Sunday, October 17, 2010

Welcome to the land of the living Goddess

For those have read my earlier post on Bangur Ave, you are already aware of the geography. For those who haven’t – it is, once sleepy, now fully awakened and a bustling neighborhood on the VIP road. The road that connects the city to the airport. Among other things, it is famous for getting waterlogged with minimal rains, they have revamped the drainage system with extensive overhauling. However the new system is yet to be tested, with this year’s rain being below par.

What really makes this locality unique though, is what this post is about.The Brahma Kumaris, which is a spiritual based education institution – has a chapter in Bangur. Every year during the days of Durga Pujo they enliven the Goddess in flesh and blood. They have volunteers from their institute dress up as Maa Durga, her children and the Asura. People come from far and wide to see the show of the living Goddess.


The ‘show’ timings are 5:30 – 10:30 every evening during the 4/5 days of Durga Puja. Once the curtain goes up, the ‘Darshan’ is on for about 10-15 mins. After which the women (called Sisters) on the stage are given a break of 5-10 mins. They can relax during this time, because once the curtain goes up – they freeze, with the only exception of the occasional blinking of the eyelid.

It really is quite impressive to stay the way the ‘actors’ stay without twitching a muscle and with only an occasional blink.


IMG_1123 No the ‘Lion’ was NOT living, in case you were wondering !







This degree of on-stage perfection would be hard to imagine, without meditational capabilities. There was enough distraction for these performers, with shutter bugs, the cheering crowd and people talking. But these were professionals. 

You can see it in the eyes of the devotees below. Sheer amazement and joy, at least for the first timers. IMG_1150 

The volunteers of Brahma Kumaris were managing the crowd in a fairly competent fashion. There were at least two checkpoints  before the visitors could be in front of the stage. Only a limited number of people were allowed through the checkpoints. Once they exited and the performers had their break and were ready for curtains up, a new group of visitors were let in.

IMG_1118 IMG_1116 

As I waited patiently my turn in a sea of people, I was asked by one of the volunteer as to “Where was I from "?” To which, I replied I wasn’t from ‘anywhere’, just an individual who writes a blog and would like to get some pictures, while I was there. Thanks partly to my irresistible charm and a fancy camera dangling around my neck, I was handpicked among hundreds of other people for a front-row-seat. I was rushed inside an exclusive entrance and before I could imagine – I was sitting comfortably at a touching distance from the living Goddess !


Finally it was curtains !

Saturday, October 16, 2010

অষ্টমী তে ফের পুরোনো পাড়া

I dedicate this post to my parents, who despite odds brought me and my sister up the best they could. And for those of you who know me personally, would agree they didn’t do such a bad job after all :))

IMG_1112 Mr. and Mrs. Arora

It might be fair to assume most of you reading this post have moved on in life. Leaving behind your humble beginnings. Roots are an integral part of who we are and how we deal with challenges life throws at us. I grew up in one such neighborhood – Bangur Ave. Those were the days of load-shedding – a term invented in CoolKata, mosquito bites, water scarcity and tube-wells in this part of Calcutta. However life in a certain way was less complicated. This locality sits on the VIP road, the expressway (I am taking some liberties here :) that connects the city to the airport. 

I was born in Bangur Ave, which is part of a twin city township - Lake Town. My grandfather had bought a piece of land here, in what used to be a forlorn zone then. For the record – my present place of residence – Salt Lake, was precisely what it’s name suggests – A salt water lake. Folk lore has it that neighboring areas were infested with jackals ! Quite understandably, my Late grand-father was warned by his well wishers to not go in for what was a ‘steal deal’ back then. He persisted amidst stiff opposition and sound advice. He built us a 2 storied house where I spent all my infancy, childhood, teenage, adolescence and part of my youth.  I moved out of Bangur, back in 1999 to greener American pastures.

After spending nearly a decade out of the country, we relocated back to Bangur Ave, Calcutta, India. Bangur was no longer the place I remembered it to be. Part of a bustling greater Kolkata, it was now.  There were more people, lesser old neighbors, more buildings, lesser parks so on an so forth. The locality as I recalled had been completely metamorphosed. Changes galore – some good, some bad.

However certain things have remained the same – some of it’s old citizens. The Goodfellas. It’s people. Some friends of my dad’s and my grandfather’s. However truth be told I could not relate to it and wanted a better quality of life than it offered. So we decidedly moved across the canal and into Salt Lake.

