In Kolkata, empty pandals and roads mark Durga Puja

The city, by and large, abided by the Calcutta High Court order, which had declared pandals as no-entry zones for the general public

Updated - October 26, 2020 02:47 pm IST

Published - October 26, 2020 02:38 pm IST - Kolkata:

A deserted pandal barricaded with chairs and a notice restricting entry inside during Durga Puja, the biggest festival of the region, in Kolkata on Oct. 25, 2020.

A deserted pandal barricaded with chairs and a notice restricting entry inside during Durga Puja, the biggest festival of the region, in Kolkata on Oct. 25, 2020.

Durga Puja of 2020 turned out to be a ‘rossogolla’ without syrup for the people of Kolkata as restrictions and restraint dictated the festival.

Except a handful of places in south Kolkata, such as Ekdalia, where people still showed up in large numbers, pandals and roads across the city remained mostly deserted throughout the five days of Durga Puja. Those visiting friends and relatives could easily drive from one part of the city to another — something unthinkable in normal times.

It was obvious that the city, by and large, abided by the Calcutta High Court order , which had declared pandals as no-entry zones for the general public. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the nation , asking people to exercise caution, and repeated appeals by doctors, also appear to have worked.

“Calm and comfortable,” is how Sritama Chaudhuri, assistant professor of sociology at Asutosh College, described the mood in her neighbourhood. “I live in a housing complex, where they had the usual puja, but on the whole people were less puja-crazy this year. Everything was calmer. People enjoyed the real luxuries of life — food and rest,” said Ms. Chaudhuri, a resident of Paikpara in north Kolkata, which usually witnesses dizzying crowds.

An empty pooja pandal in Salt Lake area, Kolkata.

An empty pooja pandal in Salt Lake area, Kolkata.

 

The neighbourhood of actor Devtanu, who lives near Ruby Hospital, was also quieter than usual, and this prompted him to visit a few popular pujas in south Kolkata on the evening of ‘navami’, in the hope that they too would be deserted. At Ekdalia, however, he ran into a large crowd and he fled, but not before making a small video that showed hundreds gathered there.

“People wore masks, but of the designer variety, and made a mockery of social distancing. If people choose to behave irresponsibly, what can the government do? If people had behaved responsibly and if there was proper planning, the roadside hawkers who depend on outdoor festivals like Durga Puja for a living wouldn’t have been deprived of income this year,” Devtanu said.

CM tweets wishes

But on the whole, the celebrations remained muted. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee confined herself to extending her daily puja wishes to people on Twitter. A particular tweet by Governor Jagdeep Dhankar, however, did not go down well with many people: it showed him and his wife calling on the ailing Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, the former Chief Minister, on ‘ashtami’. The CPI(M) objected to the Governor sharing his pictures with the veteran leader when he was “most vulnerable” and asked him to take them down. Some others pointed out that the BJP itself never made public pictures of Atal Bihari Vajpayee when he was bedridden.

Throughout Durga Puja, Bengal’s most respected actor Soumitra Chatterjee remained in hospital , where he was admitted on October 6 after he showed symptoms of COVID-19. Even though the 85-year-old actor subsequently tested negative for the virus, his condition took a turn for the worse on ‘navami’ evening due to complications induced by the infection.

The impact of the celebrations — even if without the trademark flavour — on Kolkata, as far as the spread of COVID-19 is concerned, now remains to be seen. “From what we gather from media coverage and other sources, the crowd was definitely less than usual. But unfortunately, in several renowned pujas of the city and also in adjoining towns, one could see significant gatherings. The number of (COVID-19) cases is rising, but the real picture of the impact will be clear in about a week or so, provided there is appropriate testing and reporting of cases if transparent and real-time,” said Koushik Chaki, a founding member of the West Bengal Doctors’ Forum.

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