Being an enthusiastic Bengali from the day I was born, Durga Puja always meant 5 days of endless merriment and excitement. Friends, family and outings: it never got better than that. It was a time when camaraderie swept through the streets of Kolkata. Everyone returned home from their outside chapters to rejoice with their loved ones.
But ever since I left my motherland 5 years ago in pursuit of higher education, it was a part of my life that remained vacant. Hailing from a small town in Southern Oregon called Klamath Falls, I rarely met any Bengalis. So Durga Puja, to me, was restricted to watching my friends’ posts’ on Facebook, while doing assignments during those 5 days. And in all honesty, these 5 years made me forget the feeling of what it was like to celebrate Durga Puja.
When my father said that we should travel somewhere to celebrate this festive season, I thought lets give it a try. After all, leaving for the weekend at the start of the semester isn’t the best idea, but I was willing to take the risk. Since most major cities close to us had already celebrated the festival, our eyes turned upon Sacramento. We had never properly visited the city before, and their celebration was that weekend.
Entering the Orangevale Community Center, I was greeted with the towering figure of Ma Durga in all her grace, along with her children. It felt a little intimidating because I hadn’t seen a live figure in 5 years. What got to me even more was the scurry of Bengali sentences that were being uttered around me, something that went out of practice as well. But despite feeling all of that, I somehow felt at home.
The people greeted me with respect and utter humility. The organizers of the extravagant Durga Puja festival were very welcoming. Every person I met that day in the community center made me realize what it meant to be a Bengali: to openly accept someone, to show someone respect that they dont even know. And it was Durga Puja, the festival of brotherhood and camaraderie. Everybody came up to my father and I, and were astonished when we informed them that we had driven 7 hours to celebrate with the Sacramento Bengali community. The Bengali community took us in with open arms and that felt like a connection that I hadn’t felt in years. Even Mala Di, as I have come to call her, took a video of my father and I and posted it on Facebook. I was honored by that sincere gesture.
I thoroughly enjoyed my day, with everything from the anjali, to the culinary experiences, to the performances by Jojo and Abanti Bhattacharya. The evening bisharjan and dhunuchi naach made me remember stills from my childhood. Doesn’t matter that these people are Probashis, they still had unlimited energy flowing within them that every Bong is born with. They were thoroughly enjoying the festival, and I never felt more at home just by watching the festivities. I was glad we didn’t end up going to the Bay Area or Portland to celebrate Puja, because I would have ended up visiting a very commercial definition of how Durga Puja should be celebrated. The Sacramento Bengali community made me feel at home, and just being there was like being in Kolkata all over again, surrounded by my loved ones. Many times during that day, I looked around. I didn’t know any of these people personally, but I still felt a connection to them. My time at the festival ended with shantir jol. As the water drops flew into my hair and body, my mind reverberated one famous saying on repeat: “Asche bochor, abar hobe“. With fresh memories in my mind, I once again hit the road, back to life.
Being at the Sacramento Durga Utsav made me realize what I am missing out on. In my years of living as a young adult in America, you learn to live without some things, things that may be near and dear to your heart. But sometimes, revisiting those things keeps the flame alive and the anticipation growing. I am glad I chose Sacramento Utsav, as my Durga Puja destination. Whether I meet the wonderful people from that Bengali community again in my life, is unknown to me. But the memories they gave me from that one day, will last a lifetime.
………….. And THAT was my 2016 Durga Puja experience.