The Bangalore connection

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  • Published 5.10.08
Illustration by Sumon Choudhury

For Arnab Roy, head of engineering at telecom equipment company Tejas Networks, Bangalore was the place to be in for his career. Moving to the IT city in 1995, he quickly integrated into its professional and cultural life — with one exception. He still pined for home at that time of the year when the dhaaks beat out their insistent rhythm and the smell of egg rolls is redolent in the air.

With most unofficial estimates pegging Bangalore’s Bengali population at 3,00,000 and growing, it was perhaps inevitable that this most Bengali of festivals would soon grow bigger. This year, Bangalore will boast of 32 Puja celebrations conducted by various associations.

One of these is the Bengalee Association, the oldest such group in the city with 58 years of organising Bangalore’s definitive (and still its biggest) Durga Puja under its belt. The association’s members have seen the city’s Bengali population change from a handful of PSU workers, army folks and scientists at the Indian Institute of Science to the deluge that started with the IT boom.

It’s not just the number of Pujas that has gone up but also the money that goes into them. This year, the Bengalee Association has a budget of Rs 40 lakh and the Koramangala puja — in what is but its fifth year of existence — expects to spend between Rs 20 lakh and Rs 25 lakh. While the former sees more than 1,00,000 visitors spread over the five days, the latter gets between Rs 5,000 and 7,000 a day.

Today, Durga Puja features as prominently on the festival calendar of Bangalore as Ganesh Chaturthi or Ugadi, the Kannada new year. “We have many non-Bengalis visiting the pandal, offering pushpanjali and eating bhog. In fact, our pratima (idol) is donated by a Gujarati businessman,” says veteran journalist Dilip Maitra, a member of the Bengalee Association core group.

Says Shamik Das, CEO (South) of Airtel Telemedia Services: “This festival has integrated into the mainstream of Bangalore’s cultural life.” Das likens the Pujas to the annual Bangalore Hubba, a cultural and artistic festival that draws huge crowds.

Which is why Airtel will ‘participate’ in two of the major Pujas — one organised by Bengalee Association, and the other in IT hub Brookfield near Whitefield, a comparatively newbie Puja that has gained prominence in the four years since its inception.

This could have something to do with its members, mostly young IT-wallahs, who run a Puja with the same professionalism as an IT company. “The corporate culture has definitely seeped into our association,” says Debgiri Sanyal, head of publicity at the Purba Bangalore Cultural Association that organises this.

UB is spending close to Rs 4 lakhs on funding these events, says Alok Basu, a UB group VP, closely associated with the Koramangala Puja. “These Pujas are a meeting ground for young people, many from the IT, banking and other sectors, who form the cream of Bangalore. That’s why UB gets involved in a major way,” says Basu.

The average Bengali in Bangalore is successful and affluent — and this goes a long way towards giving the Pujas a higher profile. Much like NRIs in the US, most middle-class Bengalis who migrated here in the last decade have met with success and have large disposable incomes — a desirable target audience for advertisers, points out Ranjon Ghoshal, a veteran Bangalorean who runs advertising agency Mareech and theatre outfit Forum-Three.

As for the best Puja in Bangalore, Ghoshal’s vote would go to the 54-year-old Jayamahal Puja, the second oldest after Bengalee Association’s, which retains an old-world charm and a home-grown flavour. “We retain the close-knit atmosphere that’s all but disappeared from Calcutta Pujas,” says Himadri Nandi, MD and founder of MRO-Tek who doubles as secretary of the Jayamahal Durga Puja Samiti.

But with the Bengali community in the city becoming stronger, these old-timers also plan to update themselves with cultural events through the year. They have also started a quarterly newsletter distributed at Bengali-rich locations like K.C. Das and numerous new Bengali restaurants.

Talking of which, food is as integral a part of the celebrations here as any in Calcutta. High-end Bangalore restaurants such as Barbeque Nation, Roomali With a View, Flambe, 6 Ballygunge Place and Bay of Bengal pitch their tents on assorted puja grounds, assuring not just a chicken roll on the go but almost a gourmet meal.

So this pujo, if you need a change from the heat and crowds of Calcutta Pujas, or are feeling tired just thinking about waiting in line to get a glimpse of the Dark Knight-themed pandal, or if Maddox Square is just not doing it for you any longer, you know what to do! Just hop on a plane and head to Banglalore.