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Monday, October 06, 2008

Bengal's annual madness

It’s currently that time of the year when I cannot help wishing I was somewhere very far away from Bengal – in a more salubrious climate, happily engaged in the kind of work that I love doing all year round, with no noise and pollution of diverse other kinds, and specifically no crowds of Bengalis enjoying themselves on the occasion of the monstrous annual orgy they call Durga-pujo. I pray that that is how I can spend at least my old age!

Here are a few things I’d like folks to think about:

1. The kind of money we splurge during this month (essentially on clothes, jewellery, cosmetics, fuel, liquor, gambling and other luxuries) would be enough to remove all the most obviously ugly and pathetic traces of extreme poverty from this state (one of the poorest in a poor country), if used wisely and in a sustained fashion, for just one decade;
2. As any police officer will aver, the graphs of deaths and crippling injuries in traffic accidents spike during this month, owing to wild and drunken driving in the name of having fun, and any doctor would tell you that the greatest number of people fall seriously ill during this month owing to gross carelessness and over-indulgence in bad food and romping around town all night: how can people call this ‘enjoyment’ and still pretend they are either sensible or civilized?
3. In a state which very badly needs economic development, several tens of millions of working days are lost during this month because very little work gets done, since most government offices remain closed for the majority of days this month, although officially the number of public holidays aren’t more than five or six! Also reflect – how can so many of us have fun, knowing (or rather, ignoring the fact) that many millions get no holidays at all during this time, either because they are the likes of day labourers, or shopkeepers who cannot afford to down shutters during the season of the busiest business, or policemen, firemen, doctors and nurses on emergency duty, airline crews and hotel staff, power plant engineers and so on, who have to do compulsory duty during these days (though their wives and children might be having fun – who cares that hubby/daddy is slogging away to finance their ‘fun’?)
4. Millions of people who wish their fellow humans no harm but only want to be left in peace – like me, and people much older, with heart disease, and lung ailments, and weak nerves and so on – can neither walk in safety on the roads nor get a good night’s sleep for days on end, because so many millions of people are ‘having fun’ in the crudest and noisiest ways they can think of. Every night between 10 and 4 o’clock scores of buses park and spew out streams of revellers on the street on which I live, and the electric horns blaring and ‘happy’ people screaming at one another and blowing raucous trumpets by the hundred ensure that I get a splitting headache. And every morning I and some other neighbours have to hold our noses while we pour bleaching powder into the gutters where thousands have relieved their bladders (men and women, young and old, in full public view) all through the night! In a country where the government has gotten so concerned about not letting smokers hurt innocent others by indulging their bad habit in public, why doesn’t it strike anybody that pollution on this monstrous scale hurts far more people far more seriously?
5. Is this really how people ought or need to have fun? What about all those countries which have nothing equivalent to celebrate in like fashion: are they all, unlike us, terribly unhappy people? Has anybody bothered to find out?
6. Also keeping in mind how grossly the whole thing has become commercialized in the last couple of decades – nobody can disagree that Durga-pujo is now all about advertising, buying and showing off things that nobody really needs (or needs at a specific time of the year only) – why keep pretending that religion has anything to do with it? At this time of the year I always wish I was surrounded by scientists and communists and other godless people! Visit the shrines of any other religion – Christian, Jew, Sikh, Buddhist, Muslim – on any of their major religious occasions, and you are bound to notice certain stark differences. You will notice the quietness and cleanliness for example, and the fact that these occasions are usually not for gorging but fasting, not for splurging but charity, and prayer is given much higher priority than merrymaking. These days at the ‘pandals’, nobody below sixty even pretends that they have anything remotely religious in mind (not understanding a word of the prayers chanted by the priests in Sanskrit helps enormously, I’m sure) – on the contrary, virtually every kind of vulgarity is encouraged and practiced with gusto, from drunken dancing to lechery of the most obvious kind! True atheism is infinitely preferable to this kind of blasphemy and heresy.

