It is the “ultimate jewel in Calcutta’s crown” that just needs to be “polished and packaged right”.
And even as para puja committees start their sponsorship pitch for Durga puja 2003, a straight-from-the-heart step has been taken in faraway London to help promote the event as a must-see extravaganza.
For, the four days of Puja magic and mass euphoria can — with a little bit of organised effort — rake in the travelling pound and dollar, transforming the city into “an exotic destination”, asserts urban evolution expert Geoff Marsh. “The Pujas, with the pandal architecture, trick-lighting and immersion cavalcades, could be an effective hook to catch western tourists,” adds the visiting professor of built environment at the University of Westminster, London, and founding director of real estate consultants India Property Research Ltd (UK).
In town to attend the two-day retail summit organised by Confederation of Indian Industry, the 50-year-old Briton has already kick-started his own initiative to bring the West closer to Bengal’s biggest festival. Swayed by the pomp and pageantry of the Pujas during a visit two years ago, he has convinced “around a dozen friends” back home in London to pull in a thousand pounds each to form a seed corpus for a “niche tourism package” to Durga domain.
“We have the Notting Hill festival, which is just a million people getting drunk for two days. True, it’s a lot of fun, but nowhere as grand and visually compelling as the Pujas here,” observes Marsh, whose passion is mapping urban development in metro cities. And the crowds and the cacophony during the Puja days will be more a draw than a deterrent. “Tourists are not really looking for sanitised five-star luxury, which can be experienced in any western city, but the traditional sights and sounds in decent comfort,” clarifies Marsh.
Stressing the need for a focused propaganda machine, powered by Calcuttans, to sell Calcutta abroad, he explains: “It has to be a relentless PR exercise and any positive development has to get out to the world. Just look at Glasgow, which packaged itself as ‘miles better’ and hit the high road to redemption.”
There is definitely an audience out there. A guided tour of places quintessentially Calcutta — from the riverfront to the all-brick quarters of the north, Mother Teresa’s legacy to the middle-class milieu, the sheer intensity of the central business district to the laid-back charm of Flury’s — punched with the Pujas should do the tourism trick.