The red-and-white saree to his blue Panjabi and dhuti. The struggle to get a peek of her face as she closes her eyes to pray during pushpanjali. Her flushed face as the sindoor is smeared across it.
They say that a Bengali woman looks most beautiful during Pujo, and a Bengali man the most handsome.
Maybe that is why Bengali romances across generations have been initiated during Durga Pujo.
There is a name for it – Pujor Prem.
It Starts From Mahalaya…
There is something about Pujo that acts as the metaphorical cupid for young couples. Maybe it’s the quintessential “pujo puja gondho” (read: it smells like pujo), or the beautiful colour of the sunlight during this time of the year – always perfect for selfies. Or maybe it is the dhaak, or in some cases, the sound of Birendra Krishna Bhadra on Mahalaya.
“I spoke to my husband for the first time on Mahalaya 2013,” says Ritwika Chaudhuri, now married to Suprovo Tagore. Ritwika and Suprovo are both artistes who run Shriek Of Silence (SOS), one of Kolkata’s best-known theatre groups.
“We were online at the same time. I posted something about Mahalaya, he did too, and we started talking,” recalls Ritwika.
As the tracks of Mahalaya blared on the radio, Ritwika and Suprovo continued to chat. Turns out, they liked and hated the same Mahalaya songs, and were both equally crazy about pandal hopping.
“Funnily enough, after our Mahalaya chat, that entire Pujo, we did not talk to each other,” says Ritwika.
“After Pujo, he messaged to wish me Subho Bijoya. It is then that we made a plan to meet each other for the first time.”
It’s been two years since they got married. Every year they see atleast 50 pandals in Kolkata, if not a 100. There is a list made and religiously followed.
This year, however, there was a break in the annual ritual.
The Parar Natok
For some like Upasika Ghosh and Sandeep Dutta, the prem started on the sets of a play that they were putting up for their parar pujo in 2012.
“When I first saw her, I thought she was child. After enquiring I found out that she was in first year of college and that too at St Stephen’s,” says Sandeep.
“When I saw him and his friends, I though they were gundas!” laughs Upasika.
Sandeep and Upasika both grew up as probashi bangalis in Delhi’s Dilshad Gardens, but didn’t know of each other till the quintessential Bengali kaku roped them in for the play.
“We had a prop which was a hat that had the horns of Yamraj. I made Upasika wear it and clicked a photo. That was the first photo I clicked of hers,” recalls Sandeep.
His next move was made right before their play was staged.
“I was really nervous. So I held her hand for some comfort. But then I realised that she was as nervous as me so that move kind of flopped,” he says.
The subsequent days of Pujo was when their relationship got “formalised”.
“His friends counselled him and my friends counselled me. I knew I had to say a yes or no to him by Dashami, because we may not have seen each other after that,” says Upasika.
Upasika and Sandeep have now been dating for eight years, of which seven have been spent in a long-distance relationship. However, every year, they both come down to Delhi during Pujo and that has now turned into their annual meet-up.
This year Upasika is in Paris doing her PhD, while Sandeep is in Mumbai, working.
For the first time in the last eight years, the two are apart during Pujo.
Pujo: Because Cafes Are Too Public
For others, a pujo pandal, with its bustling crowds, provides some privacy. Yes, believe it or not, but your maashima is much less likely to get suspicious if she sees you with a boy in a pandal, as opposed to in a café.
This privacy is what brought Payel Thakur, and her now husband, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, together.
“We were really scared that our parents might see us. So one day he asked me to come to the field where the Pujo happens. But he was so scared that instead of talking to me he started playing football!” says Payel.
“It was a neighbourhood relationship. We lived in the same locality in West Bengal’s Asansol, and initially the relationship was one-sided,” says Sabyasachi.
“I used to always participate in the bhashan (immersion). Her sister says that I’d dance with more vigour when I passed her apartment,” he adds.
The year was 2009. Sabyasachi was studying in Pune and Durga Puja was when he’d come home for vacation.
“After the immersion of the idol, we used to all get very sad. It was like the end of the best part of the year. During that Dashami evening, I spoke to my friends and asked them to arrange a meeting with her,” he recalls.
“There were narrow lanes in our locality and we were accompanied by our friends. I was so shy that instead of telling her my feelings, I blabbered and even asked her what her name was,” he laughs.
Payel also remembers how they’d go to the neighbouring town of Durgapur every year for pandal hopping as doing the same in Asansol was “risky”.
“Funnily enough, every year it rained and every year we came back drenched. And, of course, we’d both get a good earful from our parents,” quips Payel.
Now married, the couple still makes it a point to go out of town during Pujo.
However, almost in solidarity with the many premiks and premikas who were deprived of their five days in heaven this year due to coronavirus, they decided to stay at home this year.
To the young couples looking to woo each other, what can we say, except that we feel for you, and yes, asche bochor abar hobe.
Also Read: This Durga Puja Wear the Saree With a Twist
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