It’s become, I notice, a fad to wish everybody health and happiness and stuff on this ‘festive occasion’ with taglines on one’s gmail i.d. or orkut profile or blog header. I’m sorry I can’t oblige. I cannot wish everybody well, but only decent people. I am sure there are still some around. Recent ‘robibashoriyo’ articles in Anandabazar Patrika mocking the Bengali’s pujo madness in divers ways give me reason for hope. So also the fact that so many Bengalis run away from Bengal during this time of the year!


SleepyPea said...

Suvro da,
You have my deepest empathy. I know exactly what you mean and you reminded me yesterday of why I had stubbornly refused to go out of my room for the six days unless it was very early on in the morning (and only for a walk) for the decade and more that I spent in Calcutta. What really horrifies me is that people actually believe that they really are having fun (reminds me of what you say about the need to "teach" people to distinguish between fun and no-fun).

But then again (and you're right) every other Hindu shrine that I've been to is the same way. Loud, obnoxious, uncouth people and priests; people shoving, jostling, fighting and squabbling; children yelling their heads off...and at the end of it, all one has is a blistering headache and thus swears never to set foot inside another temple again. I'm sure it's infinitely worse if there is a religious festival going on! How can anyone even pretend to be religious in the midst of such mayhem is something that always perplexes me....

And you're so right about all other religious shrines - I've been to Buddhist temples and some churches (I don't remember the denomination), and once I went to a church here on Easter Saturday, right before evening service, and it was so utterly peaceful, beautiful, mellow, and of course sparklingly clean.

They say the same thing about Christmas now though, and it is true. Christ is forgotten and what remains are the malls and the gifts and the buying and the spending. There are a handful of folks who engage in charity but the rest are all out to splurge, and most of the times (?!) on things that they don't really need - no matter what time of the year!
Thank you for the post, although I do wish...ah well.
One other thing: It's very easy to forget - not for you and not for others who are blessed with sharp memories - how grotesque the display is in the outside world, and how far removed it is from what it could/should be/or is inside one's head!
I'll still wish Boudi, Pupu, and you a Happy Durga-pujo for what it is worth.
Take care.
Regards and love,

Aki said...

Absolutely, the annual 'madness'. A time when stupidity is encouraged and taken pride of, and the time aged folks refuse to admit that their slovenly childhood days are gone!

I don't "go out" during the Pujas, yes a film with a close friend is fine, but running between pandals, along with the frenzied crowd is an impossibility.
Whatever, I enjoyed reading the post, you read my mind pretty well.

Good wishes and love, that is all I can extend,

Manoshij Banerjee

Tanmoy said...

Dear Suvroda

Meaning of celebration was changing when we were young and as with many other things it became a self-destructing change for the larger part of the city.

I have missed the Pujo frenzy in Kolkata for a long time and could not stop myself posting my recollections on my blog but I admit whatever I hear, I could not have been part of the current frenzy. Having said that, I do feel that earlier it used to be a time when I got to see the extended family (most of them are dead because they were old) and also some cousin with whom I am not in regular touch. Did it serve any constructive purpose? Well, it gave me a good nostalgia (though the cousins and I parted ways long back without any fights whatsoever and with excuse of being pre-occupied) and personally I value those moments which I recall from time to time.

My parents who are ageing and are in Kolkata get an excuse during their apartment Pujo to get involved in theatre and music which keeps them occupied. I feel it is good for them. Though they don’t dare to go out on the streets but I appreciate the fact that all the relatively older people try to incorporate the minute details of ensuring the spirit of Pujo in our apartment. But they were telling me too, how terrible it is to generally understand and accept the frenzy especially when the Kumortuli idol makers have remained the same in terms of their status, the city has become louder, all the Pujo committees has open loyalties with political parties (my father wanted to work with an NGO and after visiting nearly ten in Kolkata, he was disgusted to see each one of them openly declare their alliance with these parties. I don’t know whether to conclude from its experience we are living in a farcical environment or tell him that he has probably looked at the wrong ones) and the definition of entertainment (from our generation itself) is very different from what I perceived it to be. Surprisingly, there is an orkut group of youngsters from the apartment where my parents stay who criticise the elders and also wish they get the charge of organising the Pujo as they feel that the building is an “old-age home”. I don’t know these youngsters personally but the way they write I doubt their credibility considering the fact I have been privileged to see how this Pujo initiative started. “Old-age home” – I wonder why we say such things! But I guess transition is bound to happen sometime. I am probably a bit old fashioned and that is why I fear a transition.

