A glittering goodbye
Durga Puja celebrations are as much about glitter and pomp as they are about strict preparations and regulation – Gourab Neto takes readers through the levels of planning undertaken by police authorities, from the inception to the Red Road carnival that marks a glittering end, until next year
Managing Durga Puja smoothly and efficiently is a major task for Kolkata Police, Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) and Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (KMDA). More than a crore people from the neighbouring districts flock to Kolkata, unwilling to miss the grand Durga Puja celebrations. And in the past few years, Kolkata Police's efficiency in managing traffic has received immense recognition from across corners. These days, officers in Kolkata Police are busy analysing previous years' traffic arrangements, hoping to locate flaws which need rectification before arrangements are chalked out for this year's celebrations.
Deputy Commissioner, Traffic, Pandey Santosh, has himself met Officers-in-Charge (OCs) of all traffic guards and discussed specific problems. DC, Traffic, informed that they are also scrutinising last year's police arrangements during the time of the festival in order to locate the areas which need more attention.
Santosh further informed that mindful of last year's footfall in the prime Pujas across the city, the number of traffic police personnel in those areas may be increased. Approximately two months ago, the police met a number of such Puja committees to discuss their plans and gather information to enhance traffic management.
Sources have said that special focus is being given to those Pujas where footfall was high last year. Also, a contingency plan will be chalked out in case of any emergency. Santosh also stated that during the coordination meeting between the police and the Puja committees at Rabindra Sadan recently, several concerns were raised by the committees.
One of the most important issues that came up during the meeting was related to parking. Regarding this, Santosh said: "Most Puja committees have told us about parking issues and we are looking into the matter. Few Puja committees have also complained about illegal parking that creates congestion. This year, we will depute special teams to supervise parking."
According to sources, apart from illegal parking, several Puja committees also pointed that last year they were not allowed to park cars in the vicinity of their pandals. DC, Traffic, has assured them that this year arrangements will be made for parking spaces.
During the coordination meeting, few Puja committees complained about the height bar of Aurobinda Setu which prevents them from bringing in idols with ease and also poses a problem during immersion. Santosh said: "For this, we need to talk to KMDA, which we will do."
Kolkata Municipal Corporation's prime task is to ensure that the immersion takes places smoothly and the idols do not pollute River Hooghly. Also, in the past two years, civic authorities have laid immense emphasis on civic drives to prevent vector-borne diseases.
Debashis Kumar, Member, Mayor-in-Council (Parks and Squares) said that several rounds of talks have been held between civic officials and their counterparts in Kolkata Police in meetings chaired by him. The civic and police officials have visited the ghats to ensure that immersion is conducted smoothly and peacefully.
Kumar said that all 12 ghats where the immersion will take place will be brightly illuminated. KMC is going to engage more than 100 conservancy workers to clean up the ghats. Over 15 heavy-duty cranes will be deployed to remove the wooden structures that are used to make idols. They will be dumped on the trucks and taken to the trenching ground. All senior officials of the Conservancy and Solid Waste Management (SWM) department will be present at the ghats and Kumar will be there to personally oversee arrangements.
Earlier, club members would take idols to Hooghly and immerse them. The artisans who made the idols used to engage people who picked up the bamboo structures which were again used by artists in the next year. There were frequent clashes between the workers who helped immerse the idols and members of the clubs. The garlands and the other decorations made of thermocol used to float on the river causing massive pollution.
Now, the club members are not allowed to immerse the idol. Once they reach the ghats, civic workers remove the garlands and decorations, they immerse the idol and then heavy-duty cranes remove the structures. It takes five to six minutes for the idols to get submerged. The conservancy trucks take the garlands, flowers and the thermocol decorations to the trenching ground.
"It would have been excellent if the artisans used natural colours and not chemical-based ones to paint the idols. But natural colours are costly and they fail to meet the huge demand of artisans. But things are changing fast and people are becoming aware of environmental issues," said Kumar. He also added: "Anyone visiting the ghats the following morning after the immersion will find everything in order and they can even take a holy dip if they desire."
Civic authorities have placed maximum stress on cleanliness and ban of single-use plastic. The clubs taking special measures to keep the areas surrounding their pandals clean and those launching awareness campaigns against the spread of vector-borne diseases will be awarded by KMC with cash prizes. KMC has given posters and banners to the clubs that will be displayed during the Pujas.
The state government's slogan is 'Save Green and Stay Clean', and KMC will deploy more workers to sweep the roads surrounding important community Pujas. The civic body will also supply additional drinking water during all four days of Puja. The food stalls that will be set up in several mandaps have been asked to keep sufficient bins to discard the waste which will be removed by conservancy workers the next morning.
Red Road Carnival
Durga Puja celebration these days is incomplete without the Red Road Carnival. The massive rally to bid farewell to the goddess that began in 2016 is touted to be second only to the Rio Carnival and has become integral in marking a grand conclusion to Kolkata's Durga Puja celebrations.
Large make-shift galleries are set up along with giant screens and separate enclosures for foreign guests. They add a new dimension to the Carnival as the city's most popular, award-winning idols drive down Red Road in full glory. With folk artistes performing, bauls and percussionists adding to the beats, the experience is truly awe-inspiring.
As the giant screens flash images of the idols, specifically made to cater to the enthusiasts seated far away, nobody feels isolated and there is an instant connect.
A brainchild of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the Red Road Carnival has inspired organisers to gradually transform their Pujas into a grand affair with diverse themes and larger-than-life installations. Not only do they compete with each other with respect to individual theme-based Pujas, but they also strive hard to make a lasting impression during the Carnival.
Since 2016, the initiative by Banerjee to organise the Carnival has upped the pomp and grandeur associated with the Puja by several notches. As devotees bid a tearful adieu to their beloved Durga, the Carnival provides one last chance for a final glimpse before the farewell takes place, until Ashche bochor abar hobe (see you next year).
(With inputs from Tarun Goswami)