The PM is right, if India is to avoid a devastating second wave, our behaviour during the festive season will matter
In Kolkata and the rest of West Bengal, as well as in Bengali communities across the length and breadth of India, the coming of the festive season meant going to a Puja pandal, paying obeisance to the Mother and her children on their annual visit before indulging in food and mingling with friends and family. And not just in Bengal, where the arrival of Ma Durga meant a time of feasting and spending on new clothes and household goods, but across the country, across communities, these months meant exchanging gifts, sweets and what not. It was a time for togetherness, where children travelled back to be with their families and the usual news stories of these times over the past few years were the exorbitant airfares across the country. However, in these Coronavirus-infected months, whether in Kolkata or in Delhi’s Chittaranjan Park area, the limited and scaled down pandals have become no-go areas. But while the pandemic has dampened enthusiasm in many sensible people, who are relying on digital feeds to address their spiritual quest, others are incorrigible. Festival romantics, for whom the joys of pandal-hopping cannot be denied, have compelled the Calcutta High Court to modify its ban on entering pandals, now allowing small groups inside. How on earth will this be monitored? While this can possibly be managed in cities like Kolkata, Howrah, Asansol and Siliguri, how will the rush be controlled in the hundreds of small towns that dot the South Bengal countryside, all of which have their own Puja pandals and where people invariably use India’s densest suburban rail system to work in the city of Kolkata? The potential for a regional healthcare disaster is tremendous and one presumes that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech was to ensure that things do not get out of hand. In Delhi, puja organisers have been careful and no large pandals have been set up. The few pujas that are happening are taking place purely for religious purposes in temples.
One hopes that the citizens of India pay heed to the PM’s request and understand that God will not be angry if we do not go and pay obeisance in person. This is a horrible aspect of today’s reality and there will be an economic price as well, but if we are to stay safe and healthy during the winter, we do not have a choice.