My parents still live in Bangur. In place of the house that my grandfather built now stands a tall tower. Nearly complete in structure .However in a legal tangle with the developers of the building. It has been a very bitter pill to swallow – the joint venture project that it, was supposed to be with a local builder, went south. Presently the matter is sub-judice. My parents have had to move into a rented apartment, though still in Bangur Ave.

We have Navratri Pujas that are observed at our home. On the penultimate day of the Navratras, we always visit our parents for the Puja and a sit down lunch on this day. It was the same this year, except I decided to take a tour of my পুরোনো পাড়া (old neighborhood) . I walked the lanes where I grew up. Met up with people who know me since I was a kid and held their hands. I felt a sudden burst of emotions on this day, even as I have deserted the place where I grew up. Innocence is lost.

I am including some pictures of place and people who I have known and met on this way.


Have many fond memories of this store, while growing up. As I held the hands of my grand-parents and parents while insisting that they buy me a certain treat or a toy. I also chatted up with the owner of the store(not in picture) - ‘Dasu da’ as everyone called him. Dasu da was visibly happy to see me after must be ages. He recalled me as a naughty kid with a head full of hair. If you have a recent picture of me - the scene is a decidedly different now, apropos hair. Naughtiness is retained, though !

In the picture below,  is our news paper vendor of years and a local electrician who went to the same school as I. IMG_1090 

This gentleman in the picture has not lost a single strand of hair from the time I remembered him. Albeit they are greyer now. He has been selling fruits in the local vegetable and fruit market since time immemorial. We do not know what is the name his parents gave him. He was introduced to us as ‘Miya ji’ / मिँया जी by my grand-father and the name stuck. Miya ji is a shy person, who almost shied away when I asked his permission for clicking a picture of him.


In picture below is Ratan. He runs a small grocery store, but I always remembered him for the bread he sold. These were uncut loaves of bread, which he would slice it for his customers in a trademark fashion. We could ask for thinly or coarsely cut slices. Ratan, more often than not would oblige.


In this one are a couple of electricians once estranged but now back together. They are Sanjay and Jadob da (left to right) Sanjay’s father one Mr. Naidu was once the only electrician in town and was the go-to person for all things electrical. He was also my dad’s friend and we always called him Naidu uncle. Trust me to commit a faux-pas by asking if Naidu uncle was still around.  He is now an old man with arthritis in both his knees. He was no where to be seen, but Sanjay assured me that was he doing well for his age. And Jadob da was the local refrigerator expert. They were thrilled to see me and simply loved it when I asked them to pose for me.  IMG_1094

Finally, I came across this ‘flour-mill’ where we bought our daily wheat flour from. This is run by a young man whose name I have never known. We always called him ‘Chaki da’ as he ran a আটা চাক্কি / आटा चक्की.


Done with fond remembrances of my child hood, I moved onto to visit the local Pujo pandal and fair ground.





I continued to roam the lanes and streets of Bangur for a little while longer, as lunch was being readied at my parents’.


What you see below is the harbinger of Chinese cuisine in Bangur Ave. This used to be a small eatery run by a mother/daughter pair who lived up-stairs in the same building. The daughter went to the same school as I did. For the life of me, I cannot remember her real name. But she was popularly nicknamed ‘Monalisa’ – thanks to a mysterious smile she sported. I can vividly recall, there wasn’t a boy in our school or the neighborhood who * WAS NOT * absolutely smitten with her charm. I was no different :) As I walked by ‘Hot Pak’ I wondered if she still stays there. I could not pull up the courage to walk up to their door and re-introduce myself. Nostalgia indeed, is a strange animal. This is where I first tasted ‘Chicken Sweet Corn Soup’. Sweet memories.


Below are a couple of newer additions, late entrants into the Bangur economy.



All the walking and talking made me hungry. I headed back to my parents’ for a wholesome Ashtami lunch.

