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Millennium Post

Whither to Chitto park?

There are more pandals, more dhaks (traditional drums) and even more people. What has also gone up is the regional diversity of the people now becoming a part of these pujas both as organisers and as visitors. But if Bengali residents of CR Park are to be believed, this addition of people and paraphernalia has subtracted spirituality and religiosity from the pujas.

The cultural connect with the pujas, they say, has gone missing somehow. When the strains of melodious Rabindra Sangeet accompanied by the tantalising aroma of fish fry draw you closer to the towering pandals of various Durga Pujas organised in Chittaranjan Park, you find that something has
really changed.

So what has really led to this change in the Bengali bastion? ‘About 2,000 houses in CR Park have gradually been taken over by non-Bengalis, while Bengalis have been leaving the area. This has brought about a change in the basic ethos of the puja,’ says Pankaj Sengupta, who works for an MNC in Delhi and has been living in CR Park for over 40 years.

Chittaranjan Park is an affluent neighbourhood in South Delhi and home to a largely Bengali community. It was established in the early 1960s under the name EPDP Colony or East Pakistan Displaced Persons Colony, and later renamed after the freedom fighter Chittaranjan Dass in the 1980s. Today, despite its growing cosmopolitan nature, it remains home to a massive Bengali community, sporting Kolkata-style street-food stalls, Bengali cuisine, fish markets, temples and cultural centres.

In 1954, an association was formed for the refugees from East Bengal who were displaced from their
homes in East Pakistan during the Partition of India and the associated partition of Bengal (1947). A large group of government officers hailing from the erstwhile East Bengal migrated to Delhi and lobbied for a residential neighbourhood. In the 1960s, land was assigned in a barren rocky area in the-then distant southern areas initially on lease for 99 years, but subsequently converted into a freehold ownership.

But this is a story of the past now. ‘A lot of Sardars and Marwaris have started buying property in the area in the last five-six years. The newly-constructed builder flats are being taken up mostly by non-Bengalis. These flats are very costly. Service class Bengalis cannot afford them,’ informs Ashish Sengupta, a property dealer who has been in the realty business for over 15 years now.

‘Bengalis, who have grown old, are leaving CR Park. They are either returning to West Bengal or moving abroad to stay with their children. Those staying on rent are finding it too costly to afford and those whose children have shifted base in search of greener pastures are moving to where their children are now. Blame old age,’ Ashish adds.

Pankaj says that in older days only four pujas were held in CR Park, and that number has, however, risen to 15 now.

‘The pujas have become melas because non-Bengalis do not have the same sentiments as Bengalis have for the puja. The former are not very keen on organising the event. Some non-Bengali people do become part of the executive committees that organise pujas but they do so more to gain influence than make any significant contribution to the puja,’ he informs.

‘Punjabis  now own entire apartments in certain areas of CR Park such as J Block and K Block. For them pujas can never mean what they do to Bengali people. For some of them pujas bring civic troubles in terms of parking, noise and many such issues. Some non-Bengali people move out of CR Park during the five-six days of puja festivities. They visit their relatives or plan vacations during this period,’ Pankaj says.

Amrita Chatterjee, a retired school teacher, who has been living in CR Park since 1975 says that earlier the puja festivities could go on till 2-3 am in the morning. ‘There would be Rabindra Sangeet and cultural programmes, chatting and hanging out at the pandals but now after objections raised by certain sections of the people of CR Park, police doesn’t allow celebrations to go on beyond 10 pm,’ Amrita says.

‘There used to be one-month long mela as part of the build-up to the pujas. Bongo Samaj and Chittaranjan Bhawan organised these melas which saw people from as far as Dhaka come and showcase their stuff. Women lined up to buy from saris from these stalls set up by small investors. But ‘a certain’ gentleman raised objections to the mela and filed a PIL. The court in turn shortened the period of this mela to 15 days from one month,’ Pankaj says.

Satyakam Mukherjee, executive committee member of the B-Block puja agrees that the feel of the pujas have changed. Reminiscing about the past, Satyakam says that earlier during pujas committees used to show Bengali movies all night from 9 pm to 5 am. ‘That culture no longer exists. Since lakhs of people come to see pujas from outside the event has become a psychological warfare that is aimed at creating the best possible pandal by all parties,’ he says.

Another B Block puja committee member Sayan Acharya says that things came to a head when giant wheels found their way into pandals making it a complete mela. ‘We did away with the giant wheels,’ he says. ‘Earlier, we had pujas where there was not much pomp and show. It used to be simple affair. Only Bengalis participated in it. Not much money was spent on decorations. Investment was made only for bhog prasad. People were made to sit in queues and prasad was distributed. Now it’s a commercial affair. It is not the same puja. It is a mela. We have shifted focus and have allowed Yo China and Karim’s to set up stalls to meet people’s expectations,’ he says.

Pankaj says with the non-Bengali population not being equally enthusiastic about the puja celebrations fund fund raising a problem. ‘Earlier each pandal had multiple gates. These gates were used to put up advertisement from corporate. However, the police has now put restrictions on the number of gates and that has made it difficult to collect funds. Also the non-Bengali people do not donate as generously as Bengalis for the pujas.’

However, Meenakshi Jha who is member of the executive committee of the K Block puja says that it is not fair to say non-Bengalis are not enthusiastic about the pujas. ‘I have been involved with the pujas for about 10 years now. Spirituality takes precedence over everything else. Almost anyone who visits the pandals tries to get near the idols and pay obeisance,’ she says. On the question of the puja becoming a mela, Meenakshi says, ‘If this is a mela then what is Kolkata?’

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