The five-day annual revelry that engulfs Kolkata come October is upon us—Durga Puja, when the City of Joy shakes itself out of sweet slumber and embraces cultural frenzy. Folks have begun to wake up to the sound of dhaak and in some greener pockets of the city, even the scent of shiuli, the night-blooming jasmine typical to puja season. Allowances have been made for greasy, if home-made, cutlets and kormas, and purchases that may not be strictly necessary. However, 2020 is the year of the pandemic, and autumn is not exempt. Amid fresh regulations from the Calcutta High Court that limit pandal entry to 45 people at one time, and a host of other precautions put in place by organisers themselves, Kolkata is embracing a puja markedly different from what it usually sees.
A writer and a photographer hit the streets on the eve of the festivities, ready to responsibly capture snippets from a city celebrating a pandemic Pujo.
Photo By: Arhan Sett
Barriers stemming visitors from entering the Shiv Mandir Sarbajanin Durga Puja in Kolkata’s Kalighat area had its desired impact of crowd-control two days before puja officially kickstarts, a time often hijacked by savvy pandal-goers to get a headstart. While the occasional devotee or enthusiastic family stopped by the pandal now and then, the street remained largely unoccupied through the afternoon.
This year, South Kolkata’s Shiv Mandir Sarbajanin Durga Puja sports a theme centred around Satyajit Ray’s 1960 movie Devi. In the Ray masterpiece, the protagonist, Devi, channels a powerful, rebellious and indomitable spirit. For the committee members, it is this feminine fire of the Goddess that will protect us from the evils of coronavirus.
From right to left: Nikhilesh Sen, Shaib Mondal, Shubhash Mondal and Tapan Das take a break from setting up Durga Puja hoardings across Southern Avenue lanes. Donning masks and shields, they indulge in some adda (tête-à-tête) under the mellow October sun.
The Barisha Club Durga Puja’s ‘Migrant Durga’ throws light on the plight of migrant workers in India, particularly in the wake of the nationwide lockdown that marked the early months of the pandemic. Created by artist Pallab Bhauik, the details—a shirtless baby boy propped on her hips, and two girls on either side—hark back to the poignant picture of the mass displacement that had plagued the lives of many such mothers who had to walk hundreds of kilometres home amid confusion and scarcity. If the goddess has been re-imagined as a working mother, resolute to protect her clan, Saraswati and Lakshmi seem to have found representation in the young daughters, both of whom carrying their tell-tale vaahans (carrier animals): a swan and an owl.
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is a writer, and also an unwarranted tour guide that people groan about on trips. When she isn't geeking out on travel and history, she can be found walking around the streets, crying for Bengali food.
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