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Akal Bodhon Amidst a Global Pandemic

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Durga Pujo in the city of Kolkata, is celebrated in a completely different way when compared to the rest of the county. It is popularly known as the biggest street festival of India. However, the vigour of the festivities this year is probably going to be different in the wake of the global pandemic and the spread of novel Corona Virus. The first Covid-19 case in the city was reported in March 2020. Since then, the number of cases has only increased. The deadly pandemic that has claimed over 1.6 million lives worldwide, 106 thousand Indian lives and over 5000 lives in the state of West Bengal, has become a cause of dread for the city’s population, as the dates for Bengal’s biggest festival draws near.

The economy of the country too has suffered large losses. A humanitarian crisis added to the muted policy response coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic has brutally exposed and worsened existing vulnerabilities in the Indian economy. India’s GDP contraction was worse than any of the world’s biggest economies. Apart from China, most of the major economies witnessed GDP contraction in the April-June quarter of 2020, but India suffered the steepest quarterly decline. Many people have been rendered unemployed and businesses in almost all sectors have suffered huge losses due to the lockdown.

Usually, the multi-cultural population of the city, starts shopping for clothes, jewellery, gifts and so on, in preparation of this once-a-year celebration of the multi-event weeklong festival, months in advance and the popular shopping hotspots of the city gets flooded with enthusiastic customers. This year,surprisingly, the fear of the pandemic as well as the economic downslide seem to have taken back seat, as a surge in footfall around the most popular market places like New Market, Gariahaat, Hathibagan and various malls is vividly noticed. People are seen flocking in large crowds to gear up for their favourite festival of Durga Pujo, with multiple shopping bags in hand and their faces adorned with protective masks.

Durga Pujo has evolved beyond the boundaries of rituals and cultural tradition in Kolkata and other parts of West Bengal with the passage of time. The Bengali community, famous for their happening lifestyle, have been enlivening Durga Pujo with their artistic expressions in the most wondrous ways since its inception. The celebration of Durga Pujo in Kolkata has now turned into a multi-event grand festival that celebrates everything that makes human life joyous. This colourful festival celebrates faith, relationship, art, food, love, music, talent, freedom, dream, history, creativity, science and a way of living in the most exotic way possible. This year too, with the commencement of the unlocking process almost after five months of being homebound amidst the nation-wide lockdown, people seem to be more enthusiastic than ever, to revel in the festivities. The Chief Minister of the state, Mamata Banerjee has advised committees to construct open air marquees in order to ensure better ventilation, so that the revellers are able to catch a glimpse of the idols from a safe distance along with other safety measures.

A drastic increase in Covid-19 cases were observed in the Southern part of the country celebrating the festival of Onam during the month of September. Apparently, the state had taken all necessary precautions and advised the citizens to limit the festivities to indoor celebrations. Yet, a shocking 126% increase in cases was reported as an aftermath of Onam.

It is in fact funny to think of people dancing to the beats of ‘dhaak’ with masks covering their smiles and gloved hands holding the ‘dhunuchi.’ From the looks of it as of now, threat of the deadly virus is no obstruction in the fourth most populated city’s way for celebrating Durga Pujo (at least for shopping in preparation of it), but to think of the consequences would mean a spike in the sales of anxiety medication.