In the calm sea of brightly clothed humanity, inching towards the Gariahat Pujo Pandal, there were several things bobbing up and down that caught one’s attention.
The narrow streets carried over a thousand men and women and people of the sex no one wanted to acknowledge. The air carried a hotness and humidity that could only have been the vapours of hopes and ambitions rising from the bodies of these thousands on the streets and the thousands who were here before them. The tall bamboo frames on the side of the road carried branded promises of prosperity and future security, with tiny bindi shaped stars that talked about terms and conditions immediately below the message that celebrated unconditional love.
A few fathers in the crowd carried toddlers on their shoulders, afraid they may lose the little ones and never find them again. Mothers and aunts and elder sisters carried vanity bags close to their bodies, for pretty much the same fear. Grandmothers carried their sticks in their arms, having failed to find solid ground without hitting someone’s leg first. Grandfathers, on the other hand, carried a scowl for anyone who did not let their sticks have their own space. Each one of these men and women and (cough) others carried in their mind the uneasy acceptance that there was no space for anyone to move freely — no space whatsoever to do anything more than breathe and inch ahead. So, each one carried in their brightly coloured clothes, a growing patch of sweaty impatience that threatened to darken the mood.
Quite a lot of mothers also carried long handkerchieves that they used to fan some cool breeze into the melting faces of the boys and girls clinging to their arms. The handkerchieves, in turn, carried a fast disappearing fragrance of rose petals that came neither from roses nor from petals. The boys and girls, hardly thankful for the pitiful amount of respite the fragrant breeze brought them, carried in their eyes the hungry, desperate need for a place to sit down. The beating of their hearts carried a silent apprehension that there was no way they were going to make it back in time for the TV show they wanted to watch.
Older boys and girls, whom biology had given permission to be men and women, carried more than anything else, their make-up laden personalities trying really hard to come off as someone they were not. Their bodies carried the clothes they bought from the “ethnic” aisle of the supermarket, to be worn on these festive days and not cleaned till the next wedding invitation arrived. Their hands carried smartphones with front cameras that could take reality bites at their lives in selfies and groupies and other hash-tagged photographs. They carried in their smiles the prospect of a highly gratifying social media week.
This is an excerpt from a much longer piece chronicling my five-hour pandal hopping experience in Kolkata on the Soshti.