Durga Puja, food fetish and an ode to the twenty years of an emotion called UCC 

Shubho Bijoya everyone.

So we had an incredibly exciting Durga Puja this year. Baba’s asthma attack on panchami got better with time. From panchami to dasami morning, we worked out schedules basis rains whims and still we managed to cover the best pujas in town. Gogol seemed way too excited to have been introduced to the variety of Asuras in different sizes, colors and ferocity. The hangover continues till date and he continues calling the Asuras to come in more colors soon. I have a gut feeling that next year the affection is going to tilt slightly towards Ganesha or Gonsha, as he prefers to call.

Durga Puja for any Bengali is incomplete without feasting on food. You look around, you see and smell bhog cooking (that khichudi ghyat combination can make anyone go weak in the knees) . You go further up, you see food stalls offering phuchkas to mutton biriyani /chicken chap. For us, it been more than a week that the gala food festival has begun.

Most Bengalis, specially those residing in any corner of Bengal are fond of their ‘adda’ sessions. You could spot the best debate there. You could find the most knowledgeable guy on football there even if he has never ever touched a ball in his life. There would also be an, if not multiple experts on politics. The place where such fertile minds come together to create nothing is called ‘thek’ in bengali. It could be a tea shop, a place on the roadside, a sitting place near the play grounds-infact anywhere.

My husband, Tanmoy is part of one such thek – they call it the UCC – United Cricket Club. The unofficial club was founded some twenty years ago when the gang of friends had just finished their tenth board exams. They went by an unwritten rule- boys only and then men only. They would celebrate festivals together, hoist flag together on independence day, play cricket tournaments together and indulge in all sort of mindless banter. The first ever cigarette was lighted up there, the first ever drop of alcohol touched there- at different phases of adult life. With time, a majority of the group left for higher studies and then jobs to different cities, different states and even different countries. But every return back home invariably meant returning to Barrack Square late evenings for the adda. Eventually bachelors moved on from having girlfriends to getting married-some to the same girl, some to their new found love. And then came the kids. But the rules stayed unchanged.

During Durga Puja, the gang would get together from sosthi evening to dasami night every day to feast on well cooked meals while conversing about everything under the sky. Sosthi was about chicken, Saptami about biriyani, Ashtami was vegetarian food and mutton marked the end of Nabami. Dasami was about getting teary-eyed, more for having to leave the next day to respective cities rather than the sadness of seeing Durga Ma’s idol immersion. Not being able to participate,  the wives got rebellious. Puja was meant to be celebrated together, with family and friends both. Gradually the attendance at thek started declining. The reason was unanimous – rule had be made more inclusive. So few years back, the rule was modified. The door(invisible though) was made open to the ladies and the kids of the members.

Post marriage, having stayed away from my hometown almost every year during puja, I had only heard about the ongoings of the club. I had met most of Tanmoy’so friends during various occasions over the past one and half years. However, I’m yet to meet quite a few of them who have stopped coming back home either by choice or circumstances and some who don’t have a place that used to home for them here anymore. Last year, with a year old unwell Gogol, I was under house arrest for the entire duration of puja. I was pleasantly surprised to see Tanmoy getting us the delicious treats back home because the folks at UCC didn’t want me to miss out on the fun. Just because I couldn’t move out didn’t mean I should miss out was what was communicated to me by them.  This year, I visited the thek with my two year old toddler. His schedule and rain God’s fury didn’t let me enjoy the daily sessions but I could vouch to be happier person when I returned home. This year, I feasted on finger licking, mouth watering  delicacies every night because that’s how puja is meant to be celebrated-with food, fun, friends and family at UCC.

In due course, we realized that with the number of members growing every year, the place was getting too small and crowded to house the population,specially  the kids. For them, there was no place to run around, no proper sitting arrangements, no proper ventilation, causing inconvenience to everyone. That’s when the wise minds came together to take the path breaking decision- next year onwards, UCC was going to have its own Durga Puja.

When Tanmoy came back on Nabami night, post celebrating two decades of the club, I could see him beaming with joy. Finally they had come up with a blue print of how to go ahead-formation of a watsapp group being the first plan of action followed by opening of a bank account. There was going to be a President, a secretary, a treasurer and many other posts. The enthusiasm was infectious. Earlier this year, I had told Tanmoy that next year I would want to see puja in Kolkata. It was a sealed deal. But these days, as I keep listening to the updates of unofficial puja committee of UCC, deep down in my heart I know that it’s just a matter of time before give in to his plans, just as he does for our happiness.

Dasami evening onwards, I have feasting on home cooked treats. Dasami dinner was at my marital home followed by dinner at an aunt in laws house next evening. Day before yesterday was lunch arranged by my sister in law followed by a mini reunion of school friends at a restaurant. Yesterday evening I had a meet up with an old friend followed by dinner at the youngest uncle in laws place. Over time, I have realized that  food in most households is not just an item to combat hunger or satiate taste buds. It’s also a a medium to shower love and affection by making them feel special and important. Unfortunately, we are at a borderline of fatal overdose currently.

I have declined the invitations for today. Both of us, specially our digestive systems desperately need a break. Besides, tomorrow is Lakshmi puja- my last festival in Berhampore this year. As I bring out my much used blue trolley to start packing, my mind starts pondering over the fact that next year the puja is so going to be about bhog, pushapanjali and prayers. The foundation stone of the new idea has already been laid. The beginning has been initiated. I am only keeping my fingers crossed that reading this whichever corner of the world a UCC member might be right now, this Durga Puja he feels the urge to bring out his much rested trolley to get back to his roots this one time-to where it all began.

Author: Sonia Chatterjee

Who am I? An erstwhile banker turned blogger/writer/author. Any qualifications? A Post-Graduate degree in Chemistry followed by a second Post-Graduate Diploma in Management. I completed a one-year MFA in creative writing course from the Writer's Village University, U.S. in Dec 2020. Though I must admit that I am still trying to figure out how and when I can connect all these dots. Have I done any real work? If two years in market research, six years in banking as a branch head, three-plus years of blogging, writing, and publishing a book can be considered as real work, then yes! Where do I live? After spending life like a nomad for sixteen years in Delhi, Bangalore & Mysore, I am back to where it all started from - Kolkata. My favorite things - Books, coffee, travel, food, and my five-year-old son. What is this blog about? Through Sonia's musings, I intend to explore writing in various genres, create social awareness, spread laughter, and give words to emotions. Anything for readers? You can check out my book 'Deal of Death' on Amazon Kindle. If you like fast-paced thrillers, this Detective fiction introducing the woman sleuth, Raya Ray could turn out to be your perfect weekend read.

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