The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The Durga Puja is not the best occasion to promote Calcutta. During the Pujas, the city’s problems and its lack of a work culture are most evident

According to a very old Hindi injunction, one should eat according to one’s taste and dress according to what others like. Following this, it has been decided that Calcutta will be dressed up during the Pujas to suit the tastes of tourists. There are plans afoot to make Park Street into a carnival ground during the Pujas and also to offer a packaged tour of the city during the four festive days to foreign tourists. Government and private initiatives have come together to promote Calcutta and West Bengal’s principal festival. If the initiatives succeed and become popular, then it can be said with every justification that a local festival has become global. It is true that a city that has been decried down centuries, from Rudyard Kipling to Dominique Lapierre, and rendered synonymous with disease and deprivation could do with some promotion and image refashioning. But the task may not be as easy as it appears on the face of it. For one thing, Calcutta is not at its best during the Pujas. It might be very colourful and apparently joyous, but that is neither the true nor the best face of the city. This might raise a few eyebrows and even provoke anger, but certain facts cannot be wished away.

During the Pujas, Calcutta is subjected to the worst violation of civic norms. The most important public pujas — presumably, the foreign tourists will be taken around to see these — construct their pandals blocking roads. The puja supported by the mayor of Calcutta is the best example. This inconveniences people and causes traffic to go haywire. The pandals and the streets have elaborate lighting arrangements, but there are good reasons to suspect that the source of much of this electricity is either illegal or drawn from the metres of individual consumers. This may not be true of the big pujas but is certainly true of many of the smaller ones. During the four days of festivities, the suburbs and even the neighbouring villages descend on Calcutta, and the city seems more over-populated than it actually is. Traffic moves at less than snail’s pace and every year there are reports of the ill failing to make it to hospitals or of people missing important train and plane connections. Most importantly, for four days and more, all normal activity in the city comes to a stop. This might be a good indicator of the city’s capacity to have a good time. But it is certainly not a good index of Calcutta’s work culture. It all depends on priorities or, in the jargon of the market, what one considers to be Calcutta’s brand salience. The joy of the city of joy at the cost of its work culture may not be the best plank for the city’s global image projection.

There is enough in Calcutta and West Bengal to promote tourism. Calcutta is the only city in India from where within a few hours one can either go to the sea or the Himalaya. There has been no attempt to promote this aspect or to build any kind of infrastructure that can attract the tourists. The attempt to package the Pujas and to hold an organized carnival appears feeble and even as a kind of tokenism. The promotion of a city cannot be a four-night affair.

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