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Celebrating Durga Puja – British-Bangali Way

British-Bangali community, looking for convenience would want to know the exact time of Pushpanjali so that they get over with the prayers, eat bhog, go home and carry on with their daily lives.

Sudakshina Bhattacharjee
Mon, Oct 7 2013

Harrow Durga Puja, Image: Rajat Dey

About Sudakshina

Sudakshina Bhattacharjee (@SudakshinaKina) is a writer and lecturer who spends her life working and living in London and Kolkata.

For more information about her work, please log on to www.sudakshinakina.com


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My many Kolkata

 
My parents are traditionally ‘Bangali’ in heart, mind and soul. My brother and I grew up understanding that being ‘Bangali’ meant revering our Hindu canon of Gods and Goddesses; to speak in Bengali when spoken to in Bengali; to know that while we were born and raised in Britain, we were not English.

These differences were not difficult to understand and imbibe for us as children. However, things started to get complicated as we grew up into our formative years, where our main cultural reference points were British English programmes, films and books - there were no ‘Asian’ channels till the mid-1990s.

We spoke English with a distinct British accent that was also very apparent in the Bangla we spoke too. We grew up internally believing that English was our main language and not Bangla!

So, when my parents started celebrating Durga Puja at our London home, (we’re known as ‘Hounslow-te Pujo hoye!’) back in 1991, the Bengali community (in neighbouring west London) were excited because there were only two other Puja sites (Wembley and Southall) nearby at the time and having one in Hounslow was great because it was...local!

You read it correctly- i.e. being local was the key reason for such festive joy.

I think it is very un-Bangali, because our ‘desher’ counterparts would (and still do) travel miles and miles for what is known as ‘pandal-hopping’.

Kolkatans sweat, swelter and swear in the congested, chaotic traffic, dressed in their finery, to wait their turn to get a glimpse of how various Durga Puja clubs have decorated their pandals, designed the statues of the Mother Goddess, catered for amenities, like food and drink counters for the travelling visitors, etc. They do all this happily and merrily though, which is fantastic to witness and experience.

We have a similar setup in London now because the number of Durga Puja clubs has increased as also the commercial aspect of ‘chanda collection’ (subscription).

Yet, how has this happened, considering the Bangali community down here were looking for convenience and wanting to know the exact time when Pushpanjali will happen so that they can arrive at the Puja site just before then, get over with the prayers, eat bhog (sanctified food) and go home to carry on with their normal lives afterwards!

I think the answer lies in the recent influx of Bengalis who have come from Kolkata and other Indian cities to work here (some choose to settle, while some don’t) and feel they should start Durga Puja clubs here to recreate a similar festive spirit ‘desher moton’.

However, such clubs soon realise that is it isn’t possible to create pandals from scratch and resort to booking venues that are usually hired for Asian weddings, funerals and birthday parties.

As the timings for these venues are limited, Puja rites and rituals are squeezed into the day, while preference is given to the evening ‘functions’ where Bangali singers, dancers and dramatists (both desher and ekhankar) do their best to entertain the audience, half of whom cannot quite grasp what is going on because of the lack of Bengali cultural reference points.

I have found many such people on which terms like ‘Rabindra Sangeet’ and ‘naatok’ are totally lost. Poor things, at least they try to understand and if help can be extended to flesh out what the songs and plays are about, then that would be good.

If my account baffles you then I have succeeded to reflect the deep mishmash of Bengali and British values which comprise the approach we take in celebrating Durga Puja.

This is why I call it the ‘British Bangali Way’ - would you too?

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