Can We Make Our Favourite Durga Puja More Meaningful? -By Moon Roy

Another Durga puja is round the corner… another year has passed, with so much upheaval, political ups and downs, economic downturns, worrisome price hike of fuel and food pulses, irritating traffic jams, deteriorating infrastructure, increasing terrorism, rail accidents, untimely rain and flood, death of innocent people, shameful defeat of Indian cricket on English soil – the list of bad things is perhaps longer enough to make us feel unsafe, scared, annoyed and frustrated. But strangely enough the beating of Dhak and the feeling of the Durga Puja approaching have immense power to blow away all the pessimism, pangs and bad memories in the wink of an eye! So much enthusiasm, joy and happiness possess us all on a sudden.

The feeling of the festival nearing is amazing! When I was a child the clear blue autumn sky, thin white clouds, blossoming Sheuli all looked so divinely beautiful. Mother Nature seemed to adorn herself in refreshing green – so charming, so beautiful! With the first glimpse of blue sky after the monotonous monsoon we started countdown for Mahalaya, and after that the auspicious Maha Shasthi and not to mention the much awaited ‘Puja Vacation’ in school. The pre-Puja days simply went in buying new clothes and accessories, in planning what to wear and what to do during those 4 days; never thinking why we shop for unnecessarily when we already had enough, never realizing how the money came in exchange of a great deal of hard work and effort by my parents.

In those days Puja was much simpler with conventional Devi idol, pandal décor, Aarati, Shondhi puja, Bhog, Sit-and-Draw competition, dance drama, Antakshari, musical chair game etc.

The time has changed. The eyes of a child could see things simply which a grown up probably can not. Today when I look at the enthusiasm around the Puja – huge money being spent in developing something that has a life span of only 4 days – several thoughts throng my mind. Now, I feel all that glitz and glamour of festivity can not eliminate the darkness of poverty and sorrow. Rather it creates a deep contrast.

Award wining Puja organizers hire famous artistes to design idol of the goddess, skilled artisans to decorate pandals, highly paid electricians to incorporate sophisticated lighting.

DO they compensate well those poor labourers who give concrete shape to their ideas by toiling day and night assembling bamboos and canvases one by one to recreate the Disneyland or Badrinath Temple or a Spaceship on the Puja ground?

The village artisan who patiently handcrafts delicate ornament out of Shola and Zari in her small hut sitting under the dimmed light of oil lamp, stressing her eyes, only in the hope to earn a little bit more before the festival – did she get her due?

Can the light of Durga Puja cast away the darkness from their lives? Do the festive spirit of joy and revelry touch the poor farmers sweating off on the fields to feed us or the helpless family that have lost everything in Ayla and took shelter on the footpath?

What does Durga Puja mean to them? Only a time when they can see little more money; a time when they may get to eat full meal for some days.

Every year crores of rupees are spent in the arrangement of Durga Puja in Kolkata and its suburbs. Years go by, the amount of subscriptions rise, dazzling lights, more glamour, prestigious awards, big sponsors. But in the end the pandal will be dismantled, the idol will be immersed in the river, lights will be turned off and all the decorations will be pulled down. Organizers will go planning for the next theme sitting inside air-conditioned room. We shall go back to our normal life, indifferently. When it comes to social work we see one or two blood donation camps, distribution of clothes and food to the poor, a few charitable programmes.

Should we allot such huge budget for a festival in a country where two-third of the population lives below the poverty line (2 dollar a day)? Where a large part of the population is still reeling in the darkness of illiteracy? Where millions of people are homeless?

Well, I am not against this celebration and revelry, neither do I want to play a spoilsport. Just asking – why can’t we spread the joy of the Durga Puja among the ‘Have Not’s too? Can’t we be a little more responsible to the society? Can’t we act a bit more sensibly to help those who have nothing to lose? Can’t we stop running after the grandeur and pomposity?

Yes, we can. We can stop our holy festival from becoming a mere show business. We can cut down the expenses for the puja to save some money; to do something to aid those helpless people and bring smile on their face. We can provide monetary aid to a poor student. We can donate a certain amount to an NGO. We can bear the cost of treatment of the young boy who is suffering from an incurable disease and his poor parents have nothing to do except watching their child die because they don’t have money.

Why not the Puja award committees also look into this while choosing the ‘best puja’? I think, it will only make our favorite festival more meaningful.

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