Minty said: “We’re reaching Bangkok on Panchami (the fifth day of the Navratri). We’ll have the weekend to see the royal palace and the reclining Buddha, do the rounds of the Chatuchak market and catch a session of Muay Thai boxing, before moving on to Pattaya for some adult sport.”
Chikoo screeched: “Eeeks, Pattaya is so year-before-last. Take it from me, that over-hyped Alcazar show is such a let-down. Even my grandmum wears less during her morning ablutions.”
Chikoo paused for effect. Minty sneezed noisily into her handkerchief.
“I’ll be spending this Pujo (Durga Puja) hols in the Swiss Alps,” said Bubbles. “I’m doing a travel story for our channel. I’ll take the train, cutting through the Eiger North Wall, past the Sea of Ice to Jungfraujoch, which, in case you didn’t know, is the highest railway station in Europe. I might even paraglide to Interlaken.”
“Talking of train journeys, there’s nothing to beat the Trans-Siberian Express,” said Ujaan. “Board the train from Moscow, ride past the serene waters of Lake Baikal till you gently touch down on Irkutsk on a misty morning, down by the Angara river. I went that way en route to Ulan Bator last Pujo. My Ranga Mamu (maternal uncle) is based there.”
Photo: Jayachandran / Mint
I gave up. Looks like I am stuck in good old Kolkata this Durga Puja and the subsequent ones, till I get lucky enough to have an uncle parked next to the giant dunes of the Gobi desert or the boss decides to atone for years of repression by giving me a substantial raise.
But then, why go to Lake Lucerne or Angkor Wat for the Puja vacation when half the world’s population of Bengalis is already there! Want to go shopping on Orchard Road in Singapore on Saptami (the seventh day)? You might as well take a stroll down Rashbehari Avenue. Planning a relaxed Navami (the ninth day) afternoon admiring Giacometti at the Guggenheim? There’s no way you could escape the drumbeats reverberating along the museum’s spiral ramp. You don’t really need to travel to New Jersey or Canberra to watch the non-resident Bengali, togged up in his translucent pinstripe-border dhoti and shot silk, kantha-embroidered angarkha, chucking flower petals at fibreglass idols and congratulating himself for not losing touch with his roots. In fact, even if you desperately wished to abjure the dhak (a percussion instrument similar to the dhol), choosing instead to be drowned by the deafening din of the Niagara, you would probably be brought back on planet earth with a shrill “Babu, ato kacche jeo na, thanda lege jaabe (Don’t go so close, dear, you will catch a cold)”.
It’s difficult to hold the Bengali back in his hometown, during the extended Puja leave. Floods, communal clashes, explosives stashed away in lunch boxes on luggage racks in train compartments, 12.4% inflation—nothing dissuades the Bengali bitten by the travel bug. As soon as the sky peeps out between unpredictable but brief spells of rain—the colour of blue curaçao and vodka topped with crushed ice—and the slightly dirty-looking white plumes of kash phul(Kans grass) start appearing in clusters next to the chrome-and-glass buildings of the techno hub in Salt Lake’s Sector V, the Bengali’s peripatetic urge takes over. It’s in his genes; nurtured with sensitivity by travellers who came before him— travel writers Sanjeev Chandra Chattopadhyay, Prabodh Sanyal and Samaresh Basu, among hundreds of others, driven by an informed desire to seek out and connect with other cultures.
There’s not much left to discover any more. Who has the time? Instead, the Bengali tourist himself, trying to touch down on as many attractions as he can at one go and at a bargain price, has turned into a walking-talking exhibit, wherever he goes. On a freezing January evening in sleepy Pelling, in West Sikkim, he would nearly throw the hotel manager out of the window if the TV set in his room did not show his favourite channel. In sizzling Pipli, Orissa, in July, he would threaten to go on hunger strike if he wasn’t served his plate of gorom bhaat (steaming rice). Shopping in Dubai, he would check out the entire range of Louis Vuitton bags before walking out of the store without buying. He would chatter loudly on his cellphone in the middle of an opera at East End, carve his girlfriend’s name on the pillars of Agra Fort and pose, typically, in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, pretending to push it into an upright position, gleefully oblivious of the aberrations closer home.
That’s why I don’t like the idea of travelling during the Pujas. Besides, what’s the point, when you can see the world’s most visited tourist spots right here in Kolkata? From Aztec pyramids to crocodile-infested tropical rainforests to the Big Ben—you name it and the Puja designers recreate anything, cutting across cultures, continents and time, even a multispiked scaled-down stegosaurus from the Jurassic age, if you like. Care for a photo with the old girl?
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