When the storm over the sea settles down, a new era starts. The sun shines, the wind sings, the peacock dances. Behind those dark, gloomy clouds peep the smooth golden rays. They are the rays of hope; the rays of the subtle onset of autumn. The clear sky and the fleecy white clouds brighten up the greens of the earth. The dews melt, and the essence of shiuli emerges. Over vast stretches of land, the white "kash phool" blooms and the "shankh" blows. The harbingers welcome Goddess Durga on earth.
This year has been a rollercoaster ride, where uncertainty has loomed over a large section of society, either directly or indirectly with the people involved making the Durga pujo festival acquire the size and feel of 'world-class' event. One of the biggest questions that have been hovering in Calcattan's neck of the woods is that will the Mahotsav come to a halt due to the outbreak of the pandemic? The cacophonic answer is 'Never'. The face of artisans, pujo organisers, shopkeepers and shoppers has lightened up with little enthusiasm, energy and hope as the Forum for Durgotsav have issued several safety measures that are to be ensured during the festivity.
All these years the winding, narrow alleyways of Kumortuli - renowned artisan's hub in North Kolkata turns into a tourist spot during this time with hundreds of amateur photographers and curious visitors clicking away at the idol makers crafting Goddess Durga with her four children, the demon Asura and lion. However, the scene has been reversed this year as the artisans are looking curiously from their deserted shops expecting their customers. The heat of crises has touched upon them with a minimal amount of orders for Durga idols. However, the Bengali inhabitants of Kolkata have already begun taking giant steps towards preparing themselves for Dugotsav by placing orders at Kumortuli.
The idol makers are stating that there has been a severe drop on orders, yet slowly and steady requisitions from clubs and household pujo in the city and its hinterland have started pouring in. The artisans have picked up their 'tuli' to give shape to the Durga idol for this year. "On Independence Day, I received a big order with a good amount of advance. Though my orders have gone down by 50 per cent as compared to the previous years, people have built up their mind to commemorate Durga pujo even with slightest arrangements" says Sujit Pal, one of the artisans of Kumortuli.
Apart from the dip in demand, the rate has also plummeted down more than 50 to 60 per cent. Nobo Pal, a famed artisan at Kumortuli, expressed his fear that "the buyers who used to pay in lakh for the idol are requesting in early thousands. We have nothing to say as we know about the economic slowdown that the world is going through. We are clutching onto whatever is available to us with limited profit".
Not only people in Bengal have started their initial preparation by ordering idols at Kumortuli, but also orders from foreign lands have been placed. Maintaining all the safety measures, idols are being sent to foreign. Sujit Pal further tells The Bridge Chronicle, "We have received orders from Scotland. We are sanitising the Durga idol wrapped in plastic first and then again sanitising the boxes on which it will be sent". Also, the Kumortuli Mrithshilpi Sanskriti Samiti (Committee of idol's artisans) has been helping all the artisans by sanitising the whole colony.
The artists lament when speaking about the West Bengal government for not extending their helping hand towards them. Adding on to this problem, the labourers are unwilling to get back to their idol-making work.
"The labourers hailing from Nadia, Hooghly, Midnapore and Murshidabad are not ready to come to Kolkata for work as the COVID cases are increasing. They have set up their considerably small business of tea and vegetables at least for this year. And those who are willing to join work are raising questions about preventive measures like social distancing," says Nabo Pal.
Durga Pujo - the largest and most eagerly awaited festival of Bengal is just weeks away, the buzz, though far from the usual, can still be felt. The entire megacity of Kolkata looks geared to metamorphose into something that is a cross between indigenous Disneyland and vibrant Latin American fiesta as billions of tiny coloured lights transform the entire struggling city into a dreamland.
The organisers of high budget pujo have been daunting over how to exhibit their idea of Durga Pujo during this pandemic. Chalking out for hours, most of them have approved for online darshan. Kashi Bose Lane Durga Pujo Samiti, a prominent pujo at North Kolkata, has come up with the idea of "virtual darshan". They are concentrating less on the theme this year, as a lot of their preserved money for Durga Pujo has been donated on social services for COVID-19 cases and Amphan losses.
"We'll go Facebook live and Instagram Live to entertain people with online darshan from their home. Our personal Samiti App will help the devotees to donate money for Pujo purposes and to offer pushpanjali to the Goddess" said Somen Dutta, one of the members of the Kashi Bose Lane Samiti. He also added, "Online darshan has positive implications as people from different parts of the world will be able to see our pujo". The organisers are continually doing away with razzmatazz and dazzle to avoid pulling in crowds.
Several committees are as well brainstorming several ways to ensure safety measures against this horrendous situation for pandal-hoppers while also giving them a glimpse of the goddess. Three well-known Durga pujo committees within a distance of a kilometre stretch in south Kolkata have joined hands together to introduce the concept of "drive-in darshan". Their patron Texas-based Mridul Pathak explained this arrangement where people can slow down their car to look at the pandal and the idol without dismounting from the car.
Sandip, an office-bearer of Badamtala Pujo Committee, uttered that "the three marquees namely Badamtala Pujo Committee, 66 Pally and the Nepal Bhattacharya Street Durga Pujo has collaborated and chose Satyajit Ray's Apu trilogy as the theme, paying tribute to Ray's birth centenary. Badamtala will portray scenes of 'Pather Panchali, Nepal Bhattacharya Street Pujo of 'Apur Sansar' and 66 Pally of 'Aparajito'". There will be a system of car sanitisation before entering into every pandal. Provision for a thermal check-up will be carried on for the pandal-hoppers. The guidelines procured by the Durga Pujo Forum will be strictly followed.
On the other hand, several committees have been stuck with their decision whether to celebrate this year's pujo lavishly. Durga Pujo is not just a festival but bears a bundle of emotions. Every autumn, with the arrival of Maa, it brings several special feelings; feelings that can only be experienced.