade-Tollygunge tram came and stood in front of me. Without even thinking for a second I boarded the tram. Went at the back and sat on the window seat. After many many many months I again went for a tram ride. It was awesome. The slow pace of the tram made the journey back home memorable. I asked a middle-aged co-passenger to click my picture through my 1.3 megapixel-wala mobile phone. He was amused at my request. He seemed to be a regular tram commuter. His facial expression revealed the fact that in his entire life I was the first person to request him to click a picture inside a moving tram. And here is that picture








  





 

(to be continued...)

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The Telegraph Colour Magazine

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A few months back while writing Sundays, I searched for The Telegraph Colour Magazine desperately throughout Calcutta. Those magazines were an integral part of my childhood. My first target was College Street. I went to each and every shop at Boi-para and also its adjoining lanes. Sadly I couldn't find a single issue there. Then I searched at Free-School Street, Gariahat, Sudder Street and at many other places, but was disappointed on all occasions. 










People said that I wouldn't be able to find those magazines any more. I went to National Library and there at their Newspaper Archives I found all the issues but the Library wouldn't allow me to bring those magazines home. Then I went to the Telegraph's main office, but there they were charging a lot of money per issue. Still I didn't lose hope. I have always believed that if you wanted something very badly then there is always a half-chance that you might as well get it. And I have always loved to hope against hope. I searched throughout the nook and crannies of Calcutta and left no stone or pebble unturned to get hold of those old 80's and 90's magazines. 










Finally a miracle happened. In my search throughout Calcutta I came across a man who provided me with 50 issues of The Telegraph Colour Magazine. In return he asked for twenty rupees per issue. I agreed immediately. The moment the magazines came in my hands after all these years, the first thing that I did was to smell them. They smelt of my childhood Sundays. Going through them made me weep silently as these magazines became like Time-Machines which helped me to relive and relish those golden Sun-days, hours, minutes and seconds. I scanned some of the pages of those magazines and uploaded the pics in my Blog-Post titled Sundays on 14th July 2013. 









Cut to 6th October 2013. 




My miracle-man called me and said that 713 issues of The Telegraph Colour Magazine are available for sale at the same price and that also in 20 neatly bound volumes. The issues start from 22nd January 1984 and ends at 28th June 1998. Plus 5 issues of GRAPHITI from 5th July 1998 to 2nd August 1998. A total of 718 magazines. 













I immediately said that I would buy all of them. The total cost came at Rs. 14,360. With this money I bought a huge slice of my childhood back. Ever since then I have been literally sleeping with these magazines and going through them almost day in and day out. These magazines proved to be like Time-Machines and transported me back to my childhood days of 80's and 90's. While leafing through the yellowish pages of these magazines, so many memories came back after all these years. 

A few months back I was desperately searching for these magazines throughout the length and breadth of Calcutta. There was no ray of hope anywhere. Many people said that I would never be able to find them. And today I am the proud owner of The Telegraph Colour Magazines from 1984 to 1998. 















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1 November 2013

Aishwarya Rai

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On 13th November 1994, I saw the above cover picture of Aishwarya Rai on The Telegraph Colour Magazine and immediately had my first crush. I was around 12 years old then. That first crush has lasted even to this present day. The magnitude of that crush has only multiplied over all these years. 











In 1997, I saw her first hindi film Aur Pyaar Ho Gaya and fell in love with this songI have loved her in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Taal, Josh, Mohabbatein, Devdas, Chokher Bali, Raincoat, Umrao Jaan, Dhoom 2, Jodha Akbar and Guzaarish










There was a time when the four walls of my room were full of Aishwarya Rai's posters. Most of those posters were from the film Devdas. My first girlfriend used to come to my room and get very jealous. Sometimes she used to try to tear down those posters. I used to have a difficult time in trying to stop her from doing so. I used to buy those posters mostly from Esplanade.  












Today is her birthday. I wish her all the happiness of this World... 


