Of true grandeur
What big and what small — Durga Puja committees across the state are living up to their reputation by channelising more funds towards round-the-year social work, and not just spending on grand pandals and lightings
In the present times of loathsome pandemic, shape-shifting demon — 'Mahisasura' — can be easily compared with the different variants of Covid that have been wreaking havoc for almost the past two years.
Waves of gruesome attacks of the disease have, however, failed to break the confidence of mankind to overcome all odds and survive with a better bonding, even after maintaining a safe physical distance. And, here comes the silent but crucial role that is being played by almost all big and small Durga Puja organisers in creating an unseen human chain to support each other these trying times.
This is the second year when Bengal is going to organise its biggest annual festival — Durga Puja — amidst the pandemic. The situation has improved a great deal now as compared to that of last year. Per day infection used to be around 4,000 during Durga Puja in 2020. There is now a maximum of 550 new Covid cases every day in Bengal. The economy is also witnessing 'slow but steady' growth. Unlike last year, the corporate sector is not completely disappointing the organisers.
Whatever the situation may be, Durga Puja in Kolkata and other parts of Bengal has now set a new trend, with the committees undertaking round-the-year activities to help people in one way or the other, who have been badly affected due to the pandemic. Durga Puja organisers took up a new formula to finalise their budget. Instead of using the total collection for making pandals and idols and installing decorating lights, they now use at least 40 per cent of the total budget to stand beside the people in distress.
It is not only about fixing a budget to help people when many are losing their jobs, facing salary cuts, daily wage earners sitting idle at home due to Covid restrictions and parents failing to clear school fees of their children. But it is all about identifying these people and helping them silently without showcasing the initiative to gain publicity. The reason being a large section of them, mainly from the middle class, did not share their difficulties fearing social stigma.
These sections of Durga Puja organisers consider difficulties faced by people to be the biggest demon at this time of new normal and, being the worshippers of Goddess Durga, it is their duty to ensure the triumph of good over evil.
"Mere setting up of a high budget pandal and lots of decorating lights does not create the actual grandeur of Durga Puja as per the tradition and culture of Bengal. Our affection, love and respect towards others create the actual grandeur of the Puja. We will organise Durga Puja following all norms as we did it last time. But our main focus has been round-the-year social work that has been done at the trying time of the Covid pandemic," said Urban Development and Municipal Affairs minister Chandrima Bhattacharya, who is the president of Hindustan Club in South Kolkata.
Distributing clothes during Durga Puja among children from financially weaker sections and organising blood donation camps are among the usual works of the Durga Puja committees. But helping parents to clear school fees as they have lost jobs due to the lockdown, to ensure that children continue with their studies, is a unique move. Students of state-run or state-aided schools did not need to pay any fees. Again, such help is not needed for people who prefer a 'very expensive education system' for their children. "But there are many who study in local English medium schools. Many of their parents faced serious difficulties in clearing their fees. Knowing about the same, some of our committee members approached them and helped them without making any noise. There are around 15 children who are being helped in this manner to continue with their studies in the same school," said Swarup Biswas of Suruchi Sangha.
When 'big' Pujas like Suruchi Sangha are helping parents to clear school fees of their children, the smaller ones are also not much behind in taking initiatives to support at least 10 to 15 people from financially weaker sections in their respective locality.
The Puja committees in districts are now more inclined towards utilising a major part of their budget in supporting the people who are in distress. Durga Puja organisers are expecting a slight growth in their collection of funds this time compared to that of the last year. But it is in no way possible to get back to the collection that used to take place in pre-pandemic situations. "The slight increase in the collection would also be utilised for the purpose of social service and not to spend on pandals or light," said a senior member of a Durga Puja Committee in Howrah.
Economist Avirup Sarkar opined that relaxation on Covid restrictions — giving importance to both life and livelihood — helped boost the economy to some extent. "The economy has improved compared to that of last year. But it is yet to be like the pre-pandemic situation", he said.
The "Forum For Durgotasav" — an umbrella organisation of 400 odd community pujas in Kolkata and its suburbs — has also urged its members to stress on social causes and more and more round-the-year social works at this time of the pandemic.
It is the Durga Puja organisers who came forward to take up the issue with the state government to ensure timely vaccination of the artisans at Kumartuli.
"Durga Puja organisers and club members play a crucial role in extending support to the people round-the-year and it has become more evident during the pandemic. We would urge all clubs and Durga Puja organisers to focus more on the same, apart from maintaining Covid norms at their Puja mandaps," said the joint secretary of the forum, Saswata Basu.
Apart from the state government officers and security personnel, members of different Durga Puja committees and clubs reached to the people in Amphan- and Yaas-affected areas and played a crucial role in providing relief.
This toil of a section of people from different Puja committees comes as the other side of the extravaganza of Bengal's biggest festival as it brings a smile to everyone's face, not only on the five days of the Puja but on all 365 days of the year — irrespective of all "pain and pathos".
Views expressed are personal