I have a few friends from Bengal. They celebrate Durga Pooja this week. I tag along, take part in the festivities. I’m taken aback, a little, by the crowd that turns up at the pandals, the enthusiasm of the crowd to go to the pandals everyday for these many days without feeling bored, without feeling lazy, in rain or heat!I’m a little surprised at the non vegetarian food served at the venue of these pandals for there is also a set of other people following a fast ritual for 9 days during Navarathri from other parts of the country. It is a no wheat, no rice, no non-vegetarian food kind of fast. In the middle of all this I joke, I don’t mind going on the fast if somebody serves me sabudana khichdi everyday, one of my favourite snacks, a habit I picked up from living in the state of Maharashtra. As an observer, I am amused by the general enthusiasm of the Bengalis around this time, mostly the Bengali Hindus; the term Bengali requires a qualification, otherwise it may seem to represent everybody from the state! Irrespective of their affiliations to isms, causes and political parties they celebrate durga puja, they are out there in groups on the roads, in the pandals, dressed in new clothes in the presence of ma durga. Which gets me thinking… In the state where I come from, there is hardly any one festival that brings out such a unique regional flavour outside the state. Or is this my ignorance that I write? … there is more than one festival we celebrate with great enthusiasm in the state. My thought is about retaining such enthusiasm even while living outside the state in the public realm that brings up a similar tangible enthusiasm among the Malayalees. You will say we have Onam. Onam like durga puja is primarily a festival with Hindu rituals but proclaimed as the state festival now. Durga puja also has a similar history, a point in its history from where it began to be celebrated outside the home in the way we know it today. Similar is the case with the Ganesh festival in Maharashtra, it was Tilak’s idea, an initiative to bring people out as masses as part of the struggle for freedom against the British government. Almost everybody celebrates onam. If not they are at least in a holiday mood. The state definitely is in a celebration mode. The schools and offices are closed during that week, most of us as families and friends, plan weddings and vacations during these 10 days. The television channels vie with each other to screen the latest films at prime time with lots and lots of ads. A similar ritual is practiced at Christmas during December. It is another festival that makes the state go on a holiday mode. Christmas and the New Year that falls a week after 25 December. Again, the schools remain closed for about 10 days. I’m not sure about how long the offices remain closed.. The academic calendar in schools in Kerala is designed around these two festival seasons. The exams and holidays fall around this time. I can relate to the Christmas Season celebrated outside the state, but… this is one festival celebrated at a global level. The western world being partially Christian has a holiday calendar that has a way of bringing 25 December into prominence. Then there is also the fast during the Ramadan month. It is a lovely season of food and celebration if we live in the vicinity of or have friends among Muslims. Such tasty recipes. slurrp! However, like Christmas, Ramadan too is globally celebrated. There is nothing Malayalee about celebrating them outside the state. That brings me back to Onam again. Does it bring about such a turn out. I’m not quite sure. Festivals like onam is celebrated wherever Malayalees are, by the association they form in any institution or apartment or a group in office. However, onam remains a private celebration with friends and family in a place outside the state as well. The public spectacle attached to onam is partly part of the flower carpet competitions and some celebration. Even then, Onam does not have a public ritual that brings together all the Malayalees of a place outside the state like on a scale of durga puja. Yet to see one such.
Until them, wishes for Durga Pooja, dussehra, vijaydashmi… a festival celebrated to celebrate the triumph of good over evil, and peace is restored. Even then, the good over evil is subjective with respect to dussehra. It depends on whose side you are on, ram or ravan, whether you are an aryan or dravidian, from south or north india or it depends on the version of the ramayana one read. And grew up with.