Durga Pujo has died for me. Like all old men, all I live by are memories of Kolkata’s grandest festival. Pujo in Kolkata used to reek of polyester, sweat, and chilli sauce. These have been replaced by expensive polyester, failed deodorants, and chilli sauce bought from Big Bazaar.
This might come as a surprise to most, but even I used to be young at some point. I used to like the concept of Pujo at that time. We used to go to nearby Maddox Square. The chairs we acquired were significantly inadequate, so we used to seat ourselves in a substantial circle on the anticipatory newspapers. The chairs were given away to the parents who arrived late.
The evenings used to pass quickly. Was I happier at that point of my life than what I am now? I do not know.
Do I miss Durga Pujo? Not quite. I have deliberately stayed away from the city for four years at a stretch. It may have to do with my age, but struggling for hours to find a place to stand is definitely not my idea of fun anymore.
Being surrounded by cell-phones masquerading as periscopes as they approach pandals adds to that. Perhaps other quadragenarians find the idea attractive.
Today, Shoptomi, was thus just another day for me. I boarded a late-morning train from Vikhroli to Currey Road (update: I have downgraded my location from Navi Mumbai to Mumbai).
The train was empty enough for me to find a seat at Vikhroli. If you know what I am talking about, you might have let out a shriek; if you do not know, you are better off in life.
The train passed Kurla. Thanks to my new location, I do not have to participate in the Battle of Kurla anymore. Instead, I derive sadistic pleasure from watching others do the same from my vantage point inside the train.
A group of schoolchildren boarded the train at Sion. The incredibly discounted student passes invariably result in a high percentage of grateful students in the first-class compartments, and today was no exception.
Today’s batch consisted entirely of pre-teens who would, in three decades’ time, turn into brooding quadragenarians. All of them were donning dusty schoolbags and bright smiles. I could not help but wonder how much salt their toothpaste contains*.
* This is a lame joke and a blatant lie.
The children stood next to the open doors, all of them. It was obviously risky, but at their age even I was not aware of the concepts of fear unless my parents threatened me with kidnappers carrying humongous gunny-bags.
The man opposite me was not too happy about this. He was probably in his high fifties. His hair, though completely white, did not seem headed for premature disappearance anytime soon.
He yelled at the children, asking them to move away from the doors. The children, though taken aback, hesitated. A second shout did the trick. They feebly uttered something on the lines of getting down at Matunga (the next station) before retiring to their seats.
His job done, the man returned to his newspaper. Our eyes met. Instinctively, for no known reason, I did something uncharacteristic of me: I nodded, smiled, uttering “baraabar”.
But then, Pujo is about doing things you don’t do every day. Was this my Pujo? I have no idea. Probably. Probably not.
But I did reach work in a good mood. I even remembered to thank the liftman.