Allow me to digress a bit here - We blame the elders for most of the things and sometimes it is a fashion amongst today’s youngsters but we have a right to blame only when we have done something to better the environment that they provided for us. In the context of Pujo’s – I wonder why did the definition of enjoyment became so disgusting in the name of modernisation and when most Pujo committee is handled by younger people. If we are so better and intelligent then why could not we resurrect Durga Pujo? Why did we support and publicised the loudness at Maddox Square and girl friend hunting as the ethos?

I am still wondering to think / write on what we can possibly do but I am a little demoralised too. If most of the younger people whom we trust don’t even have the patience and time to read through the news papers when they are fed with them, voice constructive opinions or even not being able to demarcate individual wishes and social responsibilities – then I get disillusioned myself and feel like ranting the same things endlessly, waiting to be told – go dude! Take a hike.

Sorry Suvroda for the digression but you touched a chord in me which is another of a favourite childhood event (Durga Pujo) becoming spoilt and that is why I expressed my tinge of sadness associated with it on your comment box.


Abhijit-Bhabhi said...

Respected Sir

" Long live the Greedy, for who cares about the hungry ".

This is un officially the motto for most of India today. Religious occassions are meant for display of ones ability to "buy" happiness and "welcome" prosperity- of the kind that only credit cards can guarantee.

2) While some of us may feel irritated , being forced to listen to Bhojpuri/hindi remix numbers from loud speakers, I am begining to feel that this is the only expression of "freedom" that the under belly of society , comrising of people whom we choose to ignore our whole lives, have. This is the only time when they can do as they please, because they know we are too busy in our " pujo shopping". The poor cannot enter the malls, and the sight of so many people who are spending some much money, must be a painful experience for them.

So how else can they " enjoy". Surely they too have a right to break free the months of monotony and oppression. Hence the loud immersion idol processions, drunken crowds stopping traffic on all major roads in the city ,bursting crackers all through the night . It is the only way to make us take notice of the " garib admi" who also happens to be a fellow human being.

My heartfely best wishes to you and your family.


Abhijit Bharadwa


Suvro Chatterjee said...

If it had been only the poor and the ignorant who make all the noise and trouble I wouldn't have bothered quite so much, Abhijit!

aranibanerjee said...

Last year on Ashatmi, we were away in the eastern-Himalyas. The mighty Kanchenjungha looked at us for hours without going away behind clouds, the sky was blue, and the terrace of the forest-rest house, lonely. I wish you were there, Sir. I have never enjoyed the Puja in Kolkata. In the 80s and early 90s, when people had justed started sporting long hair and blaring loud Hindi-songs, Durgapur was still tolerable. I do remember you on your motorcycle at Dakshinanchal. The smell of shiuli, the glimpse of the odd Carmelite in a sari, and the toy-pistol blazing kid, were part of the pot-pourri. It was middle class but not fuelled by plastic money and BPO cash. They did not have communities to abuse their teachers, they did not have money to vandalize peace. Things were beginning to go from bad to worse, and, I left Durgapur. Kolkata, was intolerable.
It is not that I enjoy working; in Delhi, the offices of publishing houses like Penguin and OUP are deserted. You feel fooled and bored. I wish I could be in Sonar-kella on the golden sand that Ray showed.


Tanmoy said...

Dear Suvroda

[Pardon me if this appears to be complete digression yet again and you are free not to post this comment if found unsuitable.]

I am not trying to justify the crude nature of entertainment involved with Pujo as such but I do feel there are some deep reasons to indulgence in that.

