Finding “lost people” is the selfless mission of 75-year-old Deepak Mitra this Puja. The volunteer with Dignity Foundation is spending three Puja nights wide awake, manning the Ham (the association of radio amateurs) missing-persons control centre at his Deshapriya Park residence.
“I used to man the different stations when I was younger, working a shift of 17 to 18 hours. When really lost people, mainly villagers who come to the city for the night to go pandal-hopping, fall at your feet with tears in their eyes, you forget your own hunger and thirst to help them. But I am not getting any younger,” he rues.
“Unfortunately, that means I will have no energy left to go around puja pandals, since I will have to spend the days sleeping. The satisfaction of aiding helpless, old people to get back home safely, though, is enough for me,” he adds.
V. Krishnamurthy, 68, considers himself “more Bengali than South Indian”, and the best part about being one is the Durga Puja. “We have a puja at home, with chandipath and prasad — vada and South Indian payesh. It’s all about getting friends together and renewing old ties. I never fail to go to at least two pandals a day. Not-to-miss ones include Ekdalia Park and Park Circus. Durga puja in Calcutta is not the same without late-night visits to pandals,” he smiles.
Badamtala neighbours P.K. Bhattacharya, 63, and Uddalok Chatterjee, 65, have decided to get together with their wives, for adda and warm khichuri, at their own homes. “I am too old to go pandal-hopping. I had my fill of that when I was young,” says Chatterjee.
But Bhattacharya feels that “the carnival spirit” is infectious and he will “definitely go for a darshan” to the famous Badamtala puja.
Some members of Gen-ex have hit the puja trail early — with good reason, too. M.K. Dhar, 66, laughingly proclaims that he visited a few choice pandals, with his family, on Panchami, “before the crowds began... We left at 10.30 at night, but contrary to what we believed, there were large crowds everywhere. We finally got back home to Golf Green at 2.30 am. I am glad I went, but I am definitely not going out during the rest of the days,” he declares.
H.K. Gupta, 79, seems to have found the perfect mix of being ‘in’ and ‘out’ for the Pujas. “My para puja is right behind my house, and my balcony very conveniently overlooks it. So, I shall spend the Puja watching the sights and listening to the sounds, but from a distance. For the most part, though, I shall lounge on my balcony and read books. I enjoy the atmosphere. I am too old to be jostled by the crowds,” he says, with a toothless grin.