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!