PS: If any of you readers are from Bangur, please share your memories of the place with me, by commenting on this post.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

যুক্তরাষ্ট্রে যুবক যুবতী (An American Dream)

I dedicate this post to a dear friend and his family. Nilanjan, Sumi and Hia. Without them this post would not have come into being. Nilanjan is  a freewheeling, free spirited young lad :), loves to travel and explore uncharted territories. Sumi dedicates her time being a full-time mother to their lovely daughter Hia, who is growing up to be a fine young woman. Being an enterprising dad that he is, you could find Nilanjan and Hia rock-climbing on a lazy Saturday afternoon  ! The Chakrabortys are based out of New Jersey, USA. Thank you Sumi and Nilanjan for sharing with us these lovely pictures of the aptly titled event-  ‘Durga pujo under the American Flag’.

Here is introducing - The Chakrabortys in a candid shot below @ Durga Pujo celebration in Randolph, New Jersey. Featuring Nilanjan, Hia and Sumi (from left to right)


As I sit here on a hot summer-like morning of Mahashashti day 2010, with tell tale signs of global warming.  Random thoughts fill up my heart and head. I find it hard to imagine that it has been almost 10 years, since I said – ‘I do’. A lot of water has flown under the bridge. We are parents to a seven year old boy nicknamed Guchi. Sumi and Nilanjan fondly remember him as ‘Guchli’. Before we decided to drop the L and rechristen him as Guchi. This was before the trend of changing names started in Bollywood.

Once upon a time, in India – during the wintry month of December, a boy and a girl were about to step into holy wedlock. Till death did them part.

2001 was an eventful year. I travelled to India in March to meet my then fiancée, now wife. Even though we knew each other from before, but ours was a long distance love story. I was interviewed by the ‘marriage board’ which comprised of my mother-in-law and trusted aides. Had to face a cannonball of questions with my back against the wall. Questions ranged from my educational/financial prowess to my lack of head hair to my BMI (Body Mass Index). I some how bumbled my way out of the interview passing it with flying colors, though. Now then, our relationship finally had the stamp of approval. The two young lovers were on cloud nine, their joy knew no bounds. After some deliberation, the date of marriage was tentatively settled for December that year.

2001 was an eventful year. I returned to my land of karma – USA, after a brief rendezvous with my would-be in-laws. I reported back to work and it was pure – ‘Shock and Awe’. I was being ‘Let go’ – a term with it’s roots in corporate America.  It is supposed to cushion the blow, almost bordering on making it sound as a happy desirable situation. I was jobless and fearful. I just could not afford to let the news fly across to the Indian shores. Any whiff of this, and marriage approval could have been overturned. It took me about 4-6 weeks to find a new job. I changed my base from the west to the east. Relocated to New Brunswick, New Jersey from San Jose, California. The west coast of US  is as much different from the east coast as Kalyani is from Kerala, metaphorically speaking. I had a new job and new found confidence in my abilities.

2001 was an eventful year. Come September 11th, United States of America was under siege. The twin towers fell. At that time I was consulting for a software services company in midtown Manhattan. On that fateful morning, while I was on the train to NYC, when some passengers spotted the WTC on fire, from the train window. The train pulled into Newark, NJ. Mobile phones rang incessantly on the train. I called my would-be-wife to let her know I was safe and was on my way to NYC, not knowing what awaited me there. After getting off at Penn. Station in midtown NYC – I started walking towards my workplace amidst an eerie silence that had taken over. There was to be no work that day. All roads, rail tracks, ports, airports leading to the city were shutdown. The city that never sleeps had been forced to shut down. Later in the day ferry services were resumed out of NYC, to cross over to Weehawken, NJ. Gradually train services were resumed in New Jersey. I reached home around 5 pm. My would-be-wife was worried sick in Kolkata, India.

2001 was an eventful year. My mother took seriously ill. The day was December the 3rd. She spent her time in the hospital alone, while the boy and the girl registered their wedding in the office of a marriage registrar. I was happy yet very very sad.

2001 was an eventful year. We got married on 10 December, 2001. My mother had recovered only enough to barely make it to the wedding ceremony.



Tied together in the sacred institution of marriage. The boy leaving behind a sick mother, and the girl leaving behind her lonely parents, set sail to US of A. Such are the ways of the world. The girl as it so happens, leaves everything behind including her job in search of marital bliss. They move into a new apartment, freshly furnished and painted. The smell of newly painted apartment both nauseating and refreshing. They put together their apartment piece by piece and make it a place they could call home. Love was in the chilly air of New Jersey in the month of December. The boy joins work leaving behind her newly wedded wife behind. She gets to hone her homemaking skills. Love blossoms via wholesome Indian food being cooked in the kitchen of their apartment. Life was good.


