A Very Floridian Durga Puja!

It must've been Phoebe, who woke me up a wee bit earlier than I expected to get up yesterday morning. In all fairness, I had fallen asleep late the night before.

It was only after I had my dinner, did I start watching the 'Nick Nite' marathon of the never-gets-old TV series that, as I realize only now, is actually a typing nightmare! If you consider the full stops in between each of the unique capitalized letters from the English language... F.R.I.E.N.D.S! While I was doing that, I heard the neighbors drive in late in the night. It was a Friday, so it's only normal. I spied on them for a while from the gaps in the blinds. When they had moved inside their house, I noticed two extra cars parked on the parkway in front of my house. As if the repeatedly rhythmic sound of the bed springs from upstairs wasn't enough to tell me that both my roommates had had their 'better halves' come over after a long time. One of them had brought along her dog, named Phoebe. I sighed and got back to my TV, only to get bored of it and climb up the stairs to retire myself to bed.

Few minutes later, as the bed springs stopped squeaking, I heard the bath-tap turn on. I looked around my room and considered my contemporary state of loneliness for a while. As I heard Phoebe from the room next to mine, I thought of asking Patricia to lend her dog to me for that one night. For only her warm company, strictly speaking, would prevent me from crying out loud. I went on YouTube and listened to a creepy woman whisper things in my ear to finally fall back to sleep.

So, I woke up in the morning of Saturday and shifted my curtains slightly aside. It was an overcast, chilly and windy morning. Not exactly the kind of morning to be celebrating the annual curtain-raiser of all Indian festivities - the Durga Puja!

But it was inevitable. It was a Saturday. A day when everyone was relatively free. A day when everyone was feeling upbeat and good about themselves. A day when I pre-ordered Sachin Tendulkar's autobiography after missing Indian cricket for a while. A day when my Italian/Mexican friend Stefania, was hoping to wear something 'Indien'. A day when gallons of mutton curry were ordered from the local Indian restaurant, which singlehandedly let the actual Durga Puja feel something like a collateral. It was also the day when Manchester United beat West Ham United 2-1 at Old Trafford and were also brought down to being a 10 men team by their own captain. And lastly but not the least, it was an FSU football 'Away game' day. It meant that we could monopolize the parking at the venue any way we wanted.

I wore a new set of traditional 'kurta-pyjama' that my mum had bought for me from the Gujarat emporium, near my home back in India. I made tea and toast for breakfast, when a generous helping of marmalade fell on the kurta. So I changed into a one I was more comfortable in, without feeling too bad about the former. It was 18 degrees outside, so I decided to put on the muffler made of Yak wool, that Rupsa's mum got me from her Leh and Ladakh trip just before I came to America. I was picked up by Anwesha, an extremely generous friend, whom I've met only a few months ago.

Once at the venue, the first thing I noticed was that I've missed the entire day of 'sashti'! What the-!

The 5 days of 'normal' Durga Puja - the sashti, the saptami, ashtami, navami and the dashami - are usually dissected, beaten down, tortured and hung upside down until they agree to condense themselves into a 12-hour regime in all the pujas abroad. So, the 5 days are proportionately divided into a matter of 12 hours or less. So, if you've understood the logic, you'll know how my 'changing out of the damned clothes' and to 'fit into a new set' cost me an entire day worth of Durga Puja! Going by that logic, I was talking to my parents during the entirety of 'ashtami' as well.

I moved around, participated in lots of photoshoots - in some, I butted in just like that - and in some, I was summoned. It was cold and I had gallons of hot tea to survive. There was no 'dhuno' as it's smoke would surely bring in the wrath of the American Gods, who would make it rain by triggering the fire alarm the moment we light the dhuno. That made a huge difference. Else, everything was almost home-like. Almost. I noticed the little kids run around and play all sorts of games like every other kid back home. Except that one boy, who called at his 'Baba' with a peculiar accent that made me wonder if his dad was indeed some descendent of the great Homi Bhabha. At the pushpanjali, I heard someone ask, 'Dude, what's the score?' and the response was 'FUCK! The Noles are losing!'

..which they didn't. Maa Durga ensured it, some would say!

There were recordings of dhaak that someone played through their MacBook Pro, and we all jumped danced to it. Well to be fair, I didn't. The others did. I was dragged in once, but very craftily I joined them at the precise moment the beats ceased to play. The khichuri bhog in the afternoon was very good. I loved the familiar taste of it, and although it was relatively easy to make, I realized that I have never even once made it while I've been in Florida! Weird things that I do.

Anyway, in the evening there was a small cultural program that no one had had much time to prepare for. I was brow-beaten down by everyone else to participate in a 'play' where I was Lord Shiva (The Horror! The Horror!) and in a band where we were to sing a couple of contemporary bengali songs. It was fun, I would say! Of course the sound system was faulty, the mic was not working and the schedule was running late by at least half an hour but to me, all that was like 'Aah, old familiar times!'

I missed a few dear friends and juniors from my undergraduate school. I missed my friends Kuntal, Nikunj, Reshmi and Rupsa of course. The hassles of organizing a cultural program, the disarray of wearing a dhuti and saree (not by the same person of course, unless you're a crossdresser) and the muddiness of fighting the urge to cry out loud was a little too familiar. It was beautiful what we had - the pre-season addas, the post-event dinner and the mind-fucked analysis of what went wrong and why they went wrong. All that was being repeated all over again. It was like a different algorithm being applied to something totally out of context and in a new environment.

As dinner approached, I sat a little away from the crowd and had an enlightening chat with a German professor from the Physics department and Priyashree di. It was fun to explain how and why we celebrate the Durga Puja. Why I celebrate the Durga Puja, being an atheist!? And while I was trying to respond with all my logic, I realized that Durga Puja was essentially about the feeling of coming home and being with all those whom we love. And then I realized that it was precisely the thing that was missing here. At least the first part of it. Maa Durga didn't even return to Mount Kailash via the sea.

She goes back inside a suitcase, like the boggart that Professor Lupin had in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Hmph! I solemnly swear that I have everything good to say about the day, only after I had some spicy biryani with other Bong grad students at an Indian restaurant right off the Apalachee Parkway. It was smokin'!
Photo Courtesy: Shamik Bose, and Tanmoy Das.