The month-long / week-long spectacle of Durga Pujo ended way way back but I got caught up with BarCamp / my posts on it. Here’s some miscellaneous commentary I missed out earlier in my earlier posts on Durga Pujo.
You could compare it to something like speed dating. Basically, get into your car and hop around from your pad to as many Pujo pandals as you can. All over the city. More variety means better. You’ll get to see an astonishing variety between what different Pujo committees come up with. Most are shitty and generic ones, but a handful few stand out. I’ve put up some pictures of various Pujos across Delhi – along with a some info about each one of them – which you can check out here.
Shunting around across town somehow seems to increase Bongs’ appetites, so each major stop is accompanied by ‘refuelling’. If you want to try out Bengali dishes (which boils down to fish) look out for Bijoli Grill and / or Benfish stalls. These apparently are major chains back in the Mother Ship but I can’t vouch for them since I’m vegetarian. (It also means I invariably end up morosely sipping coffee while everyone else around is tearing into fried fish like a pack of hungry piranhas.)
Going through CR Park itself would take one day (if you want to go through each and take in the atmosphere, rather than just commute), so set a day aside for that. I would suggest you to choose the Saptami day (ask your friendly neighbourhood Bong pal for when it is) for that is the day when the crowd it tolerable – if you go any day after that (Ashtami / Navami) there are just too many people who turn up to see. There’s literally (I mean ‘literally’ literally when I use it) no place to stand during the later days. The phrase from 300 “…when a thousand nations of the Persian empire descend upon us…” is quite an apt description of the situation.
Bhog is Bong version of a langar (community kitchen) where lunch is provided at the Pujo pandals itself. In theory, it’s just supposed to be the prasad that is offered to the deities and then shared among the people – but that concept is practical only for family Pujos. In these big ones, a token offering is made to the deities, and the rest is simply community kitchen food for everyone else cooked by the neighborhood Bong bhadralok. Generally consists of pulao / khichdi, some vegetable like cauliflower, paneer (maybe), chutney, payesh (what the Southies call payasam, but it’s a lot different), and some sweet. The actual contents might vary on the amount of money raised by the organizers. You have to stand in a queue, take your share on a plate and scoot; alternatively, some smaller ones make you sit on the ground and serve people in batches.
Depending on a host of factors – ranging from how many guys are good cooks in the organizing committee to where you choose to eat bhog to the amount of money they have to what time you reach the venue – the food can range from pretty good to pretty ugly crap. People who contribute generous amounts of money get to eat better quality food – much better (and you tables and chairs). Your ticket into this would generally be to a) part with cash during chanda collection b) strike up friendship with someone (important) in the organizing committee (they can get you in). Reach early, or you may have to jostle with slum kids (who turn up in large numbers) for your share. Strangely, this concept isn’t prevalent (I’ve heard from brave travellers who venture forth) in the Mother Ship (i.e., Kolkata).
“Aasche Bochchor Aabar Hobe”
A mystical chant uttered by the equally mystical Homo sapiens race from the East, which basically means they’re excited about the fact that they’ll be able to goof around for a few weeks next year too. The idols are immersed in some river. In Delhi, it happens in a sewer line better known as the Yamuna (the idols and stuff are enthusiastic annual contributors to the muck). I went for this once, a decade ago or so and the stench of the ‘sewer’ was bloody unbearable then too. Things wouldn’t have gotten any better by now.