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Pall of gloom amidst gaiety

While Calcutta and the rest of Bengal bask in festive fanfare, for seven families in and around the city, this Puja is one of grief. The bodies of Mohammad Salauddin of Garden Reach, Bablu Das of New Alipore, Bappa Das of Barasat, Ujjal Pal of Behala, Jayanta Adhikari of Alipore, Swapan Majumdar of Habra and Ananta Bera of Arambagh were brought home in coffins over the weekend. The seven died fighting the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) militants in Tripura on Wednesday.

The first body to reach the city was that of Salauddin on Thursday. Salauddin hailed from Patna, but had taken up a house in the Garden Reach area. The other bodies followed the same route —Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport — on Friday.

All of them were part of the Territorial Army unit that was escorting men from the Reserve Engineering Force at S.K. Para in the Raishyabari police station area of Gandachhara sub-division on Wednesday. The area falls within the Dhalai district of Tripura. Around 9 pm, just as the group reached S.K. Para, the NLFT militants hurled grenades at them. Before the defence personnel could take up position, the militants mowed down seven of them on the spot.

The bodies were first taken to the armed forces’ headquarters, where they were handed over to the families.

A pall of gloom descended in the area when the bodies started arriving. Young Star, a club organising Durga Puja at Ujjal Pal’s Behala neighbourhood, immediately announced that it was cutting down on the celebrations. “We will just complete the formalities,” a member of the club said. “Had we known earlier, we would have called off the Puja,” he added.

Bappa Das’ father Ratan recalled how his son strove for a place in the armed forces after clearing his Madhyamik examinations. “He achieved everything on his own. He never asked for anything from us,” Ratan added.

Bappa was supposed to come back home for Kali puja, recalled his cousin Kartik. “He was unsure about getting leave for Durga Puja but wanted to come home in the festive season,” said Kartik.

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