Drive in for contactless pandal-hopping this Durga puja
This Puja, Calcutta will get to experience drive-in darshan of the goddess.
Three pujas in a lane near the Rashbehari Avenue crossing have joined forces to offer an experience for which one would not have to get out of the safety of one’s car. The idol will be right on the streetside facing the street and one will simply have to slow down in front of the pandal, take a look and drive on.
Two of the three pujas figure among south Calcutta’s crowd-pullers — Badamtala Ashar Sangha and 66 Palli. A third along the lane — Kalighat Nepal Bhattacharjee Street Club — has been pulled in to complete the triad.
“This is the first time in the history of the city’s Durga puja that three pujas are coming together. Desperate times call for desperate measures. With social distancing being a mandatory safety norm, drive-in is the one way in which pandal-hopping can take place without jostling in the crowd,” said Sandip Chakraborty, the secretary of Badamtala Ashar Sangha.
The idea was mooted by New York-based businessman Mridul Pathak who has roots in the neighbourhood and whose non-profit outfit International Foundation for Sustainable Development (IFSD) has been involved with Durga Puja since the mid-90s.
Speaking to The Telegraph from Texas, he said: “The boys were crest-fallen at the uncertainty over organising Puja this year. So I called them together in a video conference in June. Here in the US, all shopping malls have started a drive-in counter whereby people pay online in advance and simply pick up their order from the counter without getting off the car.
“Even if things do not improve by October in Bengal, people will still go out by car. So I told them to make the pandal two-dimensional, cutting out the third dimension of depth which requires visitors to go closer to the idols. That way people can watch while simply driving by. Another lane can be kept for pedestrians. Traffic would be easier to control if all three pujas in the lane follow the same principle. This will reduce budget and yet allow each club to retain its autonomy.”
The drive-in concept is gaining ground across the world because of the zero-contact experience. Drive-in theatres, popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s, are making a comeback. Walmart, for instance, has announced transforming its parking lots at 160 stores across the US into drive-in theatres with customers having to sign up to reserve parking space. Each site usually has a pole with a speaker.
Bangalore has started one in July. Drive-in eateries are also starting, with two already in operation in the city — in New Town and Salt Lake.
“So why not drive-in Durga puja?” said Pathak. IFSD is facilitating a digital campaign to market the concept.
Badamtala already had Satyajit Ray in mind as the theme, given that this is the start of his centenary year. With three pujas on board, the Apu trilogy became a natural choice.
“Badamtala will portray Pather Panchali, we will do Aparajito while Kalighat Nepal Bhattacharjee Street Club will do Apur Sansar,” said Pradyumna Mukherjee, the general secretary of 66 Palli Sarbojanin.
He pointed out that the area is connected to the trilogy. “Bachan Singh, the owner of Bachan’s Dhaba on the main road, from where our drive-in route will start, used to be a taxi driver earlier. It was his duty to drive the young Subir Banerjee, who played Apu in Pather Panchali, to the shooting spot every day,” he said.
A second link is a scene in Aparajito where Apu is leaving the village after his mother’s death.
“When his great uncle asks why he was leaving without performing the last rites in the village, Apu replies that he would do it at the Kalighat temple, which is right next door to us,” Mukherjee added. The organisers have asked their theme maker duo, Eshika Chandra and Deep Das, to incorporate the scene in the pandal décor.
The worsening Covid-19 infection graph has kept all plans on tenterhooks. “We have only decided on an 11ft idol. How elaborately we can execute the theme will depend on the time we get once the government gives the go-ahead,” said Snehasish Maity, who is in charge of the Badamtala pandal.
Chakraborty plans some basic safety measures — a piped sanitising shower for the cars at the entry point, hand sanitisation and thermal check for pedestrians, and no stalls next to the pandal. “We want to dedicate the entire stretch to Ray. Food stalls, if any are allowed, will be booked in the lane between us and 66 Palli.”
Rabindra Bharati University (RBU) observed the 79th death anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore at the Jorasanko Thakurbari, the poet’s ancestral house, on Friday. A team of senior RBU officials paid tribute to the poet at the Nimtala crematorium, where he was cremated. The team then went to the Thakurbari and placed flowers in the rooms where the poet was born and breathed his last. The officials then garlanded the poet’s bust.
Since Tagore passed away in 1941, a programme remembering him would be held at the Thakurbari on this day. “The programme had to be cancelled this time because of the pandemic,” vice-chancellor Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury said.