Since Bong Eats, our YouTube channel on Calcutta food, started uploading videos last November, we have have received a spectacular response from viewers everywhere. We try to do seasonal, time-relevant recipes. Last fortnight, with Durga Pujo approaching, we decided to recreate Calcutta’s somewhat iconic street food, the egg roll.
Within a week, the video crossed 100,000 views. We got hundreds of comments from viewers . Some complained about the missing chicken in the roll, some rued the absence of kasundi. But overall people were happy since it chimed with their Durga Pujo mood –
you know, pujo shopping, pandal hopping, interjected by egg roll eating.
And then out of nowhere we started getting hateful comments.
Most of the comments harped on how godless Bengalis eat eggs and meat during Durga Pujo, and how it hurts their Hindu sentiments. Others were just casually racist in their remarks about Bengalis. Some comments were so vile we had to delete them. Here are some samples.
These are just a handful.
On our other videos that use beef, such as the haleem recipe, the malice is scary.
Most of this hatred is targeted towards Bengalis and Bengal. We, as well as other people in India who do not speak Hindi and have religious rituals and culture different from the mainstream North Indian Hindus, have always been looked at with a mixture of suspicion and contempt. But now, with the government seemingly intent of foregrounding one particular brand of militant Hinduism, these people are becoming the voice of the nation.
As anyone who has spent even a few years in Calcutta could tell you, though, Durga Pujo is not a puja: It is a carnival. It is much, much closer in spirit to New Orleans’ Mardi Gras than to Navratri. It is a time when a whole metropolis comes to a stop to celebrate with friends and family. Absolutely mind-boggling art is put up on display for everyone to look at and be awed by only to be dismantled after four days. Food is eaten. Drinks are drunk. Songs are sung.
One can only guess that some people hear the word “puja” in Durga Puja and assume that this must comply with their rules of a puja – piety, havan, mantras, fasting, abstinence , the works.
In their minds they must imagine the Goddess surveying this debauchery from the heavens and fuming at the blasphemy of it all.
But Durga is our Goddess. We believe (and even an agnostic like me has no difficulty) that Durga is Bengal’s daughter who is coming home for the holidays to her mother’s house with her four children. The children are of course coming to their mama bari. Every Bengali child has fond feelings for their mama bari – where their mother’s strict rule ends, where their most outrageous wishes are pandered to, where they don’t have to study, they can play in the sun as long as they like, and eat what they want to, whenever they want to. Our childhoods were lived between one mama bari visit and the next.
Durga, like all Bengali mothers looks at this as a mixed blessing. On the one hand, she does not have to worry about the children – the grandparents and mama-mami (that is us!) will look after them. On the other hand, she knows that it will be an ordeal to bring the kids back to the rule of law after her imminent return. She spends time at her baper bari (paternal house) hanging out with relatives and old friends who are also back for the holidays.
Do you see how self-referential this is?
Durga is back for a holiday that celebrates her homecoming. And this is not where it ends. All Bengalis are also coming home or waiting for friends and family to come home during this time. That is how close we are to Durga – we practically have the same lives.
On the day of the Dashami, when Durga is returning, every person in Calcutta feels an all-engulfing sadness – a sadness so deep the god fearing will never feel for a Goddess. Because only when you love someone so truly can you feel so sad at her going away. Unlike you, we don’t fear Durga. She is one of our own.
Our mother is not a submissive cow. She is a fire-spewing, demon-killing, badass woman who knows how to have fun.
Also read: In my religion, meat is Ma Kali’s prasad’: A Shakto Hindu objects to enforced vegetarianism.