After a year-long wait, Durga Puja Festival is again round the corner. The obsession of the Bengalis/Indians for these few days may be best described in the words of Jyotinindra Nath Thakur, the elder brother of the Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Thakur ~
“In one string we stitch
Many a thousand mind to pitch;
In one mission we devote
On the divine hymn to float-
‘Vande Mataram’ (=Hail Mother / Motherland)”
Of course, our focus on the Durga Puja days is on ‘Mother Durga’ who stitches thousands of minds of Bengalis/Indians in their devotion to worship the Goddess. I’ll reminisce a few Durga Puja Festivals as follows.
First one is in Camden town at London way back in 1969, which I personally witnessed. Two British young lads came to my notice watching the Bengalis from a distance with curiosity and making remarks. I overheard one of them ~ “All of them must be looking for jobs”. Of course the implication was that these (Bengalis) are all unemployed vagabonds and ‘must be looking for jobs’. This trifle event betrayed the big gulf of difference between the ethos of the local British with that of the immigrant Bengalis/Indians of that time.
Thereafter, about 50 years have passed to gratifyingly transform England into a multi-cultural country. So, let us observe how Durga Puja was celebrated, about 12 years back, in England at the Camden Town where I was not present personally, but I heard from Prof. Uma Nandy, formerly in the Faculty of English literature, Sabitri Girls’ College, Kolkata, who was a personal witness to it. According to her, in that year on the Dashami Day (4th and concluding day of Durga Puja) crowds flooded the roads of London. When the procession was passing with the deity of Goddess Durga, the British ladies and gents also, along with the Bengalis / Indians, were devotionally bowing down to the Goddess to bid Her good-bye. The younger generation of the British also joined the Bengalis / Indians to proceed to the Thames river where the deity was immersed.
Of course that was the only year when the London authority permitted immersion of the Durga deity in the Thames river and the Bengalis made good use of it. However, a ‘colossal problem’ arose here. How, in the “Unholy Water” of Thames could the Bengalis immerse their ‘Mother Durga’! However, with their unfathomable talent the Bengalis had solved numerous profound problems of the world. So, how could they afford a retreat before this great challenge! Thus was their action plan. They rushed Ganges water from Kolkata in a sizable jar to London and poured it in Thames river to make it ‘Holy’ before immersing their ‘Mother Durga’ into it! In the TV screen this sizable jar was superbly displayed passing through the sky to depict this urgency which sight is still in my memory. Of course, I have no information if anybody raised the ‘irrelevant’ question of ‘pollution level’ of the Ganges to the embarrassment of the devotees of Mother Durga.
One more of my Durga Puja memoir is related to Hyderabad town many decades back where my youngest brother was posted. At that time, the Bengali population in Hyderabad town was only 25,000. On the opening day of the Durga Puja celebration there, the Chief Guest was the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh who in his speech said ~ “Bengalis are such a small community, but it amazes me how great is their influence in the state of Andhra Pradesh!” The audience also shared his amazement. Presumably, it was a ‘news’ to them.