MY KOLKATA EDUGRAPH
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regular-article-logo Saturday, 18 May 2024

Theme think

GINGERLY YOURS || I also want to suggest the theme of the footpath — very few things are as marginalised. It is a fate it cannot escape. In Calcutta, in addition, it is encroached upon and broken

Chandrima S. Bhattacharya Published 27.10.23, 05:49 AM
At pandal after pandal, I saw only selfie sticks. At one pandal, I actually could see a consul-general.

At pandal after pandal, I saw only selfie sticks. At one pandal, I actually could see a consul-general. File Photo

I want to suggest a few themes for Durga Puja next year. First, the Calcutta fish fry. This theme, a note in English near the entrance of the pandal will inform, re­p­resents the socio-cultural construction of an iconic food item as a dominant metaphor for the Bengali people, weaving a narrative of inclusiveness, from bhetki to basa to bhola, transcending class, yet affirming difference. The English must be PhD level.

The pandal will give shape to this narrative with the help of an aesthetic which will be contemporary, classic, ethnic Bengali everything. We have to understand the composite nature of the Bengali cultural identity; it integrates metaphor with metaphor. So it includes the fish fry, but does not exclude much else. Much of muchness, or of maachhness, whichever way you look at it — and I am so happy to come up with a bilingual pun.

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Terracotta tiles, resembling fish fries, will panel the inside of the pandal. A large number of kulos (winnowing fans made of bamboo strips) will be stuck on the terracotta wall, painted with fish fries in the traditional alpana and pat styles. When you look up, you will see many many haat pakhas (handheld palm-leaf fans) trimmed with red ribbons, also painted with fish fries. You may spot a few brightly-painted, wooden Burdwan owls. The beauty of Bengali folk crafts now is that they seem to appear all together, never alone, and look slightly gentrified, a pre-requisite for their entry into drawing rooms and puja pandals. The idol will be dokra; its backdrop will be a large terracotta rect­angle with an intricate, uneven surface — the bread-crumbed look. The goddess’ children, though gods themselves, will be tiny and crawl at her feet, so as not to distract attention from her. She is art. Given her height, high art.

Through this theme, we will send out the message that metaphors travel. The fish fry has taken off from the edges of our colonial past to land straight into the heart of Calcutta now, which may be a little confusing, but certainly fascinating. By the way, we also must remember that the fish fry is not fried fish, having decolonised itself at an early moment of its history by suppressing the original flavour entirely with Bengali spices.

The second theme on my mind is Digene, and not just because the fish fry suggests it. Digene is resorted to by countless members of this race every day, especially during occasions, to counter indigestion and acidity. Manifest as bawdh hajam, ambal and chnoa dhe­k­ur (the rotten-egg-smell burp that steals up from deep inside without a warning and almost strangles you, is very special to Bengalis), they have been within us for so long that they are a cultural register by themselves, with Digene, which is an institution, ready to be converted into a pandal. Cases of Bengalis having OD’d on Digene are not unknown. I already see in my mind’s eye a resplendent pink pandal rising, smelling of mint, and the rest I leave to the organisers’ imagination. And yours.

I also want to suggest the theme of the footpath — very few things are as marginalised. It is a fate it cannot escape. In Calcutta, in addition, it is encroached upon and broken. At the pandal, the footpath will be reclaimed as the main road and Jibanananda Das’s poem, “Footpathey” will play in the background in a loop: “Kolkatar footpath theke footpathe — footpath theke footpathe…” Tragedies make very good themes, too. I recommend Marichjhanpi, which is relatively unexplored still. It will be very picturesque. I could suggest many more themes, but I am running out of space.

I have one request for future organisers. If you set up all this, kindly also arrange for more viewing time at the pandal and stop your volunteers from chasing viewers out. Also, please organise selfie corners away from the idol. At pandal after pandal, I saw only selfie sticks. At one pandal, I actually could see a consul-general.

Wonder what the goddess sees.

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