Like so many others, Bengalis also celebrate a variety of festivals, but among them Durga Puja, is the most grandest and awe inspiring. Its a five day long celebration of love, joy and peace. In Kolkata, the capital of the state of West Bengal, this takes form of a mass celebration. No matter, what your caste is, no matter which religion one belongs to, no matter whether one is rich or poor, young or old, every Kolkatan comes together in a joyous fervent. The city looks enchanting with lights all over, there are these colorful "pandals" that come up in various themes, colors and decorations. Its one of those times, when a city as a whole celebrates. Durga Puja for Bengalis and Kolkatans is much more than just a mere religious festival. It is indeed, a celebraton of life.
This year, about six months ago I shifted from Kolkata, to far away Kansas, USA... my husband works here and as the custom goes, a wife's place is with her husband, therefore, here I was... in a different country, an altogether different continent, a different time zone and vastly different cultures. Durga Puja arrived as usual... I kept seeing brilliant photos posted by friends and family via Facebook and emails. It gave me a sense of isolation, never felt before. Although when I celebrated the Pujas last year, I knew in my heart that it was to be my last pujas in Kolkata, along with my family, but I had not anticipated this sense of utter dejection and isolation as I saw photos after photos of happy people celebrating.
However, I got to spend one of the most memorable Pujas of my life, this year, in Kansas. How, let me share then...
There's this amazing Bengali Association known as Kansas City Bengali Association (KCBA)
They are a motley group of Bengalis, far away from home, and they strive in all their earnest to carry on the culture and the tradition of their roots far away, in a foreign land. There might be many such associations of different communities and I am sure there are many like me who participate in one or the other associations. What makes these associations special is their bond within the community members. Yes, each and every one toils to make an event successful but the sheer toil is their enjoyment.
The KCBA also celebrated the Durga Puja this year, albeit a week later, than the celebrations in Kolkata, and this was my first Puja, away from home and family... and trust me, I had never enjoyed a Puja more. The sheer camaraderie and warmth shared by the members, was something I was newly experiencing. Back home, whenever people celebrated Durga Puja, it was always a closed knit affair... one's family, one's friends, and people one knew relatively well would all get together and have blast. Seeming from our busy schedule, even this was a rare occasion, and that is why, the Durga Puja, is often most sought after festival in Kolkata.
Here, there was something totally new... People I didn't know, had never seen before, they weren't my relatives, family or even friends, came together to celebrate. Where else would a total stranger, help me out to fix my saree, and people who didn't know each other came together to celebrate. There were all sorts of Bengalis, Indians, Bangladeshis, "ghotis", "bangals"... rich, poor, young, old... its didn't matter, all that mattered were they were celebrating... if there would have been an example of a true celebration... this would have been it...
Though it only lasted for three days, two and a half actually, yet it felt like forever... the five day festivities of Kolkata, would easily fade in front of this... people were dressed in their finery, there were laughter, smiles and joys... a happiness and contentment that even though these people were far, far away from home, they were celebrating... all of them had chipped in some way or the other, it was celebration of their toil, of their commitment and of their "bengali-ness"... and the pride in the feeling of being a "bangali"... of course I have the photos to remind me of how enjoyable it all was... but the most important thing, probably happened, was that I didn't miss home. I celebrated with total my family here, far, away from home, and it felt exactly like being with my near and dear ones...
I am really proud and happy that I belong to an association like this, which makes an effort for people like me, who miss home, feel a lot less isolated. Thank you KCBA... :) :)