durga puja, calcutta

I’ve always tried hard to find words to explain whats its like to be in Calcutta during Durga Puja, the biggest Bengali festival invoking Goddess Durga.

Vir Sahnghvi writes succinctly, why its so hard to explain to someone who has not experienced it :

“It is always hard to explain to somebody who does not live in Calcutta what it is about Puja that makes that period so magical. Before I came to live in Calcutta in 1980, I was only dimly aware of the significance of Puja. I knew the boring facts and figures, of course. I knew what proportion of annual retail sales took place during the Puja period. I knew that the city shut down for the whole week. I knew that at ABP – where I was soon to work – telephone operators would, strangely enough, take the trouble of coming to work, only so that they could receive incoming calls, shout ‘Pujo’, and then hang up on irate out-of-town callers. It’s like Christmas, they told me. Imagine Christmas in New York: Puja means that to a Bengali. Others found more home-grown parallels. It’s like Diwali in North India, they said. You know, the shopping, the parties, the festivities and all that stuff.
Actually, of course, it was nothing like Christmas; and certainly nothing like Diwali in North India. Nothing, in fact, can prepare you for the magic of Puja in Calcutta. To understand what it means, you have to be here. As the years went on and as I went from Puja to Puja, I tried to work out why nobody could explain to outsiders what it was that made Puja so special. Why was that I failed as completely as everybody else in communicating the essence of Puja? Why did all the time-honoured comparisons not really ring true; with Dushera, Diwali, Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and God alone knows what else?
The answer, I suspect – and after all these years, it is still a suspicion, I have no solutions – is that you can’t understand Puja unless you understand Calcutta and unless you understand Bengalis.”

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