Like most of the things which are Indian there has not been much improvement / modernisation in the way we conduct ourselves over the years. I tried thinking about whether we celebrate our small gatherings in a better way than we used to do say 20 years back (to see whether the bigger events are any better) or have we generally become better travellers when we say Bengalis are identified with tourism. Alas! Such examples make me think we haven’t progressed (or may be I could not think of anything). We haven’t changed for good in terms of general behavioural patterns over the years despite our country’s progress. It is surprising that college graduates and professionals who are groomed in some schools to be polite, formal in public places shout the loudest when they are in Maddox Square. Surprisingly, most of them feel that is what Pujo spirit is all about. Is it the new-age unwinding? I am afraid that is the way it is. Development has actually made each individual much more suppressed even though we tend to feel we are quite liberal. This suppression gets manifested in discotheques, laughing clubs (I wonder why our grandfathers never needed one) and other gatherings.

Have we ever wondered whether fans of English football team 100 years back fought in the same way as they do now? Why did not they change despite significant progress elsewhere?

Did Indian cricket lovers 20 years back made such fiasco every time India lost a match, then why do they find lame excuses to justify these to-day?

Any entertainment to-day is a venting out option for everyone. We are independent beings but we are probably not free?

Pujo sadly is one of those events where passage of time perhaps worked in a negative way.

We have become louder, dirtier, gaudier and of course uglier. So isn’t there any co-relation between the money and mind (ideas) as far as Pujo is concerned? I feel very little. I wonder whether having a mahishashur looking like Osama is anything supremely creative or a pandal looking like Nano factory is creative either. These are the places where money gets invested isn’t it? Of course, there would be aberrations but generally the state of affairs cannot be called bright whereas one would have expected in 20 years an event like Durga Pujo would be either abolished or if it is preserved it would be done in a much better way?

So the question is why despite our general monetary inflow (which our statistics say!) we have remained what we were – noisy, disturbing elements just waiting to have a reason to get unleashed?

This is perhaps the bigger question that we need to ask ourselves and answer when we think of your post?

Unless we find that answer we shall forever remain in the fool’s paradise saying we belong to an amazing country, with spectacular culture without really realising that perhaps we were better off poorer or may be abolishing such events rather than ridiculing it?

I believe the concept of Sharbojonin Durgotsav has lost its charm because of an increase in population and thus there should be a strict control on the number of Pujo’s held. This would help to make these events secure and also organisation would definitely be better. This would not happen I guess since we are a democracy so every Barun da and Ujjwal da gets to organise a Pujo with Bijoy Babu and Bonani Di’s political support.



ginger candy said...


There are some points here which I would like to share with the folks-

1. I absolutely agree with you on the first point. The enormous amount of money poured on the pandals, lightings, and various other trappings could have been put into much better use. Funny that I have had this notion since I was a school kid, only that whenever I presented it to older and supposedly wiser people, I got sneered at. Having read about the budget that most big Pujo committees in Kolkata (and a few in small town too) boast about, and having witnessed the ugly rat race in which they engage themselves so as to win a 'Sharod Somman' (Who gives a damn about it anyway, even after a month the Pujo ends?), I am convinced that if people around us are determined not to come to their good senses, then society, in the form of law, should be enforced to make sure that Pujo budgets do not cross a certain economic limit, and that all of the excess money collected as 'chanda' (an euphemism for extortion) should go to charity straight away.

2. I would like to make one point very clear, though. I understand and acknowledge the importance of festivals in life. I also understand that we all need festivals, at least once in a year, more than we need snazzy cellphones and spanking new IPods. I am also aware of the fact that the Pujos provide a temporary means of livelihood to many people, ranging from the likes of electricians, pandal-wallahs, purohits to small hawkers, dhakis and mritt-shilpis (sculptors). What I rue about is the obscene and senseless manner in which people conduct themselves at the pujos nowadays-I remember people in many parts of the state indulging in wild celebrations during the Pujos a couple of years ago, when many parts of Midnapore still lay submerged in flood waters, and thousands of homeless people were left starving: What kind of an enjoyment is this, specially in a state which claims to have more intellectuals than in any other in the country? Should we be asked to relinquish the Durga pujo for a greater good a single year, most of us shall whine and cry, even after the scores of other festivals (Kali Pujo, Lakhsmi Pujo, Saraswati Pujo and even Viswakarma Pujo) sporadically spread over the entire year to make up for the loss.

