Wednesday, October 20, 2004

the flip side of durga pujas

All of us must have seen the specialist drummer boys who are in demand even today – may not be in such a large scale as it used to be 20 years ago, but in demand all the same. Known as the ‘dhak’, this musical instrument, if it can be called that, is slung over the shoulder of the drummer boy ‘dhaki’. He creates tunes by deft manipulation of a pair of sticks on the skin covering the instrument. In this way, he is able to produce extraordinary music, which prompts people to dance. The drums are decorated with beautiful colored feathers and, as the dhaki sways with his dhak, these feathers sway adding to the charms of the festivals.

At some puja pandals, a pair of dhakis is contracted – they dance together and invite others to join. The famous dhunuchi naach (dancing with a pair of dhunuchis) in tandem with a pair of dhakis is an attraction in quite a number of pandals. Once an exclusive arena of men, there are instances where women have inched their way in. Thanks to the electronic media, we are treated to such scenes regularly on TV channels.

Dhakis are basically cultivators – on the occasion of such festivals, they move around and come to the cities to augment the meager income that comes from tilling the land. On the evening of Sashti (the day preceding Saptami), groups of these drummer boys along with their drums can be seen at Railway stations, bus stations or road crossings – waiting their turns to be hired for the four ensuing days. Those who do not succeed trudge back to their villages, hoping for better luck next year round.

Another set of people who contribute towards making the Pujas so attractive are the decorators and the electricians.

Struggling day and night, these artisans bring the Taj Mahal or the Pentagon or the Kremlin palace right into the heart of Kolkata. Using bamboo, thermocole and cloth, they create replicas of world famous monuments – based on the requirement of the Puja committee. The electricians add to the beauty by their magic of lighting. Together, they present some unparalled creations – a few of these get rewarded by the Award selection teams.

Durga puja was originally restricted to only a few families – the zamindars. On this occasion, the complete village would be invited to witness the Pujas and partake the Prasad. They would remain as spectators and were not allowed to participate in any other way. However, with the partition of Bengal and influx of refugees from East Bengal to West Bengal (Bangladesh was not existing at that time) the Durga puja ceased to be an exclusive purview of a few families. Interested Bengalis pooled their resources, collected money in the form of donations and started performing the Pujas as a group. These came to be known as the ‘Baroari Pujas’. ‘Baro’ means twelve and ‘yaar’ means friend. ‘Baroari’, therefore, means a group of twelve friends – in other words, a community. Moreover, with the gradual disintegration of the joint family system and the moving out of succeeding generations to greener pastures within the country or abroad, the family Pujas lost their shine. But, in order to keep the tradition alive, all family members are expected by the family elders to assemble at least once a year in their ancestral home – for the sake of these Pujas.

This home coming, on the face of it, is indeed a pleasant experience, an opportunity of exchanging notes. But, fraught with hidden pitfalls as well. The evil side of human nature surfaces, it may not be expressed in so many words but the minor achievements of one family pales into insignificance when compared to the major achievements of another. Like the jewellery acquired and exhibited by the woman of one family to prove one-upmanship over others.

While everyone makes efforts to conceal their feelings, the fact remains that such situations cannot just be wished away. It is difficult to hide under a veneer of artificiality!