Saraswati Puja and V-Day: Celebrate the Season of Love

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Bengali youth are lucky this year. Saraswati Puja, the Bengali Valentine’s Day, and the Valentine’s Day follow each other. Weekend adds to the Romance. Yellow or red, love is here to stay. Here’s a tongue-in-cheek account by Arindam.

It’s interesting that this year, Saraswati Puja – described as Bengali Valentine’s Day – and the Valentine’s Day, are on consecutive days, February 13 and 14. Being a weekend, it’s a blessing for the lovers, especially for Bongs in Bengal or wherever they are.

Pristine and pure, dressed in white, Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom and music is alluring. She is worshipped by students – from nine to ninety. However, ‘students’ have been interpreted more literally than metaphorically.

Saraswati Puja is held on Basant Panchami. The spring festival symbolises fertility and bounty. Amaer mukul, the mango trees laden with buds look beatific. It’s the time of birds and bees. Love is in the air. No wonder it has been likened to the Bangali Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day celebrations, however, are fairly recent in India. The corporate culture of cards, cakes, red roses, gifts, romantic dinners and V-Day ads in newspapers translate into greater advertisement revenues. The media hype is, therefore, understandable. The youth and the young-in-heart have whole heartedly internalised the event. Romantic lunches or dinners, gifts and proposals seem to be the right thing on a Valentine’s Day.

Just the other day, a friend of mine said in jest, in Bengal, love is a compulsory subject. Other subjects are optional. Even though the LLBs (Lord of Last Benches) might fail in curricular studies, they excel in prem (love). Often friends ask each other, with a wink, “Kon class kore eli, kalo na sobuj” (which class are you coming from black (cinema hall) or green (park).

Many chotto belar bhalobasha (calf love) ends up in marriages. In quite a few cases, Potla da or Bhanu da might become husbands. Never mind the elder brother (da or dada) endearments. It has been a cultural shock to me, a Probasi (domiciled) Bengali. Even though the guy might not be employed meaningfully, the grand house of his ancestors, the gloomy chosmar dokan (eyeglass shop) of his Dadu (grandpa), government service of his father, makes him a suitable bachelor. Add to this, his birth in Brahmin or upper class Kayastha family. His father buys a bike on loan for him. And he is ready to ride into the sunset with his ladylove.

It seems everyone conspires for the young to fall in love – never mind if he or she might not be able to ‘rise’ again. There is something wrong with you, if you are a Bong and not in love!

In most cases, love bloomed during Saraswati Puja. For Bongs, it’s a day when a student is told, “Aaj porte hobena” (no need of studying today). Books and pens are placed at Goddess Saraswati’s feet, in the hope that she would infuse learning, if not wisdom, even to the gordhobs (duffers). Thus, ‘porte hobena’ is such an antithesis in a Bong home, where ‘porte bosho’ (study now) in a gruff voice is the everyday mantra.

Saraswati Puja preparations are done by young boys and girls. It’s a wonderful occasion of romantic pairing. Cousins and friends play the cupid, often for a price. Introductions are made possible. With no elders breathing down the necks of the youngsters, the youth make the most of it.

It’s interesting to see girls and boys dressed in Basanti (yellow). Teenage girls deck up in sarees. Little girls feel like gown-ups, delusional though it might be. Boys too dress smart for their girls. Dating include phuckas (golgappa or batasha), pizza, a visit to the cinema or park. They walk hand in hand, leaning on to each other. Places like Annupurna Cabin are packed with young lovers.

In Bengal – or wherever Bengalis are domiciled, be it other states (Probasi) in India or abroad, Saraswati Puja has travelled with them. So has love.

This year, on Basant Panchami (Saturday), yellow will be the colour of love. It will turn red on Valentine’s Day (Sunday).

Happy extended Valentine’s Day!

Pix from Net

Arindam Roy has 37 years experience in various newsrooms. He was the Managing Editor of a reputed Gurgaon-based Citizen Journalist portal and has held senior positions in several publications. As Correspondent and Bureau Chief, he has written extensively for Associated Press, Times of India, Hindustan Times and multiple news outlets. He has contributed 13 chapters to various publications. Of these, seven chapters were published in two Coffee Table Books, published by the Times Group. He is a co-author of a novel, Rivers Run Back that he penned with Joyce Yarrow. The novel was launched at the American Centre, New Delhi, on January 2015. He lives in Allahabad.