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6 October 2013

Durga Puja

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Durga Puja is the best thing that happens in Calcutta. The City of Joy becomes realistically magical on those five days. After the monsoons, Durga Puja is like a steroid injection that boosts up the economy and along with it the lives of the ordinary and extraordinary people. Celebration of the autumn harvest and victory of Good over Evil. Everyone gets a breather from their monotonous lives, gets enveloped in harmony and experiences an overall feel good factor as their familiar city transforms itself into a 24 hour live-wired wonderland. The city stops sleeping for these five days and experiences the mother of all trances. Durga Puja is indeed the greatest festival in this world. Nothing is bigger than this. The innovative, creative and mesmerizing pandals with their various themes make Durga Puja the greatest Art-Festival in this planet. Calcutta, for five days, becomes an open Art-Gallery where everyone is welcome throughout the day and night. 












The magic of Durga Puja actually starts a fortnight before Mahalaya. The anticipation of the coming carnival makes our pathetic lives suddenly become beautiful. We see the bamboo skeleton structures of the puja pandals sprouting in every nook and corner of the city. The intoxicating fragrance of shiuli and chhatim takes us to an ethereal place of bliss. The general feeling of pujo ashchhey, pujo ashchhey gives us a tremendous high. People say that we Bongs are made up of lazy-bones and are perennially lethargic sleeping beautiesThis is not true. We just reserve all our energies throughout the year exclusively for these five days of Durga PujaBecause this festival is Bigger thaChristmas, Eid, Hanukkah, Mardi Gras, Brazilian Carnival and all other festivals taken together. 










I have visited Kumartuli, the so called cradle of the Gods and Goddesses, several times in the last several years, especially on Mahalaya mornings and have seen the magical Chakkhu Daan with my own eyes! One sees professional, amateur and wannabe photographers crowding the place. These days any boy or girl who buys a DSLR, thinks of himself or herself as the next Raghu Rai. I have noticed an interesting trend on Facebook. Nowadays all jobless boys are mostly freelance photographers and all jobless girls are mostly freelance models. Anyways coming back to Kumartuli, those dingy narrow lanes and muddy skinny alleys look fascinating. Inside the poorly illuminated shabby studios, work goes on at a brisk pace and Ma Durga with her children and Mahisasur come to life. Magic gets created here at Kumartuli.  








In my childhood days in the late 80's and early 90's, it seldom rained during Durga Puja, though it is almost a recurrent feature these days. But even this rainfall, parts of the city getting water-logged, the constant nagging drizzles, the remaining dark clouds hovering on the sky above and threatening us with another round of heavy showers, still actually fail to dampen the spirit, zeal and enthusiasm of the general public. Some people get some sort of devilish pleasures when it rains during Durga Puja. They themselves don't go out of their home and enjoy the festival. For them there is no difference between the five days of Durga Puja and the remaining 360 days. These kind of Grinches get sadistic happiness when on TV they see the pandal hopping people getting drenched in rainfall and struggling in ankle-deep water. There is only one treatment for these kind of people. These Grinches just need a regular dose of some Jadoo Ki Jhappis










In my childhood I always hated waking up early. Only on the dawn of Mahalaya I liked it. In still a half-sleepy mode I loved listening to that timeless creation Mahisasura Mardini on Akashbani. In those days I only had a single deck cassette player. In the mid 90's I once recorded the priceless radio broadcast on a TDK blank cassette. Later on when I played it, all my relatives were amazed. Mind you, in those days there were no mp3s and everything was not so easily available. 









Mahisasura Mardini is a maginificent piece of audio drama uncomparable in Bengali culture. With its mythical theme and Vedic mantras, this programme is a landmark composition and has now become an inseparable part of Bengali culture. Without it Durga Puja seems incomplete. It was scripted by Bani Kumar and narrated by Birendra Krishna Bhadra, the magical voice behind this composition. The enchanting music was composed by none other than the legendary Pankaj Kumar Mullick, and the songs were rendered by famous singers of yesteryears. The programme, which started off as a live-performance in All India Radio, has been broadcast in its pre-recorded format since the late nineteen-sixties. Its great popularity remains undiminished even today. The artistes who had taken part in it were Birendra Krishna Bhadra, Sumitra Sen, Sandhya Mukhopadhyay, Pratima Bandopadhyay, Utpala Sen, Hemanta Mukhopadhyay, Rabin Bandopadhyay, Pannalal Bhattacharya, Dwijen Mukhopadhyay, Manabendra Mukhopadhyay, Sachin Gupta, Shyamal Mitra, Bimalbhushan, Tarun Bandopadhyay, Arati Mukherjee, Krishna Ghosh, Abhabati, Manikmala, Prafullabala, Beenapani, Prabhabati, Angurbala, Ila Ghosh, Ila Bose, Shailadebi, Suprabha Ghosh, Supriti Ghosh, Shipra Basu, Ashima Mukherjee and Krishna Dasgupta. Only in the year 1976, for the first and last time, Uttam Kumar had recited the Mahalaya composition at the tune of Hemanta Mukherjee at All India Radio. Here is Uttam Kumar's version :




