My first Puja memories are of pushpanjali queues at New Farm Area pandal and grandfather’s stories of how the festival celebrated the goddess’s homecoming.
Back then, rooted as I was in Jamshedpur, a journey away seemed much more of a reason to celebrate than homecoming.
Homecoming assumed significance only after I moved to Calcutta.
Each year, when streets in the City of Joy are decorated with lights in run-up to the festival, I am busy. Unlike my friends based here, I am not occupied by shopping plans or Puja preparations at my Calcutta para. I am busy booking tickets, packing bags and buying gifts for people back home. For the past seven years I have been staying outside Jamshedpur, Puja has invariably meant a journey back home into the world of memories.
Before this piece seems yet another nostalgic account by a small-town guy, I must clarify that this eagerness to run home is not a rare disease. A look at the reservation status of Jamshedpur-bound trains in the festive season confirms lakhs make this journey every year.
Most are students and professionals living outside Jamshedpur. But, while they have embraced opportunities offered by bigger cities, there’s a feeling of rootlessness. This sense of alienation is only accentuated during festivals like Durga Puja.
Friends have often asked me why I run home for Puja. To be honest, I do not have a firm answer. I have never been a homesick guy. Neither do I have old friends who plan Puja reunions. Most years, I spend the four days watching TV and attending cultural functions at my colony. But, despite such mundane attractions, I prefer being at home than hop pandals across Calcutta.
In Jamshedpur, visiting Circuit House is a ritual I have religiously followed. Located in a posh area, the venue has always been the place to be for the young. In school, one was not considered cool if he did not spend half his Puja there. In those days, seated on a low culvert behind the pandal, we would spot seniors who had passed out of school years ago. While some of them would come in groups, most would be alone. They would enter the grounds, look around, wander a little and leave. We observed them and wondered what they were up to. Now I know that they looked for known faces. I do the same.
Often, this homeward journey becomes yet another reminder of one’s migrant identity. My visits never fail to remind me how less I belong there. At times, I meet old friends at Puja pandals. During our chats, nowhere as animated as they used to be, we have realised how different our lives are. Unable to talk much about the present, we have continued talking about the past, and finally fallen silent.
Puja in Jamshedpur has also changed since I left in 2007. The festival, which earlier fostered community feelings in the industrial town, has metamorphosed into an event designed for consumerism.
During my rare pandal visits, I have often overheard puja organisers discuss chances of winning awards for the pandal or idol. Amidst flexes and banners symbolic of a commercial festival, I have spotted old men looking around as if they were in a changed world. They also seem migrants, albeit of a different kind.
Hope dies hard in boys from small towns. We still head home, hoping to relive moments lost forever. In a constantly changing world, few things, fortunately, remain unaltered. The urge to belong and the joy at being called by your nickname are among those few.