10-year-old Sondip Ghosh has been undergoing treatment at Kolkata’s Tata Medical Centre since July 2022 for leukaemia. As the Durga Puja festival approaches, the boy’s parents, who hail from Madhyamgram in North 24 Parganas, were a little worried about how to take their child to see the pujapandals. Doctors have said that Sondip’s immunity is low and he should avoid crowds, his mother Dipanita Ghosh said.
Similarly, 68-year-old Gopal Chandra Pal, who has come from Bangladesh for treatment for throat cancer at the Tata Medical Centre, felt upset when doctors advised he could not return home as his chemotherapy would begin soon.
Both young Sondip and Mr. Pal are staying at Premashraya, a temporary home for a community of about 500 cancer patients and their caregivers in Kolkata’s New Town area, close to the Tata Medical Centre. Premashraya was built by Coal India Limited in 2015 and is run by Tata Medical Centre since then. The people behind Premashraya decided its residents should not feel left out of Puja festivities.
On Saturday, when the city was soaking in the festive spirit of Mahasasthi, the sixth day of festival, about 125 people from Premashraya visited five Puja pandals in the Salt Lake area. The local police station provided pilot cars, vehicles for medical emergencies were on hand, and Puja organisers were informed well in advance to facilitate smooth entry for the visitors.
“Two air-conditioned buses in which 60 patients and their caregivers started at around 10 a.m. and they returned by 1 p.m. The idea behind the morning trip was to avoid crowds and protect patients from infections,” Sudeshna Dutta, head of operations of the Premashraya unit and Tata Medical Centre, said.
Ms. Dutta said that Premashyaya is trying to keep the spirit of Durga Puja alive with a number of special events, including decorations with motifs and images signifying the autumn festival, and new clothes for residents, beginning September 24 and going on till Lakshmi Puja till the second week of October. “Cancer is a marathon and it’s very important to have a positive spirit while battling the disease,” Ms. Dutta said.
Other efforts too are trying to make this a more inclusive Durga Puja from which no section of society is left out. Earlier this week, Kolkata Police organised a special ‘Puja Parikrama’ for 150 children with special needs, and about 400 elderly members of Pranam, a community policing initiative to serve senior citizens.
In December 2021, Durga Puja in Kolkata was included in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, and the unique inclusiveness of the festival was among the reasons for its recognition. UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Secretary Tim Curtis said at an event in Kolkata in September that Durga Puja has undergone positive change and inclusiveness through transition in the public sphere as community pujas.