   





But the Bengalees refused and rejected the above version by Uttam Kumar and stayed loyal to the original version which is still playing on All India Radio on Mahalaya mornings. 









Also during my childhood days, the weather used to be quite cold during late nights and early mornings. My parents used to take me, my brother and my cousin brother out for pandal hopping in our Ambassador car. We used to start after midnight and finish by morning. We used to visit almost all the major pandals of south Calcutta. My mother used to keep a set of warm clothes in the car as we needed them around dawn. We kids also used to burst caps in those tin pistols and we also used to shoot at balloons with those toy guns at puja pandals. We kids also used to wear new clothes. From my very childhood, I never had any demands or fascinations for new clothes and shoes. Whatever my parents got for me, I was happy with that. Most of my friends in school used to compete among themselves as to how many new clothes one bought during Durga Puja. I never indulged in such competitions. I used to think that so many poor children in this city do not even get one set of new clothes, atleast I am so privileged than them. Once during the early 90's phase, we had gone to the Bakulbagan pandal. As a child, I got my first Durga Puja shock when I saw that the idol of Ma Durga was wearing, hold your breath, a boob tube!










Another night would exclusively be reserved for north Calcutta. I used to count the number of pandals that we visited, because after school reopened, I had to tell my friends. Whoever saw the most pandals won an invisible imaginary competition. We all took it for granted that everyone would tell the truth and some sort of an honour system used to exist between us. And I still remember the excitement of seeing that Titanic pandal at FD Block Salt Lake in 1998. I had tremendously enjoyed the long drive to Salt Lake anback. Salt Lake in those days used to be and feel like an alien land to me. These days Calcuttans start their pandal hopping from two-three days before Sasthi. Thus the duration of the festival stretches to a week. A wonderful week which gives strength to the Calcuttans to survive for another year and they wait with bated breath for next year's Durga Puja








   



In those days in Calcutta, load-shedding was as common as sunrise and sunset. However during Durga Puja, it seemed that current has been flowing here from all the States of India. At night, special attraction was seeing those captivating Chandannagore styled lightings which told various interesting stories of the previous year throughout the city. I still remember there was once a case of a man jumping into the tiger's cage at Alipore Zoo and this incident was beautifully portrayed in illumination in one of the pandals of south Calcutta. Another year there were milk-drinking sparkling baby Ganeshas everywhere. And in 1996, the magic of electric lights recreated the duel between Aamir Sohail and Venkatesh Prasad magnificently. Hats-Off to these talented and creative electrical wizards. 








In the early 90's, I remember one particular year when only one bangla song played loudly at almost all the puja pandals where we had visited. And that song was Aami Kolkatar Rosogolla from the film ROKTEYLEKHA. Another year both the hindi and bengali versions of the song Gutur Gutur from Mithun Chakraborty's DALAAL played at almost all the puja pandals. And roughly around that time the so called Jibonmukhi revolution had already started. Some of the puja pandals also started playing the songs of SumanNachiketa and Anjan on a regular basis. As a child I instantly fell in love with this new kind of music and started looking forward to these songs at puja pandals. 