Days go by and so does the winter, then comes the nicer month of spring. Which then gives way to summer in full swing and time flies on wings. It is autumn before you realize and the girl starts feeling homesick. Long distance calls to India are on the rise. However they do little to compensate being with her parents during the festive season. However the girl’s brother who lived in North Carolina, drove down 500 miles with a friend of his to spend Pujo weekend with us.

The year was 2002 and they had been married for only a few months shy of a year. It is that time of the year again – Durga Pujo was around the corner. New Jersey is home to several thousands of Indian and Bengali families. In an effort to relive their Pujo experiences, many socio-cultural organizations have come up. They have their own Durga Pujo calendar where the four days of pujo are hurriedly crammed into a weekend. The goddess makes her way out of cold storage to her adopted home of some school or community center of another ethnic group, which has been rented for pujo celebration. This pujo is nothing quite like the celebration here at home. Mercs, BMW convertibles Audi A6 line the parking lots, with women in ethnic wear, burdened under the weight of 22 karat Indian gold. They come in hordes along with their teenaged children who speak in American English punctuated with a smattering of American বাংলা(Bengali). Some industrious Bengali women would set up food stalls selling home-cooked fast food to visitors stricken with home-sickness, while others sell a mixed bag of wares from India – be it sarees, music cd and dvds, pickles and what have you.

012_8AKallol Durga Pujo, 2002


The girl, The boy, The brother-in-law and his friend (left to right) @ Kallol Durga Pujo, 2002 

The New Jersey area is home to a few different ‘Pujos’. We attended the Kallol Durga Puja that year. More for proximity to our place of residence, than anything else. To quote from their website “Kallol of New Jersey, is a Tax Exempt Non-Profit Organization Dedicated to Fostering the Excellence of Indian and Bengali Culture in New Jersey, USA.”. People have their favorites, some swear by Kallol and would not go anywhere else, while others do not want to have anything to do with this Pujo. There is bonhomie and staunch rivalry in equal measure; both among devotees and the organizers. Smiles are worn nonchalantly, but daggers are drawn over endless cups of tea and coffee. Needless to say such a social gathering attended by thousands of Bengalis cannot be bereft of politicization of even a religious festival like Durga Pujo :)

It is almost like going for a dinner and show outing, we had to buy our admittance for the Pujo ceremony. If I remember correctly it was priced between $50-$60 for a couple and you got the meals free (one each for each weekend day).

The smell of incense was intoxicating, Maa Durga is decorated in all her glory,  devotees are enjoying themselves. The social milieu is interesting. Evenings are reserved from cultural performances by the professional and amateurs. Pujo is in the air. However something goes amiss – the rustic appeal of Pujo back home, the pandals decorated with all the gusto, the cacophony, the swelling crowds and the method in the madness. Yet, it is Durga Pujo nonetheless.

Cut to present day, the year is 2010. We relocated back to India back in 2005, and I am still fielding questions as to why did we decided to return, after having spent nearly 7 years outside the country. Why did I not live the proverbial ‘American Dream’ ? Well, that is for another day.

The Chakrabortys decided to stay back a little longer and as a proof of the fact – Nilanjan sent me these pictures from the Durga Pujo celebration @ Randolph New Jersey.

20101009_030   Durga Pujo celebration @ Randolph, New Jersey(2010)

20101009_012  Durga Pujo celebration @ Randolph, New Jersey (2010)


20101009_039 Pujo bhog under the American Flag !



20101009_029 Parking lot of the school where the Pujo was being celebrated in Randolph, NJ




2003 was an eventful year. Our son Abhinav a.k.a Guchi was born on 28 March 2003.


2010 is an eventful year. We are in the family way again, and are expecting a baby in December this year. Bless thy children, Maa. Bless our to-be-born-baby, Maa. Bless the family, Maa Durga. Bless all, Maa !


Saturday, October 9, 2010

সল্টলেকে শারদউত্সব ২০১০

Salt Lake City on the eastern fringes of Calcutta, (often referred to as Bidhannagar, after it’s founder and inceptor Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy, the erstwhile Chief Minister of West Bengal) is a satellite township. Excuse me for being repetitive, but my love affair with Salt Lake dates back to the early nineties. I have been a resident of this once quaint, but now a sprawling neighborhood of about 300,000 people; for about 5 years.

