Living away from your hometown makes you nostalgic. You yearn for those old familiar favourites – the places you used to hang out (never mind the cribbing about the traffic and the toilets), the home-cooked food that you dissed but slurped over, the bookshops and the boutiques that came alive because of the shopowner you could chat so long with, the movie-watching and eating-out experiences which were always more about the adda, really. And, of course, the language – the familiar cadences and rhythms and syllables you had grown up with.
And so, in Mumbai, when I hear a snatch of Bengali on the streets, in the malls, inside some office, spoken by somebody on a cellphone calling up home a hundred miles away, a mother scolding a child, a wife lilting to her husband, two friends chatting about something…my heart gives an involuntary leap and my head turns to see who and my ears strain to catch a little bit of the conversation.
I love Mumbai – no two ways about that – but my soul still jumps up with a maybe-silly-kind-of-joy when I hear a bit of Bengali. And for a moment, I feel a strange-but-strong bond with some stranger-who-is-somehow-familiar.
Now it is Durga Pujo time, a time for food and festivity, and yes, a time when the stray bits of Bengali I sometimes catch in the breeze will merge and mingle in the Durga Pujo pandals dotting Mumbai. Bengalis praying at anjali, Bengalis greeting and goodbye-ing frenetically while pandal-hopping, Bengalis boasting self-importantly, Bengalis bickering good-naturedly, Bengalis bargaining at the food stalls, Bengalis laughing and bonding at Pujo-special addas.
Have a happy and sonorous Pujo.