Bengalis are notorious for their associations. Whichever part of the world you may live, you are sure to find the Bengali diaspora creating their little Bengal – where incorrigible foodies (read men) frequently get together to have machh-misti (fish-sweets) and more; self-conscious beauties are forever desperate to show off their latest sarees and jewellery; and their reluctant children are constantly (and unsuccessfully) coaxed into appreciating and propagating ‘Bengali culture’: with nach, gaan, abritti, natok (dance, song, recitation, drama) – mostly ‘Rabindrik’.
So is it with us Bengalis in Holland: our association, KALLOL, was founded in 2008 by a bunch of enthusiasts, headed by a man with mythical energy and phenomenal PR skills – who loved good food, well-dressed women, and well-staged plays with equal passion. He gathered together a great team, ran the organization successfully for 5 years… but suddenly passed away. It was an irreparable loss; but his spirit guides us still, as we continue to follow the structure (administrative and otherwise) that was set in his time – with increasing success.
Central to it was charting out a year of fun. KALLOL has something for every season: so that while we carry a Dutch “agenda” in our pockets, socially, we live out a Bengali year – with Saraswati Puja in winter (January); Nabo-Borsho (Bengali New Year) in spring (April); A Picnic/BBQ in summer (August); and Durga Puja in autumn (October).
The last is the highlight of the year, a massive 4-day affair, celebrated on the stipulated days of the Pujas, as in India – in authentic style! The others we celebrate in the nearest weekend, usually the first weekend after the event. Our most recent Saraswati Puja was one such: the puja was actually on February 12 in India; we did it a day later.
Like all years, the gathering was a riot of yellow, with men women and children clad in the colour symbolizing the herald of spring in India; and just like previous years, anjali and lunch were followed successively by a children’s ‘sit and draw’ contest & cultural program, and a noisy antakshari by adults, ending with tea and snacks. This is the most relaxing of the year’s events, especially for the organizers, because the scale of attendees is relatively small and the cultural program consists merely of individual (and often impromptu) performances by children. Nabo-borsho is formally their day, when a children’s play is put up that entails weeks of rehearsals. This is just a kind of warm-up exercise.
Bengalis are notorious (apart from forming associations) for indulging in nostalgia. I find it debilitating at times… this compulsive harking back to the ‘good old days’ which were, in all probability, not so good after all. But it seems a genetically coded cultural trait, and try as I might, I’m not totally immune to it. So, as I saw my little one being initiated into the Bengali alphabet with the ritual of hate-khari, I couldn’t help but remember my own childhood, when Saraswati Puja was the most eagerly awaited event of the year for me. Even more than Durga Puja, actually, because the former was celebrated in our own housing complex and was associated with a whole lot of special things – wearing the sari; sharing a communal lunch; performing on stage; but most importantly, seeking the goddess of learning’s choicest blessings for the terminal exam a month away, by placing the textbook of the most difficult or hated subject near her feet. Mine was usually Maths and Biology. No miracles happened, I got just the marks I deserved in them; but I continued with the ritual till my Boards, when I bid the blessed subjects goodbye once and for all!
I have no idea what my daughter’s favourite or hated subject will be…. I only hope she doesn’t need to justify her existence solely through her grades (the bane of Bong children of any generation); I hope I can ensure that as a parent; and I pray to Ma Saraswati that she bestow her other gift, music, on my child. Plentifully.