In the 90's, Durga Puja also meant watching Chhuti-Chhuti on Bangla Doordarshan. In one such season the title track of Chhuti-Chhuti was composed and sung by Suman Chattopadhyay. Back then, the last four lines of the song really had touched my heart. Durga Puja holidays for me meant waking up late, going to sleep very late at night, unbridled fun, delicious food, lazying around, no school, no tension and not even a single care of the world. But somehow somewhere at that age those last four lines had disturbed my inner peace. The lines were : 


Jey Chheley-ta Kaaj Korey Khaai 
Raastar Cha-er Dokaaney 
Taar Chhuti Paalalo Kothaai 
Taar Chhuti Aachhey Kon Khaaney...







Durga Puja also meant those unputdownable AnandaMelas. Clear blue autumn skies with white clouds here and there, kash phool near eastern bypass, and the best part was that there was no need to study. Ofcourse there was the burden of holiday-homework to be done. But I used to begin doing them only towards the fag end of the holidays. In my childhood days we had a shiuli tree in our backyard. Loved those early morning shiuli flowers. The only problem was those irritating caterpillars living on that tree













I personally believe that people who leave Calcutta during the five days of Durga Puja must not be allowed to come back here. I mean its like betraying your own country during times of war. Even if these kind of strange people don't want to go outside their home during Durga Puja, atleast they can stay indoors and eat, sleep and watch Puja-Parikrama on Bangla Doordarshan! They can stay at home and also read about the history of Durga Puja in Bengal, and about how Gopeshwar Pal, after returning to Kumartuli in 1935 from a sculpture course in Italy, permanently decided to do away with the Ekchala image of Ma Durga and separate the quintet and thus revolutionizing Durga Puja foreverHe also wanted to capture the action of this cosmic battle. Ma Durga's trident got raised to pierce Mahisasura. The priests were furious at this break with tradition and initially refused to worship this kind of an idol. Yet the general public loved this new image and ever since the style has caught on. 








Durga Puja achieved democracy much before India did. Around 1790, twelve Brahmin friends at Gooptipara in the Hooghly district started the first Baroyaari Puja and ithe process brought Ma Durga to the masses and paved the way for the future all-inclusive Sarbojanin Durgoutsabs. Whoever wants to know more on this subject, please read the book DURGA PUJA : Celebrating the Goddess, Then and Now by the journalist Sudeshna Bannerjee. 








My heart really goes out to those people who have to work during Durga Puja. I feel sad for them. But because of these people, Durga Puja turns out to be a grand success each year. Special mention must be made of the Police Force who do a great work during this festive season and help us all to have a good time. Salute and thanks a ton to the Kolkata Police. 










The beauty of Durga Puja lies in the eyes of young boys and girls. Young boys roaming in groups in their new shirts, jeans and shoes. Young girls roaming in groups too in their new sarees, salwars and fancy footwear, which also give them terrible shoe-bites. The eyes of the boys wandering here and there. The girls behaving as if they don't care, but from inside are actually curious as hell and are mentally counting the number of boys that are checking them out. 

The girls act as if they are not noticing the wandering eyes of the boys around them, both known and strangers. But they are actually observing everything and simultaneously making mental notes. Believe me, they are observing even the minutest details and the tiniest of things which even the boys are not aware of, something like say, which boy's shoe laces are untied. 

During Durga Puja, each and every boy and girl presents himself and herself in the best look possible. Checking out members of the opposite sex during those five days is a complete must. And the beauty is that everybody secretly wishes and desires to be checked out. It really gives them a mighty high and uplifts their self-esteem to himalayan proportions.

Here I must mention the plight and helplessness of the girls who are not that beautiful and whom no boy is checking out. She knows she is not that pretty, yet she has dressed wonderfully, and is secretly hoping against hope for some cute looking boy to give her that extra glance. She is secretly also a bit jealous of that pretty girl in her group, whom all the boys are checking out.

On the other hand I must also mention the condition of the boys who are not that handsome. They know that they are not good looking and do not even have a wild off-chance to score with girls. Thus they immerse themselves in alcohol and indulge in ogling at hot babes all around. 

During Durga Puja, all young boys and girls suddenly become flirtatious. The same thing is true for some middle aged men and women and even for some senior citizens too. Okay, lets keep the senior citizens out of this. They had their fun in their day. Lets talk about the young boys and girls. They desperately want to flirt with each other. No body else cares or bothers. Even their parents give them this freedom atleast for these five days. The young boys think that they are the mini versions of the Shah Rukh Khans and the Hrithik Roshans and the young girls think that they are the mini versions of the Priyankas and the Deepikas.   











