The best time of the year' The five days that make up for the rest 360' The only thing sad about it is that it's too short' The Puja plaudits flow thick and fast, from young and old, from up close and afar.
Here are five of our favourite things'
Tell your folks you'll be back home at dawn and live to tell the tale, with a smile. For, Lady Liberty rules during the Pujas. Devi Durga brings with her freedom from the shackles of limits and controls. There are no deadlines or curfews, no school or college. Just friends, family, fun and frolic. Staying out all night, just for this one week in the year is the norm, not a no-no. Pandal or party-hopping, there are very few questions asked, with adults too busy keeping up with the activities on their own social calendars to wonder what the youngsters are up to. So, be out from sunset to sunrise, with midnight adda and sundry forbidden pleasures tossed in.
Phuchkas at 2 am at Vivekananda Park, khichuri and payesh at the para puja at 1 pm, luchi and kosha mangsho at home at 6 pm, chilli chicken and chowmein at Bagbazar at 11 pm' Anything, anytime, anywhere ' that's the fun munch menu during the Pujas. And for once, you don't have to go looking for junk food, junk food comes looking for you. With pavements turning into five-night food courts, there's just no stopping this gravy train ' calorie count and digestive dilemmas be damned.
The glitter of gold and the shimmer of silver, sexy in a sari or trendy in trousers, spending is the name of the game, with a licence to dress to kill (those who foot your fashion bill) and thrill (your date, old or new).
Come rain or shine, heat or humidity, there's no stopping the shopping before the Pujas and no slowing down the fashion parade during the Pujas. The men in ethnic wear may steal some of their thunder, but the five days definitely belong to the women and their couture clout.
The first look, the furtive glance, the love track in the background, the romance in the air' What's festivity without your heart being in it' So many have found their life partners at the Puja mandap but so many more just have magical memories of the five-day flame that burned so bright in the autumn night. From Maddox Square to Laboni, Jodhpur Park to College Square, a little bit of love is all around. Most last five days, a few last a lifetime, but 'no flirting, no festivities' remains the anthem for little hearts.
The city that goes to bed by 10 pm on a normal night is awash in sight and sounds 24x5 during Durga Puja. The enthusiasm is unputdownable, the energy levels astounding. As people troop in from far and wide to glimpse the goddess and praise the pandals, creativity is on an overdrive and camaraderie at an all-year high. Strangers become friends and families bond better than ever. Long live this feel-good factor!
Wonderful though the Pujas may be, the festive fiesta can be a real nuisance for some. For those tormented souls among us, who also didn't have the foresight to plan a holiday and skip town, here are our five pet peeves:
'Chanda na diley dekhe nebo' The familiar line of fear plagues several pockets of the city in the run-up to the Pujas. Forced subscription from para clubs is a way of life ' and even death ' in places with few willing to risk bonhomie or bones by taking their complaint to the cops. Wanted: festival without fear.
Nothing, just nothing, can make being jostled by all shapes and sizes a pleasant experience. Nothing, just nothing, can compensate for the hours spent stuck in traffic wherever you go. Leave the solitude and safety of four walls, and WHAM! Cars, buses, autos, ticking taxi metres, no-entry signs, and, worst of all, the crowd. Which takes us to the next point.
Crowds wouldn't be half as bad if they didn't include so many people. People who touch and feel and look and leer. Being crushed between bodies ' whether it is at a pandal, or in a bus or the Metro ' standing in serpentine queues, waiting in endless jams, all add up to the perfect recipe for a little bit of unwanted gaping and groping. No matter what you do or where you are, there will be some men who just can't keep their hands to themselves or their foul mouths shut.
If navigating the city in the sea of celebration isn't daunting enough, the potholed splendour makes it all but non-negotiable. Even judicial intervention could not change the ground reality in cratered Calcutta, pre-Pujas. With the first set of ravaged roads (CMDA-controlled) to be repaired only by end-October, brace for a roller-coaster, bone-jarring, nerve-wracking ride. Add to that the crumbling pavements and you have reason enough to keep the first-aid kit handy to deal with bruises, cuts and sprains.
Cross your fingers or pray (to the Devi, who else') that no loved one is taken ill during the festive days. From getting the patient to hospital to getting him treated can be a trip to hell and back as medical emergency takes a backseat. Ambulances stuck in Ashtami traffic, nurse on Nabami leave, doctors on Dashami 'duty' Wanted: Durga Puja with a safety net.