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Somava Biswas after visiting sylheti pandals in London: Idols are smaller but brings a smile, reminds me of Silchar

The festive spirit of Durga Puja is upon us. Even in London, far away from the familiar faces and ambience of Silchar- the ‘Parar Pujo’, the barak river and borail range, the beautiful ‘Kashful’ at the back drop of azure blue skies, you can feel the vibe. The beats of the dhak, the familiar smell of dhunuchi, chanting of mantras while offering anjali, and the quintessential bhoger khichudi, labra and payesh- all, along with some sylheti phrases like ‘Khaiso ni?’ and ‘abar aiyo’. It can make you nostalgic and alleviate the pain of not being able to be at home during the Pujo.

Yes, Durga Puja has started in London and we have it for an entire week! I started my first day with the two sylheti Pujas in London- at Sanaton Association, Bethnal Green, Hindu Pragati Sangha, Mile End and ending the day at Utsav Durga Puja, Ilford town hall. The interesting bit here is being able to celebrate Saptami and Astami on the same day! Its a little different from home as different clubs schedule the puja differently- a few like to follow the ‘panjika’ while others want the entertainment during weekends or around their own schedules as per convenience. The idols for Pujo are slightly smaller as they are transported in ships or flights all the way from Kolkata. Also, to not disturb others, pujos are held within halls where you get to hear the dhak and see the festivities only after you go inside. You won’t have an inkling of any celebrations from even outside the building.

It was forecasted to be a typically gloomy day in London, but it turned out to be exactly the type of day you expect during Pujo, giving me the chance to drape myself in colourful saree, standing out amidst the black and brown coats that dot the London roads in autumn, and attracting my fair share of compliments from the passers-by. Bengalis, especially us women, love to don the festive spirit with colourful attire, and it’s no different here. At one time, when we were unable to locate the pujo in Ilford, a lady, herself draped in saree, saw me and asked with a big smile ‘pujoy jachho? amio okhane e jachchi, esho edike’. I could not help but smile to myself on how this festival brings out the jovial in us and brings us together, thousands of miles away from home.

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