Another thing that women observe is other women's dresses and accessories. They are also comparing the other women with themselves. Which woman is wearing what and from where she has bought it, the price of her necklace, her handbag, her footwear etc. The feeling inside them is like, Hey, I am more beautiful than you are or I know from where you have bought that fancy purse of yours or My boyfriend is more handsome than yours or even something like My husband earns more than yours etc. 













Here is a familiar scenario where a group of friends are sitting at Maddox Square on an Ashtami evening. Everyone is chatting, looking here and there, fidgeting with their mobile phones and just chilling out. The boys are looking handsome and the girls are looking beautiful. The boys are overtly checking out the girls of the entire park while the girls are covertly checking out the boys surrounding them. 

Suddenly something very subtle happens. Aaha! That divine female pleasure when one girl catches that boy, whom she secretly fancies, staring at her for that extra nano-second. Nothing is said, but then and there, an enormous love-ballad comes to life in that extra special nano-second. 

No one notices anything. Everyone else in the group is busy chatting, looking here and there and fidgeting with their mobile phones. Except the other girl who also secretly fancies that boy. She notices the importance of that precise nano-second. Instantly she feels as if someone has put a sharp cold sword deep inside her heart. She deliberately avoids talking to that boy and even looking at him for the rest of the evening. She feels a strange mixture of anger, hatred and jealousy. 
She feels like saying to that boy: 

You stupid heartless boy, you ungrateful idiot, I have secretly given my heart to you, and this is how you behave? This is how you repay my love? By stealing glances at some other girl, that also in front of me? Do I have to scream from the rooftops that I love you? Can't you read the signs? How come you are so dumb? Is that girl more beautiful than me? Cashe love you more? Will she remain faithful to you? She will cheat on you at the very first chance that she will get. You will have to come to me eventually. Then I will play very hard to get. And that will teach you a good lesson... 










Once one enters Maddox Square during Durga Puja, it is then very difficult to leave. One feels like staying there for the whole night. The place seems like a huge college canteen. Food, Music and Adda everywhere. Couples very much in love roam throughout the park. They also roam hand in hand around all the roads surrounding Maddox, for example Earle Street. Sometimes this love could also be like a Puja Special Love where it lasts only for the duration of five days. Other times this kind of love starts around Durga Puja and the break-up happens around Kali Puja! 












One funny incident happens almost every year inside Maddox. There is a gang of trans-sexuals who come at night in very loud make-up with 75% cleavage revealing tops and short pants. Then almost all the single boys start wolf-whistling, cat-calling, start making funny noises and start following this group. This has become almost like a tradition in Maddox Square. And the best part is that the gang loves this kind of attention. Someone inside the gang says, Dekh dekh, amader dekhey kirom korchhey ora. The other one replies, Chhar toh, shob frustoo maal. A third one asks, Baritey ki Ma-bon nei toder? Another one chips in, Uff aar parchhina, oi chhele takey ki handsome dekhtey rey, ekkhuni chai oi hyandu taakey...











A decade back Maddox Square was a bit different. In those days the rickety and wobbly chairs were available for everyone on a first come first serve basis. Back then, I had spent all five days of Durga Puja with my First Love at Maddox. We used to meet there arounnoon and then spend the whole day there. We used to eat those tasty candy flosses, papri chats, chicken rolls, ice-creams etc. She used to love fuchkas a lot. She could swallow fuchkas for breakfast, brunch, lunch, snacks and dinner. I once told her not to eat fuchkas as they might not be good for health and could be unhygienic. She instantly replied, Fuchka kheyei toh beNchey achchi, Fuchka na kheley toh morey jaabo. I didn't argue further and just let her eat her fuchkas peacefully

On Ashtami, I had specifically asked her to wear a saree. She wore a blue saree. She was looking very beautiful in that saree. She was having a bit of difficulty walking around in it, thus I had to hold her hand almost all the time and save her from tripping. She had come with her group of friends. One of them was wearing a brownish coloured saree and was looking extremely gorgeous. I kept on teasing and pulling my girlfriend's leg by appreciating her friend's beauty. She got very jealous and a bit sad too. Later on I told her that I was only kidding and that I really thought that my girlfriend was the cutest, sweetest and the best girl not only inside Maddox Square but also in the whole universe! 

