I consider myself very lucky, for having been born in a Marwari family but settled in a Bengali community. I have grown up experiencing the best of both worlds and thankfully, my parents have always encouraged me to adapt to and blend in with the world around. Inspite of being pure vegetarians themselves, they never stopped me from eating what I wanted to. Born and brought up in a Bengali para, regardless of my birth, parentage or caste, I am someone who has grown up in a very “Calcutta” environment – New clothes were a sign of Poila Baishakh / Durga Pujo. Bowing down to elders for ‘Shubho Bijoya’ was and still is a mandate throughout the weeks following Bijoya Dhoshomi, while sitting down in a “batch” for a Bengali annaprashan or boubhaat nemonttono and getting to eat an elaborate Bengali spread complete with the fish butter fry, chingrir malai curry, mangsher jhol and machher kalia, is something I eagerly look forward to, every single time. I have seen more Nera Poras before Dol /Holi than Holika dahans, thanks to the most amazing para one could have asked for, when growing up. So by default, needless to say, the Mela has been a major part of my life – childhood and adult hood alike.
Ever since I can remember, I have been frequenting local fairs or Melas with my parents and I still do, whenever they are on, around my area.
My earliest memories of a mela are of a time when I was a little girl, as young as about five, when my mother would take me to “Chondi Mela” in my area, where there would be numerous stalls of toys, jewelry, stationary, utensils, and food, beginning in this large field behind a club stretching all the way inside the by-lanes of a typical para of Behala, my neighborhood. The mandatory visit to the mela also meant that I was to climb six flights of stairs to pray to the main deity, Ma Chondi, in some influential family’s ancestral home and I would absolutely dread the climb followed by the hour long puja and the revolting peraa that would come as the prasaad. But patient as I had learnt to be, I knew for a fact that what was to follow would be an unlimited amount of fun and frolic, with rides on the giant wheel, eating candy floss, fuchkaa, ghoti gorom, ghugni and jilaapi and getting a new set of khelnaa baati every year (a mini kitchen set for which I was ready to bawl my eyes out on the road if my mother refused). I am grateful for having experienced the environment of the Kolkata Mela, which is valued by everyone with the slightest of a connection with Bengal.
In case you are someone who is not familiar with what I am talking about, Melaas are basically flea markets which are organised throughout Bengal at various times of the year, for different occasions, usually related to a festival like Durga Pujo or Jagaddhatri Pujo etc. (Melas happen all over the country for various occasions as well) Sellers from all over the state put up stalls for anywhere between a week and a month and sell things like artificial jewelry, clothes, utensils, shoes, toys, crockery and much more. There are rides, games, lip smacking street food, lighting setups and sometimes displays of bike stunts and other different and sometimes weird installations (read NaagKanya or Snake woman) as well. The Mela is usually followed by a Bhanga Mela ( which literally translates into Broken Market) where half the sellers leave while the rest stay back and sell their left over stocks at slashed down prices)
The Mela culture has now developed and evolved a great deal and has come a long way since what it used to be when I was a kid. There have been some major developments in terms of infrastructure. For example, the colorful but noisy, vulnerable to fire and short circuit, generator powered lights have now been replaced with cost effective and noiseless LED lights. The rides have gotten bigger, better and most importantly safer ( with some unfortunate exceptions too). And there have also been so many additions to the food on offer, with machine made popcorn and candy floss.
Previously, there used to be so many open spaces around town for melaas to happen but due to the rise in demand for more homes, there is lack of space, for which certain fairs are organised in the by lanes and streets around the city
The lack of space for setting up a Mela is slowly limiting the Mela culture in cities like Kolkata even though the setup and infrastructure is getting better. But, the Melas of Chandannagar, Krishnanagar, Hoogly, Burdwan and other towns and districts of Bengal are still going strong and are famous for their vibrant grandeur. These are the two sides of the coin called urbanization. Nevertheless, a mela will always remain special to me and people like me who have grown up with fond memories of visiting the Great Bengali Flea Market.
December is here and so is Chondi Mela, along with the Behala Book fair and I obviously went. Here is my photo story.
The Games, and Rides
Do you have any memorable Mela moments to share? Comment below !