3. While I realize that Durga Pujo is more of a festival than a religious ceremony, and that merry making has got far more to do with it than religious practices, I would like everyone to be honest enough to confess this fact and stop pretending to do small sanctimonious acts so as to lend a religious hue to the occasion. While wearing a sari seems to be the best that most girls can do nowadays to prove how Bengali they are in spirit, and how they like to adhere to sacred pious habits when the occasion demands so, the fact that few pujos in town care to even make a proper sculpture of Ma Durga (I find it highly distressing to see the distorted faces of Ma Durga in nearly every pandal I visit in my area, Bidhan Nagar; even small village pujos do far better in this aspect) confirms the truth that people have very remote religious connections with the Pujo as a whole. Ironically, in Bangalore, they don't have this sort of a problem- drinking, gorging, wild partying and leching around are the norms here, leave alone everything even remotely associated with religious practices!

Even though I don't mean to sound angry, I think I have done so- All I want to say is this: Let's celebrate the pujos with a smaller budget, with less of drinking and careless driving, with no environmental harm done, albeit with greater vigour and in true festive spirit, which automatically implies sparing a thought for less fortunate fellow beings.

Here's wishing all of you a very happy Pujo.


Anonymous said...

Whatever you shared with us in this post is absolutely true and I deeply smpathize with you (personally because I know what you have to bear with not only on the four days of the pujas but two more days on the either side of the occasion respectively keeping in mind the "festvity" that is spread in your locality at this time of the year) and many others who suffer terribly even when they are perfectly innocent, just because their brethren is having "FUN". Anyways there are a number of things that I'd like to share with you:

1. It was the first time that I stayed in Durgapur for the pujas because I wanted to meet up with some friends of mine (who otherwise are too busy to be in touch with their old pals), and what I witnessed was, in my opinion, "devastating". Boys, no older that 16/17 riding on motorbikes in such fashion that it not only endangers their safety, but also does'nt allow the pedestrians to walk in peace.

2. Three and sometimes even "FOUR" people on the same two-wheeler, riding rashly and screaming, shouting and making intolerable passes at the passers-by was another way of having fun that I discovered out here. If this is called enjoyment then, i swear, I'll never be able to "ENJOY" my life, rahter would prefer not to. Instead, I'd rather preferred to be called a Boring Person.

3. In the eighteen years of my life, most of the time that I remember, I have stayed at home in Bud-Bud during the pujas and I must say people out here "ENJOY" much less than what they do at durgapur/calcutta, yet they enjoy much more, and are at least contended, in peace and also let the others be in peace.


Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks for the comment, Nishant. But please note that the word you meant in the last paragraph was 'contented' and not 'contended', which means something quite different!

Sayan Datta said...

Well, I do make it a point to escape the Durga Pujo fanaticism every year (this time I visited Sundarban). Financial bindings prevent me from going very far, but there are many good places to see in Bengal itself. But let me tell you - your journey won't be much joyful if you have to put up with Calcuttans for company. Heaven knows why they leave Calcutta during Puja in the first place. As a girl about my age (and my co passenger) told me that she was dissapointed with the place because she had wanted to "freak out" (whatever that means) with friends; I for one, however, was glad that the quiet, solemn atmostphere didn't provide her with much opportunity. She wasn't the only one of her kind though. A 50 plus year old man (and holding a top position in a German company - as he had loudly proclaimed) who couldn't sit quietly for even five minutes at a stretch, much less admire the picturesque surroundings and a middle aged lady who had the habit of cracking jokes of the crudest sort are just two examples. And I could see from their expressions, they did not know what to make of me, as one fellow traveller wondered aloud as to why I am so introverted unlike people my age (as if shouting and yelling and cracking bad jokes is proof of extrovertedness).
As one can imagine, such company can cause extreme disturbance to anyone desiring some peace and solitude. I am, however, slowly learning to dismiss these people as minor irritants, if only because I cannot allow myself to lose my mental stability on their account.
Sayan Datta.

sumandatta said...