Another day, most probably, on Nabami, me and my girlfriend were sitting on those chairs. A group of girls were also sitting close by. Now when my girlfriend went to buy some cold-drinks or something else, one of those girls came upto me and said that she had seen me earlier at some College Fest, and started chatting with me. I was quite amused with this attention and was getting a kick out of it. The stranger girl was also smiling and in a jovial mood. Then she suddenly realised that someone was standing right behind her. And that someone was no one else but my girlfriend. She gave the intruder such a deep hard look that the other girl just left immediately and went back to her friends. I myself had to instantly plaster a bhaja-machh-ta-ultey-khetey-jani-na look on my face! 

Me and my girlfriend, we both really wanted to spend the whole night together by pandal hopping throughout south Calcutta, but sadly she had to reach home within 9 pm. That was her deadline. For just ten rupees, I bought those red anblue thin glass cylindrical tubes filled with water and glitter for her. She really liked them and liked turning them upside down. She had also named those two tubes as Lal-Swopno and Neel-Swopno. She used to give names to inanimate objects. She was like the Amelie Poulain of Calcutta and used to find joy, pleasure and happiness in the simplest things of life. 

Sometimes we would go outside Maddox for some time and roam hand in hand on the roads surrounding the park. Other times we would just sit on those chairs and chat. A lot of very cute and sweet children used to come with their parents. We both used to salivate at cute babies. The little boys used to wear dhoti and panjabis. The little girls used to wear sarees. Me and my girlfriend used to discuss among us that when we would have our own children, we would also dress them in sarees and dhoti-panjabis and bring them to Maddox Square during Durga Puja from a very early age. Sadly, I didn't have a camera then, otherwise I would have clicked lots of photos of me and my girlfriend together and also of Maddox Square in all its glory. I only bought a KODAK KB-10 camera later that year during Xavotsav in December. I should have bought it earlier, before Durga Puja. Mistake! Mistake! 

Today when I am writing this blog-post, I am realizing that emotionally I am still stuck inside Maddox Square during Durga Puja of the previous decade. The Peter Pan portions of my brain, heart and soul are still constantly refusing to grow up and move-on!











These days the central portion of Maddox Square just in front of the pandal is cordoned off from the general public. That space is reserved for club members only. All the chairs are kept inside. Outside that space people have to sit on newspapers on the ground. And everyone is comfortable doing that. Old newspapers are actually sold there by some people for this purpose only. Groups of young boys sitting together, checking out pretty girls and lusting over those sensuously ravishing boudis. Unlike most other animals, we humans are on heat on all the seasons. And this heat rises to meteoric levels during Durga Puja. Sometimes when the wandering eyes of the boys accidentally meet the demure eyes of the girls, then it is not love, but lust at first sight












Some of the boys get drunk, doped and stoned. During Durga Puja some boys have a tendency to booze until they start puking. This is very bad. Durga Puja is a time to enjoy the festival to the fullest, not to get sloshed, wasted and stoned. Sometimes the Police have to step in and arrest these drunk, doped and stoned boys. Another set of boys have a tendency to go for pandal hopping in north Calcutta and also at the same time pay a visit to Sonagachhi, fondly called the Golden Tree. Uttering the bengali name sounds cheap, vulgar and downmarket to these set of boys. They visit this red light area to see a prostitute's naked dance or to have sex with her or both. Around 1994, when I was just twelve years old, I heard for the first time Nachiketa Chakraborty's song Baaro Taka from his album Ke Jaay. As a kid I was simply shocked to hear this kind of a song on this kind of a subject. Not many people know this, that the name Sonagachhi is actually derived from a Sufi saint named Sona Ghazi whose tomb or mazaar is located in that area. I myself didn't know about this before, and only came to know about it after watching the theatre DarjiParar Marjinara at Sujata Sadan a few years back. The play was written bBratya Basu and was performed by Kaushik Sen's Swapno-Sandhani. There was a time when this theatre-group used to perform every Saturday evening at Sujata Sadan and I used to go there every weekend to watch their performance. 











