Daker Shaaj in dalna – Pujo Essentials by Swastika Mukherjee

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In South Kolkata, there are definitely Shomaj Shebi, Tridhara, Mudiali Shibmondir and Ballygunge Cultural. They are on one lane after another so you can walk there. I also like to visit the North for traditional Pujos like Ahiritola, Laha Bari and Shobhabajar Rajbari. You can see My Durga as your heart would like to see it. Themed Pujos are creative jackpots, but I also like to see Daker Shaaj (mostly made from silver foil and enhanced with glitter, which was not available in India at the time, and was imported from India). Germany, which increased the cost, and thus making it affordable only to the rich. Since it came by post, or dakas in Bengali, this type of embellishment was called daker shaaj, that is decoration with something that came in the mail).

It is nice to see people from these great families in heritage attire. It’s a treat for the eyes. We are such nuclear families now, it’s kind of nice to see these massive families coming together in chaos. I absolutely adore the whole cacophony of the city.

If not Kolkata, where do you like to travel for Pujo?

I remember a Pujo that I was in Rourkela for a shoot. The program was delayed and we had to shoot more. I was supposed to be back home for Pujo but it seemed impossible. The amount of crying and pleading I made to the director was hilarious. I finally took a train on Ashtami, for which I did not get a reservation. I hopped on the train in a suit, stood in the train lobby near the toilets, and went home for a few days.

If it were up to me, I would never take a vacation during Pujo. I would stay back for the madness here at home. I have a few places, like the Rann of Kutch and the Spiti Valley, on my bucket list. But I would go before or after Pujo days.

What is your favorite Pujo outfit?

Saree! Morning, evening, day and night. Thanks to my job, I wear new clothes every day. But there’s something about breaking new clothes for Pujo. So far, I have planned everything for each day. Lots of flowers on the hair, and lots of jewelry too!

The best part of Pujo is the chaos and the eternal energy of the people. Even on the wettest days, you’ll find people in their silk sarees and stiletto heels, queuing and walking many miles for fun. After one hectic day will come another. You limp and stumble, with bandages on your feet from the new shoes, never killing the spirit of the big festival.

Swastika Mukherjee

Tell us about one of your memories of Pujo that has marked you the most.

It’s a memory that will stay with me until I reach my grave. I was a college student and my friends and I, a group of sixteen, decided to go out. We had planned to go to Park Street, buy mutton rolls from Nizam, shop a bit and have biryani from Aminia. All of us, girls and boys, got into a single yellow taxi, all sixteen of us. We couldn’t see the driver, and the sixteenth girl, lying horizontally across all of us, had her head and feet sticking out of the windows. We didn’t want to separate, at the risk of missing the conversation. Traffic rules were pretty loose back then, but I still wonder how we did.
When we reached Park Street and the doors opened, we fell like dominoes!

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