To 'misquote' Frank Miller, "This is blasphemy! This is madness!...This IS India!!" :-)

let me apologise in advance for any linguistic lapses, as, sadly enough, the only languages I have been involved with in the past 10 years are C/C++/Java :-(

(I also hope smileys don't get counted as sms text. I believe smileys are the greatest extension to human language enabling common people with a not so great grasp of the language to emote effortlessly)

Speaking of the madness that is durga puja, I think Chaos and Duality are our USP. The stark differences with other religions as mentioned, are products of more fundamental differences- eg. Christians have a white/black dress code for all ceremonies while we prefer to douse ourseles in every conceivable color; and while Jesus is shown persecuted/crucified by evil, our depiction of idols is the other way round, durga conquering evil. So there must be something more than what meets the eye in our apparent chaos, which I am not qualified enough to discuss further so will leave it at that.

About duality, not all the 'irresponsible' puja revellers behave that way the rest of the year and maybe are quite good human beings on other days.It is about coexistence of good and evil and NOT about a utopia where all is good.(Even ravan is worshipped in parts of India, and our very own mahishasur is fed rasgullas on dashami!).

When we look at how science has shifted gears from electrons 'orderly' revolving round the nucleus to a chaos theory of electronic cloud and from wave vs particle to wave-particle duality, maybe India was on the right track all along. I think we need to relook at our 'heritage' of chaos and duality.

Personally,of late, I have found it quite entertaining(and humbling) in going out into the crowd, shoulder to shoulder as part of a bigger collective human organism. It's a respite from a lonely existence in a pigeon-hole apartment for many of us.

For you, I have one thing to say and quite fittingly, it is somthing that you had told us long back in school. I remember how I and our team had returned from a inter school contest, totally dissatisfied with the 'unfair' judging which had gone against us and you had said - 'Never expect the world to be fair to you'. Since then I have lived in peace through many trials and tribulations just on the strength of those words. I hope you will also find similar courage in living through the discomforting puja season.

Wishing shubho bijoya to you and your family.

-suman datta '95 xavier's

Suvro Chatterjee said...

As you can see, Suman, I have published your comment, though of course (as I am sure you understand) I disagree very strongly with some of your views! I have thought about everything you have asked me to think about for nearly three decades, and now (the bombs are exploding right now outside my house, this being bhaashaan day here) I am sick and tired. Have fun while you can: maybe by the time you are my age you will come round to thinking the way I do. I shall keep my Gita and Gitagovindam and suchlike with me in my old age, but, as I said before, I'd like to die in a much cleaner, quieter, politer, prettier and more disciplined country: or at least in some quiet and beautiful corner of India where there are very few people (and especially gregarious Hindus) around - something like north Sikkim or Ladakh, maybe!

Suvro Chatterjee said...

... and as for Sayan's comment:

alas, Sayan, you have hit the nail on the head - it is exactly because India has become so full of moneyed, noisy and utterly uncouth philistines of all ages and both sexes that living in this country (despite all my efforts to continue to love and respect her) is becoming increasingly unbearable and hateful for me. The rarer quiet and decent people become, the more difficult living here is becoming for them.

Suman may be interested in learning that our authorities in charge of heritage buildings, zoos and wildlife parks are seriously considering banning the general public from such places because it is now recognised that they do incalculable harm while 'enjoying' themselves! In fact, many caves at Ajanta are already closed to tourists, and rare books at the National Library and Asiatic Society have been put out of reach of the aamjanta - even if they have MBAs and PhDs!

aquietchild said...

Totally with you, just the other day, Maa and me were exactly talking on phone about the same issues you have written about. Just that, we write/think, Robibashorios evokes cynicisms, but nothing really changes in the world year after year. But then to turn it around optimistically, at least some of us are thinking.

Shubho Bijoya, amar pronaam nio - Chironton.
ps: Reading 'Sea of Poppies', Amitava Ghosh, you might want to take it up..

sumandatta said...

many caves at Ajanta are already closed to tourists... that's good to know (that our heritage is safe) and disheartening at the same time - that years of civilization and education have failed to uplift the common man. In fact those very caves were carved by artisans who were common men then, and today's masses fail to appreciate the beauty of it - is our education system working in reverse then?