On Ashtami evenings, practically all roads in Calcutta lead to Maddox. That is the place to be and be seen in. Maddox feels like the seventh heaven and cloud nine combined together during that time. Maddox is like the biblical Garden of Eden for Calcutta's Romeos and JulietsOne gets to see the most beautiful women ever seen by mankind. When the Gods come to earth, they bring these ethereal heavenly angels of flesh anblood with them and this makes Calcutta a much better place to live in. Every testosterone driven hot-blooded male desires for something like this Wild Stone ad to happen in his life. One's life is worthless if he or she hasn't visited Maddox on an Ashtami evening. Another feature of Maddox is that this is the place where one accidentally sees one's ex-girlfriends or ex-boyfriends walking hand in hand with someone else. Again here one also sees one's ex-crushes and ex-flames, either single or happily mingling with their special someones. And those ravishing boudis of Maddox. Someone once said that in Bangal we don't have MILFs, but we have BILFs. Maddox is the paradise where one sees young boys and girls sitting in groups and even after two decades still singing Ranjana, Mary Anne, 2441139, Nilanjana, Phiriye Dao, Shei Tumi, Bhebey Dekhechho Ki and ofcourse the anthem Telephone. In the pre-mobile phone era, friends in groups used to get lost, wander off and again miraculously find eachother. 











Since I stay in south Calcutta, therefore I must mention the names of a few twins like Mudiali and Shib Mandir, Jodhpur and Selimpur, Ekdalia and Singhi Park, Ballygunge Cultural and Samaj Sebi etc. In the last few years Ballygunge Cultural has really risen in pomp, grandeur and popularity. They organise musical shows almost every evening. Anjan Dutta is a regular performer. Bangla Bands get priority. The lane behind the performing stage becomes very happening. Cars are parked there. But these cars actually become temporary mini-bars. People booze, dope and get stoned there. Another beauty of Ballygunge Cultural is the presence of beautiful women of all ages. A few celebrities could also be seen here and there. Today Ballygunge Cultural is only second to Maddox Square in terms of popularity in south Calcutta. And ofcourse the Durga Puja sequence in Sujoy Ghosh's KAHAANI was shot here. 












Much before the advent of social media sites, women have always had a tendency to click their photos and make sure that those photos reveal them with slender arms, no double chin and flat stomachsWomen in general are obsessed with weight-loss. This obsession takes a violent turn just before the arrival of Durga Puja. Even when they are perfectly fine, healthy and attractive in the eyes of men, still they would love to lose a few kilos here and there. Believe me, men never like the zero-sized Kareena Kapoor of Chhaliya from TASHAAN and would any day prefer the healthier, voluptuous and curvaceous Bebo of Fevicol from DABAANG 2 












Men, among themselves, are always struggling with peer-pressure and are constantly dealing with the Mine-is-Bigger-than-Yours complex. Even if they want to, Society doesn't allow them to get out of this. Men, in general, love to show-off their gorgeous girlfriends and beautiful wives to other men. The feeling is something like, See, I am walking with this extremely beautiful and absolutely gorgeous woman, while you are only sucking your thumb and sitting alone like a loser. Its still cave-man instincts at work. The strongest hunter gets to mate with the most beautiful woman. The weaker ones will just have to live with this fact for the rest of their lives. 








Coming back to Durga Puja, since childhood I have always loved the chandelier at Ekdalia :








Here is a picture of a left-handed Ma Durga : 








I have always loved those rides at Deshopriyo Park :









Did you know that an Egyptian father Jamal Ibrahim has reportedly named his firstborn daughter 'Facebook' to honour and give respect to the social media site's role in Egypt's revolution? And here is an innovative and fantastic picture of Sajano Pally Sarbojanin Durga Puja pandal from Siuri, Birbhum, which resembles a Facebook page : 









These days in some of the pandals, Mahisasura has become evemore muscular than the 38th Governor of California. The demon with his eight packs can easily put most of the Bollywood heroes to shame. And a few years back, I would have loved to see Greg Chappell's face as the face of Mahisasura









