Every year around this time of the year, Bengalis around the world start celebrating Durga Puja and Calcuttans irrespective of where they are try to come back home or lament the fact they are somewhere else and start finding where the nearest Pujo is taking place.
Last year, I still remember a friend was all alone in Colombo and her mom called me up to check if there was any Durga Puja in Sri Lanka. For a Calcuttan, whatever their race is, nothing matters more. It’s more a social function, not a religious one.
The US like everything else, celebrates Pujo at its own convenience. It typically is at the nearest weekend so that everyone can be a part of it.
But Calcutta goes crazy and every Calcuttan on Facebook digs up an old post by Vir Sanghvi and becomes eloquent about the city with the Big Heart which faces all these troubles with a smile and carries on.
I was a part of that brigade, loving everything about the city, its madness, its frenzy, its throbbing life, the sea of humanity, the traffic that never moves... everything.
This year has been different. Brought into Calcutta by an unexpected twist of fate, I see how we as a nation love to forget our challenges of existence in these few days and wish our troubles away.
I see an administration that stays up late at night to ensure traffic moves to another arm of the same administration allowing hoardings going up everywhere to cover the face of the city and not even collecting the fees from them in the “spirit of the Pujo”
I see millions being spent on lighting up a city, creating temporary structures to house the deities while a fraction of that could have been used to make the approach roads to their nearest hospitals better.
I see a city where the available roads (which are inadequate already) being split in half so that the sea of humanity that descends on the city from all parts of Bengal can walk across the city. The hawkers own the pavements; the pedestrians follow the line to the next Pujo Pandal walking on these main roads and traffic refuses to move.
A year back I was a romantic and always viewed this as a triumph of the human spirit against odds. I thought, like all glorified Calcuttans, Pujos were an ode to the undying spirit of Calcutta.
Once I used to find the fact that we as a nation forget our pains on celluloid quite amusing and a testament to the fact that we know how to separate our lives from its daily soot, dirt and grime. I used to admire the fact that an absolutely random road works sign on an over painted piece of broken tin is always bound to be poetic. There might not be a shade over the bus stops but someone has written down couplets all over the place. I found it a triumph of poetry over squalor. A win of my city over everything that life was throwing at us.
Today I know better.
I find it a grotesque affair that an entire city comes to a standstill and no one complains about emergency services getting affected. I don’t know if this is the same case in the west during Christmas.
I am saddened by the fact that before roads get repaired, signs get re painted with the colours preferred by the new establishment.
I shudder at the quality of the air, the lack of greenery, the loss of water bodies and the never ending honking of the horns.
I find it repulsive that an entire nation rather than improving the medical services, shows on celluloid how when medical intervention fails, one of our 3.33 Billion gods and goddesses will come to the rescue.
I come from a culture which have idolized the Mother Goddess since eternity and who starting today will forget all their problems from the next 5 days. And yet I question how they cannot strive to change their own fate. Imagine what could have been done if we used even 30% of our budget for the Pujas to change the social infrastructure of our localities without waiting for the government!!!
Shubho Maha Panchami.
Postscript – From the memoirs from Utpal Dutta... “All this began with Pather Panchali, which the highest executive of the Government of India saw in Calcutta and went red in the face. Fuming, he asked Mr Ray whether showing such poverty on celluloid would not bring India to disrepute in the eyes of the world. A typically Indian question: appearance is all the Indian rulers believe in. Mr Ray’s answer put the executive down immediately: if it is not disreputable for you to tolerate such poverty, why should it be disreputable of me to show it?”