It is the season of returns. The return to memories of childhood, of crispness and colour in clothes and Puja numbers, the return home from work far away, the return of heart-lifting smells, of inexplicably wistful longings, and of a happiness as delicate and fleeting as the flirtatious sunshine edged with sudden showers. For quite a large segment of the population in West Bengal, it is the season of a return to roots. There is, obviously, a cyclical pattern to this annual ritual of physical and metaphysical returns; novelty is not expected. But this year, the West Bengal government has decided to make the sense of return institutional. It has returned to the root of the word, holiday. In less determinedly secular times, people got respite from work only on holy days. The fall into secularism uprooted the holiness and left just the holidays, equally entrancing for Christmas and for summer. Mamata Banerjee’s government seems bent on reviving the original sense of the word. It wants to let state government employees absorb the sense of holiness by not going to work for a succession of 10 days. No one can doubt its respect for all religions. While Durga Puja ends on a Wednesday, October 24, Id-uz-Zoha follows on the Saturday, October 27. The government, deeply considerate of the importance of an uninterrupted holy mood, has declared October 26 a holiday too. That will pull forward the chain of holy days right up to Lakshmi Puja on October 29 from October 20, the first day of the pujas.
Not all returns are desirable, however. The prolonged respite from work caused by an artificially elongated string of holy days — necessarily with a couple of unholy ones thrown in — is also a return to earlier times when the state government and institutions allied to it stopped work for 10 to 12 days at a minimum in the Puja season. The loss in productivity was considered secondary to the interlude of merry-making that almost came to be regarded as a right. It was a strangely irresponsible mindset, as though how the state performed was not the business of government employees; it was somebody else’s. Those days were slowly fading, with the previous government having broken with the tradition of an uninterrupted vacation in this season. The measure was, however cosmetic, part of a bid to restore work culture.
And work culture is a salient feature of the paribartan era. Or so the hopeful population has been told. But this message is slowly acquiring the status of a fading rumour, as the city is daily brought to a standstill by processions, rallies, protests and bandhs. That uninterrupted leisure for the government employee in the season of worship and celebration would naturally follow should come as no surprise. There is something distinctly unholy in all this.