Maybe one of the reasons is that modes of education have shifted from books/teachers to television/celebrities. Ask people on the streets to name today's scientists/artists/authors and they will fail horribly, but they can babble non-stop about the secret lives of celebs.

eg. Hard-rock headbanging and hip-hop were genuine artforms long back when they were practised by a discerning few, but in bringing it to the masses, it has undergone a terrible dilution so that now it's just a means of 'freaking' out.

Will this de-education (if that's a word) wipe out art and science from the world one day? (Or maybe force artists/thinkers to live in walled fortresses, fighting to survive against the mindless masses like we see in them zombie movies).

Suvro Sarkar said...

Dear Sir,

While I do agree with you that the festivities (or the hooliganism/vandalism associated with it) should not be forced down anybody’s throat if he/she does not want to be part of it – and yet, I assume that you are not left with too much option, being located near one of the more “famous” Puja hangouts in Durgapur – I would like to say that for me, Durga Puja is that time of the year when I cannot help wishing I was precisely located in Durgapur. I guess that is primarily because Durga Puja is to me, a social event like no other. It is that time of the year when I met up with all my friends, and more often than not, we would have relatives coming down to our place to stay the 4 days. Also I guess, I have spent most of my Pujos being associated with a more homely down-to-earth Pujo committee called Madhyamanchal, which has provided me the serenity and solace to pray as I wanted to, and provided me one of the few occasions when I’ve been able to have “khichudibhog” at the same table with the gleeful children of our maidservants. For people who have had to bear the din of Kolkata Pujas or even our very own Santos Club, Anand Vihar or Dakshinanchal without wanting to, my points may not have much value. Still I’ll try:

1)While it may sound naïve, I assume India is a consumer driven economy and the fact quite a substantial amount of local clothes/ jewellery /cosmetics shops derive a bulk of their revenues in their season is hardly detrimental to their continued well being or to the local economy. Of course, it is wasteful consumerism and a better way would be to tax our Puja bonuses and use it for infrastructure development, but unless there is an alternative avenue, would it be wise to solely blame the reckless consumer?

2)Irresponsible driving is bad under any circumstances, and so is having fun at the expense of others. But isn’t there a decent fun-loving part of the populace? Removing the Puja celebrations would remove the temptation, but doesn’t address the core of the problem. People would still continue to drink and drive at any given opportunity.

3)Its true that working days are lost and that makes West Bengal a less attractive state to work in. But its not uncommon around the world to see such periods of holidays – the whole of China goes on an extended break during the Chinese New Year celebrations in early February, and so does Indonesia after the month of Ramadan. Average February production in China is less than half any other month. Maybe there are other ways to promote economic development in the state than to work 24/365. And as to some people working and some people enjoying, would these policemen, firemen or doctors or shopkeepers grudge their friends and neighbours this enjoyment? I do not think so – they would be happy if others around them are happy, even superficially so.

4)Now this is a point where I agree with you wholeheartedly and brings us to the core point that having a little bit of fun is okay, but not at somebody else’s expense. We have not yet, as a society, reached the levels of civility required to respect the fact that everyone else has rights, too. Probably, the bigger Puja committees can think about erecting pukka toilets or even arranging for mobile toilets at the very least, and play soothing music, if at all, after midnight. But how do we get rid of the blaring horns and raucous trumpets – that beats me.

5)People in many countries of the world may not appreciate the concept of large social gatherings for having fun. I guess that’s pretty unique to Indians – for example, if we compare a North Indian wedding to a church wedding, the differences may be quite stark. I think it’s just that people define “fun” differently. True, nothing lasts for four days, though – that may be quite a pain!

6)Durga Puja is definitely not a religious event any more. Very few people even pretend to be religious these days. I have always regarded it as a social melting pot, and that is what I miss about it most – even though, I have never missed “Ashtamir Anjali” to date, that has nothing to do about religiousness but more to do with clinging on to harmless traditions.

Sir, you have rightly pointed out that Durga Puja is more of a commercialized mess these days, but pockets of resistance exist – and I’m talking about Puja “pandals” where people still believe in simplicity of prayers, listen to good Rabindrasangeet sung by the local children, have “luchi and chholar daal”, meet old friends for a round of “adda” on plastic chairs outside the “pandal”, call up uncles and aunts and granduncles and grandaunts and generally take a break from mundane existence. Of course, there are always questions like why their existence is mundane or whether there are other nobler avenues for enjoyment. But I guess I am still not cynical enough to fall out of favour with Maa Durga.