The puja-organisers in FD Block Salt Lake have always been obsessed with size and they have always believed in the saying - the bigger, the better. Over the years they have experimented with everything from Titanic to Hogwarts Castle. Here are a few examples  : 


















  

On Dashami, married women gather at the Puja pandals and smear each other with sindur (vermillion). Its just like playing with colours in Holi. Women first apply sindur on Ma Durga's feet and/or forehead and then apply it on each other. However unmarried women and widows are not allowed to enjoy sindur-khela. It is only for married women who are celebrating the fact that they have a husband, even if he is a loser, worthless, pathetic, impotent, henpecked, jobless or even a wife-beater. But these days even spinsters take part in sindur-khela for fun and sometimes even men also take part in this ritual. This ritual marks the farewell of Goddess Durga. 









There is something called post-Pujo depression and Bongs start suffering from it from Dashami onwards. No doctor or psychiatrist in this world can cure this depression. There is no way out of it. After the magical euphoria of five days of Durga Puja, a Bong has to go through this depressive phase. Generally this phase lasts till Laxmi Puja, however in some cases it lasts even further. 




  




Soil from a sex-worker's doorstep or courtyard is an essential ingredient in the making of Ma Durga's idols. Without this punnyo-mati from the nishiddho-pollis, no potter can start work on Ma Durga. The most auspicious method of collection is to beg it from a sex-worker and have her hand it to the potter as a gift or blessing. If it is taken directly from the ground, the potter must know the correct way of doing it, including knowing which mantras to chant and how to position the fingers in a yogic-mudra while scooping up the soil. Very few people talk about this age old tradition. I myself didn't know about this Durga Puja ritual and only came to know about it after watching Sanjay Leela Bhansali's DEVDAS in 2002. There are several reasons for this custom. Firstly, a sex-worker is a woman and therefore mother Goddess resides inside her too. Secondly, it is to give a feeling of inclusion to these stigmatised and ostracised members of society during the festive season. Thirdly, clients visiting these Houses of Vice leave their virtues on the doorstep, thus making the soil there pure and virtuous. Fourthly, to honour the sex-workers who were traditionally famed for their proficiency in the arts. And fifthly, this custom could also be like a fertility ritual and to give proper respect to the sex-workers and ask for their forgiveness on behalf of the whole society. 







Last year during Durga Puja, when everybody was having a blast and enjoying to the fullest, there was a documentary shown on Channel 10 titled Ora Thakey Oparaai about the lives of the sex-workers of the various red-light areas in Calcutta during the time of Durga Puja. The documentary covered most of the red-light areas from Sonagachhi to Haar-Kata GoliIn one particular scene a middle-aged sex-worker reminisces that as a child she had asked for a gift from her poor father during the Durga Puja season after her father had bought a gift for her younger brother. In reply her father had slapped her very hard. She felt very bad and started crying. Later her apologetic father comforted her by putting his hand on her head and telling her that she was now big enough to realize that he couldn't afford to buy a gift for her, but her younger brother was still small enough to differentiate between affluence and poverty. This particular scene immediately brought tears to my eyes and I started weeping uncontrollably... 








Update : This year for the first time, the sex-workers of Sonagachhi have organised their very own Durga Puja and that also in their own area. Durbar Mahila Samonnay Samiti helped to tackle the legal hurdles. The Puja cost approximately two lakhs and this money was raised from individual contributions of as low as twenty rupees per sex-worker. In the evening there were performances by the children of the sex-workers. Next year the sex-workers of Sonagachhi are planning to organize Durga Puja on a much bigger scale... 







PS : Wish you all a very happy Durga Puja. May you all have the best time of your lives... 




PPS : Here is a picture of Ma Durga drawn by the four and a half years old Ellora Filiplic. Elly, as she is lovingly called, lives in Alberta, Canada with her family. Her Grandmother thinks Elly left Mahisasura out because it was too gory for her sensibilities, but retained the happy-looking Lion...












PPPS : Here is a link of all the pictures of Durga Puja that I have clicked this year. Enjoy...


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