Durga Puja is all about feasting for Tanishaa.
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As autumn or Sharad Ritu ushers in, the heart of all Bengalis starts to beat a little faster. Wonder why? It is nothing but in anticipation of the beloved Ma Durga. From ‘Asche Bochhor Abar Hobe, to ‘Pujo Asche’, it is a much anticipated countdown, be it in the City of Joy or in the City of Dreams. The wait for Pujo was not very different for Tanishaa Mukerji, a rooted Bengali (and also a Maharashtrian). And like all Bengalis, Durga Puja is a way of life for her. Even though she never had the chance to visit Kolkata for Puja, the towering pandals, heady rhythm of the dhaak (drums), and the culinary rush in Mumbai have always made this ‘feast’ive season an evergreen spectacle for her.

Living Foodz sat down with the Bollywood actor and the result was a severe craving for some begun bhajas!

What does Durga Puja mean to you?
It definitely is more than just a religious affair. For us, Durga Puja is a heady mix of food, reunions, and a good dose of culture. For me, it has always been about family as I have a very large Bengali side of the family. It’s about connecting to my traditional Bengali roots, bringing out the ‘Bongness’ in me, courtesy of my traditional Bengali sarees. Thanks to my grandmother, from my dad’s side, who started this tradition of feeding people—Puja—since then, has always been a family affair for us since then. It’s all about celebrating this festive season with an extravaganza of togetherness. From the older generations to the younger ones, everyone comes together.

What are some of your fondest Durga Puja memories?
For me, the strongest memory of Durga Puja is always been connected with my dad, even though it’s been 10 years now that he’s left us. As a kid, I would actively participate in Durga Puja only because of him. Even today, we attend to remember and represent him, only because he loved it so much… just having everybody around him. Durga Puja is always about my dad. This one incident in particular wherein we’d all gone pandal-hopping and we kept teasing dad so much, that after a point he got so chadaoed (elated) that he went on to buy mom this beautiful Bengali saree! Oh, those were the days!
My dad was also an avid foodie, and he would sneak food for us from the bhog. Be it the begun bhajas or fish curries—he loved it all, and no points for guessing where I get all my food habits from.

What’s the best part about Durga Puja?
It’s got to be the fact that the whole family comes together. There’s teasing and playfulness amongst the cousins. My eldest cousin, Shaumya, is the one who takes charge… he goes around ordering everybody. Rani’s brother too likes to take charge. They are the militants around this time. That said, even serving people is something that I personally like. Besides, giving pushpanjali and standing in front of Ma Durga are the two moments that I feel the strongest connection to the festival. The face of the idol for our Durga Puja resembles that of my grandmother’s, so yes, that fact alone is something special for me. Our murtis also keep getting taller—last we had an almost 20-feet tall murti. And the committee decides what Ma Durga wears.

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What role does food play in your Durga Puja experience?
I think food plays a very important role in the whole Mukherjee family experience of Durga Puja. We feed lakhs of people during Durga Puja. There are lines of people waiting to be served bhog . And we try our best to make them all feel comfortable and leave with happy tummies. The menu changes every day, which is decided by the family. Our whole family, and some close friends who are like family, are part of the committee. Taste is something that’s never compromised on at our pandal. It’s all about delicious food.
Earlier the meals would be very traditional, especially when my grandmother was around, and we would serve people only on banana leaves. Now, of course, disposable plates have taken over. However, we do focus on making hygienic food. We avoid using plastic, but for hygiene issues, we serve water in small paper cups.

What are your favourite Durga Puja foods?
This is a no-brainer—begun bhaja and payesh. While back in the day, my aunts and great-aunts would make them for us all, but now we have caterers who make them equally well. While I do have a liking for these two foods, in particular, I’ve never made them. I can’t cook Bengali food.

What are some of your most-loved Bengali dishes?
I love my mom’s shorshe (mustard) fish curry that she occasionally makes for us. However, I love this curry only when my mom makes it. Being half-Bengali and half-Maharashtrian, fish is part of my staple diet. Apart from making for a great addition to curries, it’s also very healthy—a good source of protein, omega, fatty acids. 

How will you be celebrating Durga Puja this year?
I am very excited as this is the time I get to wear my sarees. It’s only during Durga Puja that I get to take my sarees out from the wardrobe. I love the way Bengali women drape their sarees. I’d donned a traditional Bong look last year and can’t wait to try something different this year. Apart from that, every year the celebrations at the pandal keep getting grander and grander. The number of devotees who come to visit keeps increasing, and from the decorations to the food, everything keeps getting grand.

Lead image by Jaydev Vaghela 

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