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Everything same, except Rs 825 bill

New Delhi, Sept. 27: Almost nothing has changed at the Kashmere Gate puja since it started a century ago, when Tagore was yet to win the Nobel, Gandhi was a South African lawyer and Einstein was still working on general relativity.

Except for one thing.

Proof of that change is displayed proudly to the right of the pandal in the puja’s centenary year, almost vying with the deity for attraction.

It’s the original bill of expenses from the first puja, held in 1910. The old, yellow sheet of paper, torn at the edges, has been laminated and pinned to a board for everyone to see.

It tells you that the four families and local railway workers who started the puja a year before Mohun Bagan won its first IFA shield spent just Rs 825. Today, it won’t buy the sugar for the bhog.

This year the puja, which draws an average of 5,000 people a day, cost Rs 20 lakh.

The old bill, scrawled in Bengali, says the idol cost Rs 94; this year’s came at Rs 1 lakh. The 1910 committee spent Rs 30 on cultural programmes spread over five days; this year’s forked out Rs 4 lakh for the plays and classical dance shows it staged. The pandal with its 20ft-high gate cost Rs 4.5 lakh; the lights and the sound system Rs 1.5 lakh.

“Times have changed but the way we do our puja has remained the same. We need to spend a big sum on the cultural programmes because we bring in artistes from outside Delhi,” said vice-president Dipayan Mazumdar, who has been part of the puja for half a century.

The organisers said the 1950 puja committee was throwing away old papers when it discovered the 1910 bill of expenses inside a file. Someone had the presence of mind to preserve it. The sheet is being displayed for the first time this year.

It shows the original committee had managed to save Rs 75 — it had a budget of Rs 902. Of this, Rs 201 was raised as the usual chanda and Rs 701 came as “donation” from wealthy well-wishers, Mazumdar says. Even now, he claims, the bulk of the puja funds comes from “donations”.

In some ways, the puja has had to change in order to resist change. For instance, it’s no longer a para (neighbourhood) puja. The reason is, the composition of the organising committee has remained the same for a century: the current members are descendants of those who launched the puja.

But over the generations, many of them have left the locality. So, they check into local guesthouses for the five days of the puja to stay close to their pandal.

“The present generation of the committee is scattered across the city, yet they are committed to the puja because a hundred years ago their grandfathers and great-grandfathers had made a pledge in a small Kalibari in old Delhi’s Roshanpura,” Mazumdar said.

“It’s part of our heritage. Our children are now being groomed to take over; it’s a nice feeling,” said Amitava Chakravarty, who has not missed a single puja in the past 40 years.

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