Durga Puja , a festival , an obsession of Calcutta . Being born and brought in this obsessed mood , made the frenzy appear normal to me . But distance brings perspective . So when I travelled from Bangalore to Calcutta for Pujo , I could see the single minded enthusiasm , the madness of people . But this distance also made me look at Durga Puja from different perspectives .
The 10 day long festival had always been that window to me through which you could peep into a fantasy . A place and time where nothing was and could go wrong . Viewing travel from this window ,one would see people flocking from one pandal to the other and filing in . The more spiritual soul could also be spoted . Someone who goes to every major religious exhibition of the country , for instance .
But once you detach yourself from the fervor , other ,more grim , realities surface . Similarly , other travels also surfaced , or more correctly , other reasons of travel surfaced . And the deeper I went into this hidden travel , the more fascinated I grew with contrast . What I am talking about is the travel during Durga Puja in search of work . The travel of the pandal maker , the Dhaki , the person you see in those numerous shops .
The essay strives therefore , to look at different kinds and reasons of travel during Durga Puja , and attempts to capture the stark contrast in these different kinds of travel .
It becomes necessary here to understand the yardsticks of classification and actually clearly classify travel in the Puja . Crudely , one can say that there are two types of travel in the festival – out of want and out of necessity. To put this in context further , a certain class of people make the Durga Puja , the spectacle , travelling from different areas while ,a different class adds fervor to this and pleasures itself . The former group is the group which travels essentially out of the need to fulfill basic human needs , while the latter is the community travelling out of the desire to travel.
The more visible travel is obviously of privileged people like us . The reason I say visible is that our travel starts with the start of Puja . We go around pandals , eat in the shops , look at Durga ma . Of us , too , there can be made further classification . The spiritualist and the casual traveler . The former are people who travel to various pandals and other areas to fill themselves off a spiritual feel . For instance during Durga Puja , very many sadhus can be seen .In fact I encountered a sadhu coming from the Kumbh mela . To them the ice cream shop is off no interest rather , Durga’s idol is the centre of attraction . The other portion comprises of people who travel as much to see the idol as to eat outside . They are the middle class , people looking to get a much needed break from their mundane lifestyle and sober walls . Saku Dutta , an engineering student said “ The 20 day break for pujas gives us a really refreshing break . We go around pandals throughout nights “ . Rajen , a salesman for Aanondo Bangla had to say this “ It is a wonderful opportunity both for the pious and the not so religious to look around the city . You get everything . The pandals , the rolls , durga ma brings with her a joyous ride for the people of the city of joy “ . These pretty much capture the mood of the well to do class of people .
The Bengal economy spends around 100 crores on an average, on Durga Puja . 100 crores for 10 days. This only quantifies the – the fame of Durga Puja and therefore also shows the amount of money people spend during the Puja ,and these people are the well off people .
But apart from this loud travel , we also have the travel of the faceless numerous ,coming , with the hope of earning a bit more , or some , just for earning . I allude here to the back stage of the Durga Puja . The person who erects those exquisite pandals for us to gape at , the dhaki ,playing endlessly ,without losing any of the morning energy and enthusiasm which we had quickly lost . I allude also to the child in the temporary stalls either selling those balloons or in one those fancily named roll/noodles place , helping out his father .
A huge amount of travel commences with the coming of the festive season , from the poor , rural areas surrounding Calcutta . People flock in great numbers in search of the various jobs that are available at this time .
To these people , Puja is hardly a season where you go around pandals, spending money and gathering happiness . Rather , it is a time where they can earn so that they can feed their children . The Dhakis travel a bit later than the people who make the Pandals , as obviously , the Pandal makers have to travel around 1 month before the 10 day long festival begins . The people who set up the stalls , travel with the Commencement of the festival though .
They travel generally from the poor rural areas of adjoining districts of North 24 Parganas , South 24 Parganas ,Nadia and Bardhaman . On an average they earn around seven to eight thousand rupees , and to most of them , this the best they earn in the entire year , and for some , Puja comes as the only significant way they earn . Hem Das , a Dhaki , from Bardhaman , said that ‘ Aamra Dhak bajiee khusi je taka pe jai ‘, which roughly translates into –‘We are happy , playing the Dhak only , we get the money .
Thus , as one travels spending away his purchase for pleasure the other makes his purchase from that to eat . And this cycle is made possible through travel .