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Scent of politics in puja’s craft theme

Calcutta, Sept. 1: Occasion: puja. Message: political.

Next month, there will be one pandal out of a few thousand Durga pujas in Calcutta where “Ma Durga” will be coming from Baleshwar in Orissa to “lend (not one) 10 helping hands” to solve Bengal’s problem No. 1: “acute dearth of jobs”.

You can take this in a literal sense, for there will really be stalls which, besides, distributing Prime Minister’s Rojgar Yojana and state government self-employment scheme forms, will motivate Bengal’s unemployed to “stand on their feet” with some help from the government.

New Alipore Suruchi Sangha — the club that “brought to life” Baradi, a village now in Bangladesh where Jyoti Basu’s family came from — is using a religious platform to wade into a political theme again this year.

There is, however, a twist in the script: the issue being raised this year is much more controversial than the depiction of what life used to be in sylvan Baradi and may not particularly endear the puja — or its organisers — to the ruling party.

And — you have guessed right — this is another “Trinamul puja”, the brain behind the show being the party’s Calcutta corporation borough X chairman, Aroop Biswas.

Biswas, however, pooh-poohed charges of political bias. “Last year, we featured a CPM chief minister’s native village,” he said. “We are just raising an issue (joblessness in Bengal) that is a fact of life,” he added.

The organisers are modelling the idol on Orissa’s pat art and the pandal proper on Beleshwar’s (also in Orissa) temple of the Sun-god. The Oriya bit is much more important to the puja than the state’s influence on the pratima or the mandap, the organisers say.

However, the Oriya motif will run through the puja to send across a comparison that will ultimately be political. The puja will feature the traditional art-forms of both Bengal and Orissa and highlight how the former’s are dying out and how the southern neighbour’s are progressing with government help.

The northern flank of the approach to the pandal will have stalls featuring traditional Bengali handicraft and handlooms. None of them, however, will be working. One may have looms covered in cobweb, another may have a broken loom while the third stall may be a hut that shows years of disuse.

The southern flank of the approach-road will feature Oriya art-forms like wood-engraving, mask-making, Pipli work and pat. They, predictably, will be working and the hands (around 35 in number) — the organisers say — will be brought from Orissa. Most of them will be students of famous Oriya artiste Jagannath Mahapatra.

“We want to show how successive governments in Orissa have paid utmost attention to the state’s traditional art-forms and helped sustain them by giving easy loans,” Biswas told The Telegraph on Sunday. “The contrast, obviously, would be with the Bengal government’s “apathy and neglect” to its cottage industries which, according to him, could have sustained thousands of families.

But the real help, he feels, will be the stalls distributing the Rojgar Yojanas and self-employment scheme forms. “We want every visitor to go back with some idea of how to go about employing themselves gainfully,” Biswas said.

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