There was much effort at crowd management. At Chakraberia Sarbojanin Durgotsav, viewers were allowed in batches of 20, 15 or 10, as was the case in many other pandals. But there is not much hope. At the Shib Mandir puja, the organisers had to make frequent announcements asking parents to not let their kids touch the dolls that adorned the walls of the pandal. To no avail — the dolls had to be replaced constantly for the children were breaking them.
Said a member of Badamtalla Ashad Sangha, near Rashbehari: “The crowd gets rowdy at times, though the problem lies more with the vociferous, educated kind. They protest if we cordon off the public when there’s a judge visiting.”
Like last year, police cordoned off the main roads, allowing smooth flow. But not all main thoroughfares were free. Chittaranjan Avenue was jammed with traffic for more than a week before Puja began. It was far worse during Puja. On certain days, College Street, Amherst Street, APC Road and Vivekananda Road were blocked. The police did not make any arrangement for the revellers who pour into the city around noon on Puja days every year. Gariahat resident Chandni Chatterjee, who had to negotiate the crowds for Ekdalia Evergreen, Falguni Sangha, Hindustan Park and Singhi Park to go anywhere, was relieved at being able to walk back home on Sashthi night.
Metro: The tube remained the lifeline with thousands opting for the underground to shuttle from one end of the city to another till well past midnight.
Local trains: Trains reached Sealdah — from both the south and the main sections — more or less on time, spouting thousands of revellers from the outskirts. The last-train timings in both sections were adjusted with Metro timings.
Taxis and buses: But as evening rolled on to night, getting a taxi was taxing, with cops ensuring there was no unscheduled parking. Buses catered to most of the demand.
Cheers to going desi. Lots of salwar suits and saris and almost no plunging necklines. The six yards were teamed with trendy blouses — halter necks, tassle tie-ups and the traditional blouse. The salwar suits lengths were long and medium. Printed lowers and dupatta clubbed with plain kurta was a hit. Boo to OTT bling, fluorescent pink and green in the mornings, women in all-glitter zari with sweaty patches near their armpits. The worst of the lot was spotted on Sashthi evening at Mohammad Ali Park: off-white salwar suit, necklace, earrings and a garish maangtika! Lady, it’s Pujas, not a freak show.
The worst-dressed man was sighted in Behala: too-tight pinstriped trousers with a loose short kurta, long hair set into locks and blond streaks highlighted from the middle parting. A pair of glares in the morning completed the disaster. But full marks to the teenager at Maddox Square on Saptami evening, perfect in a pink sleeveless tunic with tiny metallic detailing and leggings and matching metallic ballerinas.
There was a sudden star shower on Chaturthi (October 15), when the battalion of Preity Zinta, Ajay Devgan, Rakesh Roshan and Dharmendra landed on the Trikon Park Puja pandal. Otherwise, it was business at usual, but not too bad. Ranjit Mullick or his daughter Koel held court at their family puja at Bhowanipore. Otherwise the usual suspects — Rituparna Sengupta, Debashree Roy, and a host of Tollywood and Tellywood celebs hopped from pandal to pandal, inaugurating and judging pujas.
In Delhi’s Chittaranjan Park, a pandal and the idols were destroyed completely by fire, but awareness has definitely risen in Calcutta. The source of electricity and the control panel were in many places set away from the main pandal, so that in case of a short circuit the chances of the pandal catching fire were minimal. Many pandals were made of inflammable materials like hay, bamboo, cane or coir, but most had been chemically treated. The Kashi Bose Lane Durga puja had drawn a pipe from the tank of a neighbouring roof. Avenue South Pallymangal Samity, apart from the mandatory sand buckets and extinguisher, had pipes to draw water from a nearby waterbody. At some Pujas the sand buckets did not have sand in them. A more general problem was that only one or two persons in each committee had been trained to operate the fire extinguishers.
Met officials were worried on Monday about heavy rains during Puja when a low pressure system formed in the north Bay of Bengal, off Bengal- Bangladesh coast. They heaved a sigh of relief on Tuesday, Panchami, when the low pressure veered towards Bangladesh. But shortly afterwards a trough of low pressure formed over Gangetic Bengal, sucking in loads of moisture over Calcutta and adjoining areas on Saptami morning. Thunderclouds hovered over the city. The rainfall was heavier in north Calcutta, Dum Dum recording 51mm. But the weather gods relented from Saptami afternoon and remained by and large merciful on Ashtami and Navami.
From Rahmania and Shiraz to the rasta-made, there was biryani for everyone. Plus chilli chicken, chowmien, fried rice, rolls, dosas, phuchka, chaat, momo and everything that the Bengali has made his own. There was special Bangali bhoj at restaurants, but the crowds preferred the pandal stalls, which had some really good fare: chicken kosha-paratha combo at Rs 50 or biryani with salad (slightly sodden) at Rs 60. There were the perennial Puja problems, though. A) Long queues at restaurants. B) If you were one of the last diners, you could be served chicken boiled in tomato ketchup in place of Chicken Butter Masala. C) Stomach upset from the roadside delicacies.
Rating: 7/10 (range); 4/10 (quality)
Dinosaur to daaber pandal, the oddities were there this year too. Some puja banners chose to startle, like “Behalay Borof” or “Aguner pandal” (in Howrah). Some were abstract, such as at 66 Palli in Kalighat or 25 Pally in Kidderpore. Rural Bengal was in focus, with mud used as a main material, being an eco-friendly as well as fire-proof option. If south Calcutta, especially Behala and Haridevpur, kept the theme flag flying, pujas in the north opted for traditional images.
Rating: 7/10 (idea); 5/10 (implementation)
Barely 20 per cent of the pujas used sound limiters on microphones though it has been made mandatory by the PCB. But the overall sound pollution situation has improved. The number of pujas using solar lights has also gone up. And energy efficient lights, like CFL, have made their debut in pandals. Unfortunately, queuing up for a “big Puja” still means being pushed from all sides and being subject to the paper horns that all children seemed to blow. Did anyone check if they are below 65 decibels'