Sunday, February 01, 2009

Saraswati Puja

Saraswati is the hindu goddess of knowledge and arts. We celebrate Saraswati puja every year, when on the fifth day after new moon in Spring. In West Bengal, Saraswati Puja is celebrated in many schools and homes, and its a nice sight seeing young men and women, dressed in pale yellow (which is traditionally the color of the season) hopping around in the Streets. This day has also been termed as the "Valentines's Day" of the bengalis, as relationships are often made on this day, in West Bengal.
Saraswati being a goddess of knowledge and arts, it is natural that it is celebrated in educational institutions and homes. What is alarming, is the rise of the 'barwari culture' in celebrating this puja, or for that matter, any Puja in the city.
To the un-initiated: 'barwari' literally means twelve friends, and traditionally people who did not have enough wealth to celebrate a festival on their own, used to pool their money and celebrate together. The concept is great, the problem is we have screwed it all up.

So what are my complaints:

  • The main goal of a barwari has been transgressed from its original intent to a mechanism of pomp-and-show

  • While there may be nothing wrong in showing off, the main complaint is that the money is extorted out of people in the neighbourhood, who have little (or no) part to play

  • A lot of money collected out of peace loving people in the neighbourhood, goes to the cost of buying booze, food for the people involved in the committee. I may be generalizing too much on this point, not all barwaris do this, but many do

  • In many cases, the money collected as subscription inflates the bank-balances of the members of the organizing committee

  • The number of barwari's have mushroomed to an unimaginable number. People are often forced to pay subscriptions to many

  • Most of the organizers have little (if at all any) to do with knowledge and art. They are often school drop-outs and their only artistic skill is to play music on a CD player

  • We bengali's love to avoid work at all costs. Consequently, the festivities drag on-and-on, much beyond the dates specified in the scriptures. This causes traffic disturbances, noise pollution, and makes life difficult for people who have to work.

To draw a conclusion: barwari puja's had started with a noble intent. We however have transgressed to satisfy our own goals. The political leaders add fuel to the fire, to hoodwink the people about the real problems of the city. And, to top it all, deliberate lack of empathy for other people, causes a lot of problems in getting their work done.


Diptorup said...

Of my entire life I have just spent around 1 year in a continuous stay in Kolkata. One of the most intriguing things I found during that sojourn was this concept of para pujo and para club culture. Points you have raised here are of course pertinent and mostly. However I believe some of these needs to be looked at with a broader societal perspective. Much of what you describes stems form the basic problems of unemployment and lack of career opportunities outside the "high-tech" boom brought in by the neo-liberal reforms. While not condoning hooliganism in an manner, from personal experience in places outside Kolkata, I confidently say that the sharp class divisions and the societal segregations seen in other places is to a some extent diffused here ( You would have scenarios where you and the housemaid working for you shopping from the same bazaar and visiting the same 'modi-r dokan' and then lining up for the same 'Durga Pujo panda’l - Try enacting these in Delhi) and the Para Clubs and there 'barwari pujos’ in vicinity of more upscale middle income society is a manifestation of the same spirit.

Diptorup said...

A point I take issue with is your broad categorization of Bengalis as “people who love to avoid work at all cost”. Not true.

This is the kind of generalist broadside we often here in bourgeoisie Bengali Society. Giving an Example – My father oft echoes similar sentiments (more colourfully usually) His perception is people become Hawkers because that is the easiest way of escape from hard work. “Kichu korte hobe na- jhuri neye boshe poro rasta te”. His prescription is to bulldoze them away so that we all have cleaner streets and can regale in our false sense of fulfillment of higher levels of comfort and civility. This is escapism at its best; I have a clean street in front of my home – so the whole city or the state or the country must also be clean. I can enjoy the fruits of consumerism so the whole country must also be sharing the same fruits. Exactly the same reasons so many of the high and mighty intelligentsia got peeved by those scheming Western Film makers who dare not show the bright side of India and can only show our “Slumdog Millionaires”.

Coming back to your point – Let’s go to Surat, the diamond-cutting capital of the world. Under semi-bonded labour conditions we would find the hardest working people, 90% of them are Bengali.

Let’s next wake up at pre-dawn and go and meet the farmer who is to till the land so that it produces three crops a year.

Next let’s take the first local back with women carrying farm produce from the suburb to our neighbourhood bazaar, which our “ma-mashi” can not do without but would fight to reduce the price by 50 paisa.

After that let’s go and meet the much-maligned street hawker. Who would work 14-15 hours shifts and bear the brunt of the street intersection pollution, pay half his income as bribes and protection money.

I can go on but I guess I would rest my case now.

Shubhra said...

Diptorup, I appreciate the time you spent in my blog, and your comments.
I agree with you regarding the fact that the class distinctions are diffused in Kolkata. Yes, that is the Kolkata spirit which may be missing in some other parts of India (Of course I have never stayed in any other cities in India to make a judgment, most of my understanding is from analysis of the hearsay from my friends, colleagues and wife.

I still stick to my point that we bengali's in general are work averse. I am not talking of the successful bengali people, who have migrated to rest of India, and the world. I personally have worked successfully for 3 years in Wall Street, and have come back, as I wanted to stay in my favorite city. And in my 9 year career I have seen many hard-working bengali's, but unfortunately that still does not represent the mass.

I am talking about the common bengali man. Just look at the shambles the civic facilities of Kolkata are in, the state of our public utilities. I have heard people saying that they prefer govt. jobs as you have to "work" in private sector. Look at the way laws and regulations are enforced (or un-enforced), the trade-unionism which stopped all progress in West Bengal not many years ago, the perception of bengali's in the eyes of the world, and of course behind every perception, there is a degree of truth!
Have you ever wondered why there are so many Bandh's in Kolkata, and why they are successful? If you observe, most bandh's are called on a Monday or Friday, to make it a long weekend?

Regarding your point of the hawkers: there has been a lot of attempt to rehabilitate these people in specially designed complexes, but the effort has been futile as they try to grab easy money by crouching on the streets, giving any hoot to the rules, and the inconvenience they are causing to others. They are strongly syndicated and revert to vandalism when there is a competitor. That is because they dont believe in competing fairly.
I don't want to comment about farming, but more than hard work, there are a lot of other factors involved, like allegiance to political parties, muscle power, et. al. ITC had a noble intention when they had their e-choupal project. They faced still resistances from the politically motivated people here, and did not venture out.
Women who carry farm fresh produce to sell in the markets where we haggle for 50 paisa ... that sounds very romantic. I don't think that represents realty. Vegetables are traded in the city by middlemen, who buy from the farmers and sell in the markets.

Don't get me wrong. I appreciate very much your concerns for the city and the people for the city. I am concerned in my own way, and I believe, if we take my observations, and criticisms constructively, and start working harder, all of us would benefit in the long run.

Anonymous said...

What do you expect when you celebrate and worship a "god" (statue) most of your people, especially the "educated", don't even believe in?

It's funny how Indians/Hindus are practically the only ones to still worship idols and believe in obvious mythology.

Europeans who go back to paganism (neo-pagans) are laughed at for following something which is obviously false. Following the same logic, Hindus should be laughed at too.

Haha, stupid Hindus.