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 .

 

 

 

 

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