The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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This time, the morning did not show the day. For an inhabitant of Calcutta, the build-up to the Pujas was traumatic. Moving from any one part of the city to another had become a venture of reckless daring. Nothing seemed to move, traffic seemed eternally held up in the busiest parts of the city — and these areas had suddenly multiplied. The main shopping localities were competing for crowds with the office and business areas, and probably winning. Half-built or just-completed flyovers and roads left impassable by the debris of recent construction exacerbated the Calcuttan’s misery. It was the indefatigable shopper who emerged victorious, but there was an equal number of helpless shoppers. Buying gifts for family and friends before the Durga Pujas is almost a social duty for the middle-class Bengali, he cannot escape it with the excuse that shops and roads are too crowded. Even two or three before Saptami, the first day of the four festive days, it seemed to observer and sufferer alike that during this year’s Durga Puja confusion would reign on the streets.

But from Saptami the police got into action, and the streets of Calcutta changed. Although in recent years, the police have been doing a laudable job of ensuring a smooth puja in spite of increasing crowds and cars, it is perhaps a little more difficult this time, given the huge constructions that still partially block arterial roads. The visitors from the districts are as numberless as ever — the dazzling innovations in lights, images and pandals are an unfailing draw. In this age of competition and publicity, there are particular pandals or localities that inevitably draw the maximum crowds. These are the most difficult to manage. The plans for coordination, crime and accident control have to be perfect so that people can enjoy themselves. The 17,000 policemen, on the streets to look after the city and its people for these four days, have shown that they can achieve the almost impossible if they, and their bosses, want to. Helped by voluntary organizations and the National Cadet Corps, the Calcutta Police with the Rapid Action Force, Radio Flying Squad, all eight battalions of its armed police, and commandos as standby, have been at their efficient best. The cooperation and compliance of puja committees are essential too. Waste disposal, crowd control, the monitoring of sound levels and fire safety measures, an unflagging vigilance against criminal activity in the midst of such carnivalesque festivities can only be achieved with cooperation, a result both of police firmness and the puja organizers’ ambition to excel.

Durga Puja in recent years has shown what Calcutta’s policemen are capable of. Their discipline, coordination, fast action, devotion to duty — which also means their families may lose out on much of the fun — should give the Calcuttan the reassurance he needs. His loss of faith in the police is the result of the force’s showing in other kinds of crisis, when it becomes clear that extreme politicization has undermined the strength and will of a very fine force. It is not just an annual show of excellence that the city needs, but everyday efficiency and dutifulnes as well.

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