Carnivals used to be times for licence, when the law could be merrily turned upside down. This early-modern practice continues with impunity in modern Calcutta. Flouting every kind of civic rule during the Durga puja has become part of a high devotional tradition, sometimes with explicit mayoral encouragement. But the Calcutta high court is about to put an end to some of this fun. A court order has definitely managed to stop the construction of a pandal in Kasba, and another one nearby could also be moved to a less obstructive spot. Last year, these two extravagant and immensely popular pandals had drawn enough crowds to make the situation on the stretch connecting the eastern metropolitan bypass with an important road entirely unmanageable for the police. It had become impossible, for instance, to be able to take the bypass to the airport because of these crowds. The police had therefore denied permission to both these committees to build their pandals in their usual places. The committees thought this was unthinkable, and moved court, and then came the high court order in favour of the police.
The Talbagan committee seems to be deeply outraged and hurt by this. It has lost a few lakhs of rupees because constructions had already progressed considerably, and the whole idea of being shifted away to almost another neighbourhood seems to have offended the committee’s civic sentiments. It is difficult to sympathize with these undoubtedly authentic emotions. Breaking the law should certainly be an expensive option. The police and the administration should maintain this spirit of civic discipline without being regarded as infuriatingly killjoy. It ought to be perfectly possible to have a great deal of fun without inconveniencing and endangering other people, and without turning lawbreaking into a sentimental issue. It should also be possible to keep up this strictness without bothering the courts. This is not quite their job. Last year, politics prevented such orders from being carried through. This year’s success should therefore be the beginning of a far more unsparing and comprehensive series of enforcements. There are numerous other pujas all over the city, in the most prominent locations, which break all sorts of rules. The police should be able to get to these ones too. Safety and civic order need not be inimical to the spirit of any festival, however ancient its traditions.