It is often cursed and termed as an elitist’s address, it comes to life during the festival of Durga Pujo. People here like to keep to themselves and the ‘para-culture’ is conspicuous by it’s absence. However, it does a volte-face during Pujo and people in its otherwise sleepy lanes wake up to welcome ‘Maa Durga’ in their hearts, lanes and homes !

Salt Lake  is broadly divided into ‘Sectors’ and each Sector is then broken down into ‘Blocks’. Each block is a unit comprising of at least few hundred homes, each with a character of its own. There are four sectors that make up Salt Lake namely Sector I, II, III IV, and Sector V (IV and V are commercial and industrial sectors, while the other three are residential). There are about 30 blocks; each designated with a set of alphabets like AA, AB, AC …

Each block has at least one Sarbajanin Pujo, some bigger blocks have even two. If one does not have a penchant for roaming the streets of Kolkata and lining up for ঠাকুর দেখা, you will find Salt Lake a departure from the congestion, at least some what. With more and more big budget Pujos now dotting this town, even that is fast changing.

So, I roamed about my own town, like a tourist; armed with a camera. Below are some shots and a brief synopsis of a select few, an AllThingsCoolKata exclusive :)

Starting from one tip of Salt Lake, I got real lucky at AD block Pujo Pandal. One rarely gets to see দূর্গা ঠাকুর at a pandal before the Pujos are actually inaugurated, let alone capture it in your lens (unless of-course @ Kumartuli)

  • Block: AE – Part (I)
  • Year of inception: 1983
  • Budget: 10 Lacs
  • Look – The theme is folk culture of Bengal. The interior of the pandal is being decorated with mats, bamboo sticks and dolls in folk dance postures.







IMG_0931 IMG_0929

  • Block – AG
  • Inception Year: 1988
  • Budget: 3 Lacs
  • Theme: The pandal resembles ‘Jorasanko Thakur Bari’ and paintings by Tagore will be put up inside.

IMG_0937 IMG_0938 08102010972 08102010973

* Last two pictures were taken last evening, after Lights on !

  • Block: BJ
  • Year of inception: 1984
  • Budget: 10 Lacs
  • Look – The pandal is being made to capture the essence of Tagore’s idea of nature. Excerpts from his poem will be written on the panels. Durga will be adorned in daaker saaj. Given this is Tagore’s 150 anniversary year, a procession of 150 people carrying 150 candles will be brought out in the block on Panchami.


03102010893  03102010889




  • Block: CJ
  • Year of inception: 1985
  • Look – হাজার চালা (A family of one thousand Goddesses and Gods)

03102010901  03102010908 03102010903 03102010906 03102010905 03102010907



  • Block: AA
  • Year of inception: 1977
  • Budget: 4.5 Lacs
  • Theme: The pandal is an imaginary temple. The Goddess will bear a modern look with silver decor

IMG_0953 IMG_0957 Bengal’s other love, football being played in a park opposite from the AA pandal


  • Block: AD
  • Year of inception: 1978
  • Budget: 7 Lacs
  • Theme: Traditional, and idol being sculpted by Pradip Rudrapal


  • Block: AH
  • Year of inception: 1984
  • Budget: 6.5 Lacs
  • Theme: The pandal will be an imaginary temple with a traditional eckhala idol



  • Block: FD
  • Year of inception: 1983
  • Theme: One of the biggest Pujo in Salt Lake, if not the biggest. This one has been a blockbuster Pujo, with maximum foot falls with previous global themes like Harry Potter, and Global Warming in previous years. This year it is modeled after the several temples of Haridwar. So it is being called Jora Mandir !

03102010921 03102010929 03102010926

  • 03102010933







    Nothing sells better than Brand Durga, not even Brand Sourav ‘Dada’ Ganguly :). Companies, Corporates, Cola Makers, Cereal Brands, Clothiers, Hair Salon to Fertility Clinics every one is out there trying to get their share of the pie and pushing their own brand.  So here are some brand images around the town. Pujo is a huge money spinning industry, worth several million dollars.

    03102010945 Was it possible to think of this a few years back, Maa Durga on a US cereal maker’s box ?


    Our very own Prince charming selling potato chips !



    Go Horlicks!



    Fit Hai Boss – Askhay !

    Hope you enjoyed the pictures !

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