Clarification: Bong is a complex term and does not necessarily refer to a person who speaks the language or embraces the culture. It is a bhadramanush associated with Bengal and can be of any religion or ethnic origin but has some connection by birth or domicile, by cultural affiliation or language or by sheer willingness to affiliate. Bong is not an exclusive identity, it allows multiple passports and identities. My forefathers migrated from UP I am Bong without relinquishing my equal rights of being a Banarasi Babu. The Bong allows cohabitation (in the French sense) of myriad identities.
The beat of the dhak, dhunuchi naach, pandal hopping and prasad samplings are inseparable from the mood of the Pujas.
The denizens of Bengal can scarcely resist the temptation of an extended vacation. It is a belief universally held that on a holiday the archetypical Bengali wakes up late, yawns, reads several newspapers in a leisurely fashion, tickles his delicately bulging tummy, regales in slow food, soft music, serious books, art films and of course, adda. Many extended families do get together in one geographic location even today. But adda is no longer necessarily face to face. Do not for a moment underestimate the mobile as an adda-enabling device. To the gadget savvy, endless conference calls enhance the richness of M-addas. The Bengali diaspora has spread itself far and wide — to all parts of India and corners of planet earth. Thanks to the internet and e-mails they are connected. And glory to the social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter, the tech-literate Bongs may be separated by geography or fate but they are united by technology.
To the cyber-savvy, Skype and Google allow talking live. They videochat for hours for next to nothing with their loved ones and friends thousands of miles away. Aircrafts are also busy transporting empty nester parents to far off places like Sydney and Seattle. They are also bringing back to the nest NRIs sons and daughters from Boston and Birmingham for the festivals. Of course, the traditional destinations like Puri and Pelling, Darjeeling and Dehra Doon have not been abandoned. The indefatigable wanderlust of the Bengali burns on brightly .
Durga Puja is the main festival in Bengal. But not just in Bengal. You can take the Bong out of Bengal but never Bengal out of the Bong. Indeed the entire diaspora all over India and Virtual Planet Bengal is going berserk. From Shantiniketan to San Francisco, from Grinnell to Gobindapur , from London to Liluah the images of Ma Durga and the ambience of Puja is bringing together millions of weary souls.
We still have special issues of Bengali magazines (Sharadiya Sonkha), new movies and Pujor gaan pouring from loudspeakers at each street corner. Imperceptibly, the sarbajanin Durga Puja has changed in some ways but has more remained the same . The creativity and innovation of Kumortuli are undiminished. They surprise you with themes that are very contemporary. You are kept guessing which global villain will be portrayed as Mahishashura. The Mardi Gras floats of New Orleans pale in comparison with the grandeur of the Durga Puja pandals and the images.
As winds of change have blown, the invisible hand of the corporate world has cast its shadow. In the past the Bongs were united by a language but bitterly divided by football teams — Mohun Bagan for ghotis and East Bengal for bangals. They are now united in spirit by the increasing corporatisation of sports. The same is true of the para pujos. The organisers are increasingly leaning towards corporate patrons and sponsors.
Some lean towards Coke while others find the support of Pepsi, some chime in the Vodafone ringtone and others tune into Radio Mirchi. While all this is happening, Asian Paints is rating them meticulously. These changes are neither good nor bad — just different.
The gaiety is still boundless. The beat of the dhak, the ecstatic dhunuchi dance, pandal hopping and prasad samplings are inseparable from the mood of the festival. The worship is a part of the ritual, but almost as an afterthought. Time to leave my laptop, let my hair down and enjoy the festivities. Hey Bongs! Pujo is here.