Best Regards

P.S. I was extremely saddened to hear about Father Wavreil's demise. Though my interaction with him was quite limited, my brother always used to speak very highly of him and he occupied a highly venerated place in my mind. Wish I could have been in St.Xavier's a few year earlier and seen more of him.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks for the long, thoughtful and categorical comment, Suvro. I guess you visit only now and then, but when you do take the trouble, it always makes for good reading - which cannot be said of too many people!

I am not, of course, persuaded by your comments to change my opinions. But then,we don't have to agree on everything to have friendly and interesting conversations, do we? I go with Voltaire here, who famously told Rousseau 'I do not agree with a word that you are saying, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it!' Too many people, alas, have made up their minds that I allow in only those comments which slavishly agree with or praise everything I say. Nothing could be farther from my mind, actually. All I ask is decent language, an informed background, and careful reading of whatever I have said before one writes a comment: so many comments come in which make it obvious either that the reader hasn't taken the trouble to understand what I was saying, or wrote merely to let me know that he or she hates my guts!

Santanu Sinha Chaudhuri said...

I have gone through the article and the comments. I find the educated, cultured, thoughtful and well-informed discussion stimulating. Thank you all for posting such thought-provoking comments. And I bow to the teacher who could develop such a wonderful band of students who can “think”. One of you has mentioned changing the world. Frankly, I don’t have the faintest idea how the dystopia that West Bengal is today can be changed. But I am sure it won’t be changed for the better unless people begin to think about what is happening around them, not just about themselves.

As regards the essay, I agree with the contents broadly. But even if it is stating the obvious, let me begin by recalling that every social group needs a bash / festival / fiesta once in a way. (If anyone knows of a community that doesn’t get together periodically for fun and frolic, do let me know.) And it doesn’t matter if the festival is religious or not. What we make of the festival reflects our broader social values and behaviour patterns.

In West Bengal today, the dominating principle is “might is right”. I don’t give a damn if what I do harms you, as long as I gain from it. Just one example: Kolkata’s already terrible traffic situation has been made impossible by a bunch of hoodlums aka auto-rickshaw drivers (they also use adulterated fuel that emits toxins, you never see them buying fuel at petrol stations). Who cares? And if my vacuous merry-making makes your life difficult, so be it.

But why do I have to be so vacuous? Ah! That is an interesting question. I wish I knew the answer.

Perhaps a part of the answer lies with the Bangla TV channels. The way they hype up Durga puja for months before the festival is obnoxious and revolting, to put it mildly. On one side are the mighty TV channels and a wide assortment of commercial interests that have a stake in making people stupid, and on the other side, sane voices which prima facie are too weak. But mercifully, they do exist, just as this blog shows!

PS. I would like to point out to Sleepypea – let me also say that I am an incorrigible agnostic – there are thousands of Hindu temples that are not full of “Loud, obnoxious, uncouth people and priests”, where you won’t find “people shoving, jostling, fighting and squabbling; children yelling their heads off ...”. Religion has been at the root of countless wars and clashes and killings, but who do we blame – the abstractions that religions are or the institutions and the people that perpetrate the horrors?

Ryan Smith said...

I truly appreciate the message put forward. Its a hard fact but, still true. Na d even then no one of us try to visualize it.

This reminds me of day 5yrs back from now.
My uncle is an engineer in Kajora Colliery. A french Team visited the site for some technical inspection. For a change the manager asked him to take the team out for a break to the nearby Puja Pandals. On viewing a couple of them they said, "When half of India is below poverty line, the how can we afford to waste money on this show-off, that tow for a few days.
We might blow off such a comment like a joke and just say that it represents our cultural heritage. But I would like to ask a question to everyone, Are we really doing the right justice ??

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Four years have passed since this post was written. It is festival time once more, and I am waiting for it as the patient on the chair waits for the dentist's drill...