One of the most endearing qualities of Durga Pujo celebrations are the community events associated with it, for the members of a particular para (locality). You see, although the Pujo celebrations are open to all and everyone is welcome, each locality is Bong bastions like Chittaranjan Park (in New Delhi) set up their own Pujo pandals – the organization of which is handled by the residents of that particular locality. Consider a place like CR Park, where within a 2-3 kilometre radius you’d find approximately 10 separate Pujo pandals or so. Each one autonomous and handled by the residents of that para, who also contribute from their own pocket towards the expenses. This particular phase, chanda collection, has neighbours peering over each other walls to gauge how much they’d be cajoled into giving out (apart from the annual ‘guilt’ most Bong families have of their Bong-ness in a city like Delhi). For the past few years or so, however, a large chunk of the money which is pumped into these Pujos comes from corporate sponsorship.
If there’s any equivalent to being ‘tone deaf’ for art, these would surely qualify under that category.
Coming back to my initial discussion of community events. Events start somewhere around one whole month before the Pujo and culminate during the Shoshthi day (’twas yesterday), which is the sixth day of the period known as Navratri. Shoshthi is also the day when the idols (the whole fuss behind the Pujo is about these clay pieces) are ‘revealed’. These would comprise of (mostly) cooking competitions (I gather that they allow people to, uhm, eat the entries after judging is done), singing competitions (heavens no, no bathroom singers croaking to bicchiri Hindi songs – only Robindro Sangeet for Bongs), drawing competitions (most Bong parents take immense pleasure in torturing their offspring by making them learn art; had to face that myself to [sniff sniff], not because of my parents, but pesky relatives who kept on badgering me)…and quizzes. Yes, quizzes. I find it extremely amusing that in most Bong families, everything in the world (I mean, everything) is divided into two categories: Bengali (which is the ‘only true culture’); and ‘non-Bengali’ – where everyone else fits in. ‘Non-Bengali’ is most frequently replaced with ‘Punjabi’ because in the Bong outlook of life there seem to be only three races on this planet – Us, Everyone Else, and Goras. As someone who’s been brought up in Delhi (heck, my family’s been in this city for decades) I find this trait amusing and irritating at the same time; but then thankfully my family is more ‘sane’. This outlook of ‘cultural superiority’ manifests itself in an effort to show that they are so by stuffing Bong kids with books since their childhood. So naturally, quizzing makes it to the list of community events which need to be held.
Bong do comprise of a large section of the quizzing community, don’t they? Kolkata (along with Bangalore) are the traditional strongholds of the Indian quizzing scene. We’ve got quizmasters like Siddhartha Basu, Joy Bhattacharya, and Derek O’Brien (also his dad Neil O’Brien and brother Barry O’Brien) who are all Bongs. OK, yes, Derek and his family are Anglo-Indians, but they’ve been Kolkata residents for a long time and consider themselves pseudo-Bengali (Derek can speak Bong really well, BTW). I guess it’s because of the obsession with getting Bong kids to start reading books at an early age. And talking of quizmasters, how can we forget Parnab ‘Chitra Jenardhanan’ Mukherjee.
Most of the quizzes in Durga Pujo in Delhi are either conducted by college students, say, from the IIT Delhi Quiz Club or by older generation people who themselves were quizzers (or still are) in their time. Mostly they’re kept easy because the quizzes are open participation – any kid can join (even tots from class 1-2), no adults allowed (that’s not a strict rule, but the older folk let the kids ‘have fun’). This can result in quite funny team amalgams with, say, a class 3 kid with some class 10 kid – or whatever (making a team of their own is up to the participants). Despite all the ‘effort’ put in during childhood to make ’em smart, GK among the average Bong kid is as dismal as anyone else. Seriously, most Indian kids – whether in school or college – have absolutely no friggin’ clue about the world around them. Nevertheless, there ARE quite a lot of kids who do have a friggin’ clue, and the quizzes generally are (somewhat) interesting. Basically it depends on who’s conducting it (the quizmasters, I mean), just like any other quiz. Some of the smaller para ones are lame, but others like the quiz conducted by the CR Park Shiv Mandir (and a few others) are good.
Anyway, there was this quiz which was being conducted once (by a few Bong IIT-D guys) and the quizmaster asked a team on stage:
Who is regarded as the ‘inventor’ of potato chips?
The answer, for ones with curious cats, is George Crum. So there was this kid on stage who looked a lot like ‘mini Ankit Sud’ from DPS Dwarka who was bouncing up and down with excitement when he heard this question. Most teams were clueless, and when the question passed to the aforementioned kid’s team, he promptly said:
Needless to say that had me in one of my laughing fits. And that moment, a sort of silence descended on the gathering who gazed at me with disdainful looks which said it all – “Obhodro chele, laughing like that”.
PS – Recently, someone asked me if I’d studied at VMC! :o My response to that was this.