Sunday, September 25, 2011

If I could be there...

Only a few days to go… the streets of Kolkata would already be blocked with half finished pandals… there would be a new smell in the air, a change in the forms of clouds in the sky, even the sun would be shining differently, the streets, the malls and the shops would all be packed with people who are out on a shopping spree… Esplanade, New Market, Gariahat, South City Mall, all would be chock-a-block… ride out of the city and one would find the horizon filled with white “kash”… it seems everything about this city at this point, from the air to the streets people walk on, is indicating towards one big marathon celebration that is about to begin… the ceremonial worship of our mother goddess – the Durga Puja…

Though Durga Puja, one of the most important festivals of the Hindus, is celebrated with much gaiety and grandeur all over India and abroad, it gets a different meaning altogether when you are in West Bengal. Durga Puja is almost synonymous with the state of Bengal. When you speak of Bengal you will have to mention Durga Puja and when you mention Durga Puja you cannot escape thinking about West Bengal and precisely Kolkata. During these few days of the Pujas the whole of West Bengal seems to be pulsating with the celebration. During these days when you are in Bengal, you can see Durga Puja, smell it, feel it in your heart, and even you can eat “Durga puja”!

The rituals of Durga Puja entail ten days of fast, feast and worship; however, the last four days - Saptami, Ashtami, Navami and Dashami - are celebrated with much grandeur. However, the puja mood starts off from Mahalaya, specifically with “Mahishasurmardini”, a two-hour radio program.  While earlier it used to be conducted live, later a recorded version began to be broadcast. On this day probably the whole of Bengal wakes up by 4’o clock in the morning to listen to the enchanting voice of the late Birendra Krishna Bhadra and the late Pankaj Kumar Mullick on All India Radio as they recite hymns from the scriptures from the Devi Mahatmyam (Chandi Path).

Durga Puja is celebrated every year in the Hindu month of Ashwin (September-October) and commemorates Prince Rama's invocation of the goddess before going to war with the demon king Ravana. This autumnal ritual is also known as 'akal-bodhan' or out-of-season ('akal') worship ('bodhan'). It was Lord Rama, who first worshipped Devi Durga by offering 108 blue lotuses and lighting 108 lamps, at this time of the year. The actual worship of Goddess Durga according to the Hindu scriptures falls in the month of Chaitra which roughly overlaps with March or April. This ceremony is however not observed by many and is restricted to a handful in the state of West Bengal. Durga Puja was popular in Bengal in the medieval period, in the late 1500s. It is said that the landlords or zamindar of Dinajpur and Malda initiated the first Durga Puja in Bengal. Again acccording to another source, Raja Kangshanarayan of Taherpur or Bhabananda Mazumdar of Nadiya organized the first Sharadiya or Autumn Durga Puja in Bengal.

So with this long a history of celebrating this festival one can rightly say that to feel the real essence of Durga Puja one has to be in Bengal. The celebration in Kolkata becomes equivalent to the Rio Carnival of Brazil. Having grown up amidst this celebration now when I’m away from it for the first time, it feels a part of me is missing. I’ll miss those thousands of pandals  all clamoring for attention and admiration. I’ll miss the streets that would look so different when adorned with lights. I’ll miss the crowd, the pandal-hopping, the road-side food stalls, the phuchkkas…  I’ll miss the 24 hours mad carnival. All these years when I was a part of it I never thought I would miss it so much. I always wanted to go out on tours during the pujas but somehow I never did. But now when am away from it I want to go back!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

India: A Decade after 9/11

7th September, 2011… terror has revisited the country yet again and this time it has struck the national capital. It has not been long when the country was just been recovering from the lashes of terror attacks at the business capital of our nation, Mumbai on 13th July, 2001, when several bomb blasts tore the state apart. These are not the only ones. There have been several such attacks on the country in the last few years proving the countries ‘extremely laid-back security culture’. Delhi and Mumbai has most of the time been the prime target of these people. They have always managed to take advantage of the country’s weak security measure and have struck again and again. The government has failed time and again to curb terrorism in our country proving its incompetence in providing a secured life to its people. This is quite shameful as probably India remains the world’s only major democratic country which these terrorists can attack anytime, anywhere and every time they leave the security police clueless. And the government’s attitude towards these issues aren’t of much help as every time they end up politicizing the issues and at times they even restore to blame game. For instance the recent Delhi High Court bombing has become the ground for political slanging match with the opposition BJP party blaming the government for failing to check terrorism and a string of unsolved cases and the home minister P. Chidambaram accusing that one such case was with BJP ruled Karnataka.

The most horrific of the terror attacks would probably be the 9/11 incident when the self-proclaimed super power nation, USA was brought down to rubbles.  After this incident neither America nor the world has been the same again… Today ten years down the line there hasn’t been a single terror attack in the US. We can say the same with Western Europe where several terror strikes have been thwarted in the recent times. However, sadly enough same cannot be said with India. Our country has been hit repeatedly in the past few years. It has been a decade since 9/11 and India has more than ten major terror attacks and America had none. Why? Let alone eradicating terrorism completely or even reducing it, we have severely failed to even solve most of the past cases.

There can be several reasons for our government’s failure to curb terrorism - the extremely laid-back attitude of security agencies, its lack of quality intelligence and forensic capabilities. After almost every attack the intelligence department proves its incompetence particularly in connecting the obvious dots to get down to any accurate conclusion. The forensic department is yet another example of incompetency, for instance they are stupid enough not to use hand gloves while collecting evidences from the sites and thus themselves destroying the evidences, and supposedly they have no clue about what they are doing. Again, the media also plays a big role. Today, the 24X7 news channel’s era has rather worked in favor of the attackers. Today in their competition to provide the most amount of updated information to the citizens and eventually acquiring the highest TRPs, these channels end up providing valuable information to the terror groups which they can use in their own favor and in turn confuse the already confused security department of our country.

Lastly, the attitudes of the citizens are also of not much help to the movement of anti-terrorism. There is only a stir in us at the time of such incidents which eventually dies out with time. People have this attitude of forgetting and moving on. People get irritated when they are subjected to security surveillance; they get jittery if they are frisked at the public out lets during security checks. People need to participate more to drive out terrorism. People are reluctant to question the State and its agencies. Though the government has failed time and again we the people are also responsible to a certain extent.

Though the future of our national security does not seem too bright as yet, but there is realization and people have started taking stands. After the recent Delhi high court blast Prime Minister Manmohan Singh observed that “there are weaknesses in our system, we must work hard to plug the weaknesses”. Hopefully these realizations would bring in some positive results. Our country has made tremendous progress in various fields and is counted among the powerful nations worldwide, but deep within it is terribly messed up. It would take a lot of effort to clear up the mess. We should be hopeful that we will come out of it but we should also be prudent enough to realize that this is take a lot of time and effort.