KOLKATA: The biggest festival of the year is here but it doesn’t quite seem to promise the old excitement and unbridled joy amid the fear of the virus lurking around. This year, too, entry into pandals will be barred and the crowd of revellers thin, as suburban trains won’t run.
The night restrictions have been lifted, paving the way for nocturnal pandal-hopping, but other curbs will ensure the puja revelry doesn’t really take on its usual proportions this year.
A large section of Kolkatans has already decided not to venture out on the streets. But others are ready to make the most of the annual festival, which comes at the end of a gruelling summer, a ruthless Covid second wave sweeping through the country, and a wet monsoon. They have, however, decided to celebrate with caution, keeping a safe distance from gatherings, given the warning about a possible Covid third wave striking soon. Experts and doctors stuck to their assumption that the Pujas would be followed by a spurt in Covid cases, albeit small, thanks to vaccination.
Sunando Banerjee, a businessman from south Kolkata, says like last year, he will take his family out on a fun ride, enjoying the festivity, decorations, lights and pandals from a distance. “We don’t want to miss this once-a-year festival but will not jostle with pandal-hoppers,” says Banerjee.
Techie Souvick Basu, who usually has plans with separate groups of friends on each day, had spent the last Puja in his bedroom. “This time, I have planned two small outings. For the first two days, I will be in Raichak and the next two days I will join other friends in Jhargram,” says Basu.
But bank employee Soumya Mukherjee, who will return to Kolkata from Bangalore later this week, wants to enjoy with his family and friends like before. “We could not visit Kolkata with our 4-year-old son last year owing to the novel coronavirus. But now that Covid cases are under control, I plan to enjoy my para pujo in Behala and go pandal-hopping with my family and son but, of course, will maintain caution. On Nabami and Dashami, we will be at my in-laws’ place in New Town, where the complex will have cultural programmes,” Mukherjee says.
People do need something to look forward to in these gloomy times, says mythologist Nrisinghaprasad Bhaduri . “This is an annual festival that we all wait for throughout the year. Durga Puja is not merely about those four days. The preparations begin much earlier, with people flocking to markets for shopping, making their plans for Ashtami, Nabami and so on. The enjoyment has been curbed by Covid but let’s not shun the festivities altogether. We can still celebrate with caution,” says Bhaduri.
There might be more people on the streets till late into the night, feels restaurateur Nitin Kothari, who owns Mocambo and Peter Cat on Park Street. “Since entry into pandals has been barred, a large section might be dissuaded from pandal-hopping, a favourite puja activity. A majority of them will invariably look for alternative entertainment and eating out tops the list during the festival. So, I expect a larger turnout, especially in late evenings,” says Kothari. “Kolkatans know their food and love it. So, the festive spirit will be there, unlike last year, when the scare was bigger. Only the celebrations may take on a slightly different form.”