Stray Thoughts On The Negative Aspects of Pujos, Particularly Durga Pujo, in Kolkata

As Kolkata celebrates Durga Puja, a rift among idol-makers.

I read this in the NYT India blog a few days back. It set me wondering about the rather unhealthy aspects of Durga Pujo and what a monumental wastage & drainage it is for a city like Kolkata which can ill afford such wasteful extravagance. A couple of days earlier, someone voiced the thought about recycling and preserving the very best of these instead of throwing it all away every year. There is also something quite unhealthy about the rivalry & competition among idol makers and among different neighbourhoods, leading to an unnecessary proliferation of idols, pandals and pujos.

With corporate sponsorships of the big Pujos having arrived awhile back and with the availability of raw materials which can be reused for putting up pandals and for fabricating idols, why isn't there a consolidation of Pujos and a drastic reduction in the total number of Pujos and the humongous financial wastage which the Pujos in Kolkata have come to signify. Just imagine how much Kolkata and its denizens would benefit if, say, 50% of the total amount which goes into Pujos and its associated items & paraphernalias can be channelled into making much needed infrastructural improvements to the city. This assumes even greater importance for a city and a state which is financially bankrupt and whose govt. can't undertake the financial outlays needed for those much needed & desired infrastructural improvements.

The environmental whammy of Durga Puja

I know families and people who dread the coming of the Pujos and the festive season. Despite being hard-pressed and discomfited enough by the various demands and social obligations, they have little choice other than doling out the subscriptions (chandas) demanded and incurring the considerable expenditures needed to meet expectations, various demands and what is generally termed to be 'social obligations' towards family members & relatives. In a city where the middle-class is not exactly a beacon of prosperity & plenty and where the numbers of the old and aged have been increasing significantly over the years, does society have any right to impose on them this way and arm-twist them every year?

Charulata meets Animal Planet mating special - Durga Pujo

Productivity across the years
One of the reasons for Kolkata's stagnation and poor financial health is the poor per capita productivity. While I don't want to get into sharing copious statistics on this, I do think that one of the reasons for the poor productivity figures is the fact that a lot of young and middle-aged folks are able to subsist & survive through gains they make by acting as middlemen and extortionists for themselves and for their political 'godfathers', primarily targeting promoters and developers of residential and commercial buildings and also by adopting the role of 'organizers' and 'functionaries for Pujos round the year. The latter activity often involves cajoling, wheedling and muscling 'subscriptions' (chandas ) from neighbourhood folks who are too timid or afraid to resist or protest and then grossly misappropriating finances allegedly utilized for the various Pujos.

Don't get me wrong. I am not for a moment suggesting that a major dampener be imposed on the annual festivities. However I believe that with some planning and with due consideration shown by all concerned, the Pujo can be celebrated in a far less wasteful fashion, keeping in mind the constraints & handicaps of the middle-classes and the less privileged and handicapped sections of society. If the funds & resources saved as a result are channelled productively into bringing about infrastructural improvements and meeting long-standing needs not addressed by the govt. of the day, the happiness experienced during the Pujo days can be spread, to an extent, throughout the year.

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