“Madam, how many followers on Twitter? Instagram? You are followed by many phamous film peepuls. Specially that Bengali director. I got his number and called but bugger did not pick. Others asked for money, just to come and do a pronaam. One snap of our Durga…please put up on Shashti day. Write that it is a must-see pandal. Tag them please. What to do madam, no budget for publicity. Nice women like you can help. You are also an actor, no? NO!!! What are you saying? You look like one. You must….”

I excuse my poor ears and stand apart, looking vigourously for the college junior who introduced me to this item of an organiser and fled from the scene. We are a few days away from Durga puja and have landed ourselves at a khunti pujo. From a distance I see the man screaming at a fellow, “Oyeh has your head gone floating across the Ganga? What is this?” He shows the iPad on his hand. “All Mahabharat you have written on Instagram, who will read all of that? Where is the hashtag before the Durga?”

He packs off his novice helpers and looks at me again. Guess my face tells him more than I do. He walks forward. “What to do, madam! We started this event only last year.”

Event!!! I roll my eyes and realise, well he is talking about the Durga puja. Ok. He is right, this is an event management role. I hear him talking again.

Girl and the goddess

“We need to scale up with every passing year. This year should be bigger than last year. Next year grander than this year.”

I understand this language, the business of scaling up. Hiding my burnt hands, I nod with great empathy.

“Sponsors will pour more money if the projections of foot falls are more. Now how do we project foot-falls when there are no budgets to call a celebrity? Last year people asked, what is our experience of doing a Durga puja. Agreed, no experience. Just some humble Bengali’s trying to put up a Durga Puja. Now you only tell where do we go.”

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Well, that makes sense. The Durga puja definitions have changed considerably. In the robust, unapologetic, unashamed era of social media, Devi Durga has been stripped of some rituals considered obsolete by the thinkers; the angry not-so-young fashionista is in favour of giving her an appropriate make-over; intellectuals opine that the warrior Goddess should shed all arms from her hands to endorse peace; and none of the above calls her ‘hashtag Durga’.

I understand the desperate man’s plight. Last year another pandal few kilometers away had put up huge posters of a glorious Ashtami, when a sensuous Indian origin female actor from phoren would perform on stage. A lot of moral police did spring up initially, calling this choice totally uncultured and distasteful. The angry mob was gaining support, steady and fast. They brought the protest to the level when the actor was almost called off. But then the group of protesters made one grave mistake. One of them commented on the actor’s past and made some very personal remarks regarding her career choices. Another vahini shot up immediately. The feminists. Newspapers and social media were up in action, with strongest words armed by great research on the data of the last hundred years, in support or against the actor. Many discourse later, after the CM’s office had been involved, the women bodies won. The actor was restored.

This year their pandal and even the big Durga idol has been planted, representing a particular community. Inclusivity in diversity theme. This year their Durga is the brand ambassador of the community, raising awareness for the cause. Media is delighted. Even the celebrities invited for cultural programmes belong to that community, to push the cause further. Money bags are rolling. The break-even for that ‘event’ had happened right at the idea stage. The stalls and shows are extra revenue. A special sculptor is working on the idol, unveiling of which will be done on Panchami evening by another famous actor from the same community. The buzz is up and beyond.

I understand the desperate man’s plight. Last year another pandal few kilometers away had put up huge posters of a glorious Ashtami, when a sensuous Indian origin female actor from phoren would perform on stage.

Obviously the dhaak from that pandal is more melodious and louder. They have so much to chase. A much-spoken actor. Controversy. Pride. Targets. Communities. And here this Bangali dada is trying to sell Durga. Sorry, hashtag Durga. I glance at him again, wiping the sweat off his neck with a red-white checked gamcha. It’s tough for him, I understand. Ambitious but resourceless.

A scream from the right makes him turn. And me too. An elderly gentleman sitting peacefully and almost half in sleep has woken up. He is scolding some of the youngsters. “What’s wrong with you boys? Have you lost your mind? You have brought the photographs of Maa and her children, undone and undressed? You are not supposed to do this, you fools! Her face should remain hidden till the Shashti puja. And now you not only get to see her but also keep photographs? These days God knows what other remains of the faith will be compromised.”

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One of the kids try to reason with, “Aare dadu” but he is silenced and asked to leave with his friends. I see them shrug. Another teen advises that after an age people do get extra touchy about things and that shouldn’t be taken seriously. “I thought dadu will be happy to see our Durga idol coming up, man!” The boy still seems shocked after receiving a tongue lashing. “Forget it, you want some jalebi?” They disperse.

I drift closer to the old man and sit on a chair next to him. He seems hurt, disturbed, unhappy.

“Dadu, since when have you been in Maharashtra?” I ask, having figured that he is the universal dadu there, though very few know exactly whose dadu he really is.

“Since the day my destiny doomed.” He says without looking at me. “At least in Bhagalpur the Bengalis knew that they were Bengalis. Here…!” I tell him my name and try to talk. Clearly, he isn’t interested. I remember something and try once again.

“You know dadu, the other day I was editing a London based scientist’s nonfiction manuscript. He had written about the master mind being a collective intelligence that develops and executes a plan with organized effort. Organized effort is the process of two or more people collaborating to achieve a pre-decided goal. When knowledge is organized and directed intelligently, it becomes Power.”

This time he looks at me. Top to bottom. And then asks softly, “So?”

“Isn’t this exactly the spiritual philosophy, explaining the birth of Durga.” I say. “When the Devas couldn’t defeat the Mahishasura, all the Gods came together and the energy of their wrath, humiliation, aggression took the shape of the Devi, designed to kill the demon! How beautifully related are science and spirituality.”

He frowns, then seems to calm down and warm up to me. “What do you do?” he asks. I tell him. He smiles. “You definitely don’t belong to this area. Haven’t seen you before. What brings you here?”

By now the college junior who had fled leaving me alone has returned, looks at me from a distance and smiles sheepishly watching me trapped with the most difficult person in the campus.

“How come you are here?” The old man asks again.

“Since my destiny doomed!” I say and we both laugh.

The man with the red while check gamcha runs before us, shouting at something or someone. We look at each other and laugh louder this time, nodding our heads.

“That one is my son, by the way.” Dadu admits.

On Shashti this year, I decide to do something and promote the son’s efforts. Tag some celebs and put up something about his Durga maybe. Sorry, hashtag Durga.

Photo by souvik laha on Unsplash

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Koral Dasgupta is an author, professor and social entrepreneur. She tweets as @koraldasgupta. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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