Durga Puja is in two months, but CR Park is already abuzz with activity. You can feel the excitement as you enter the Kali Mandir complex, which is the nerve centre of the Capital’s ‘little Bengal’. One of the oldest Durga Puja pandals is put up at this temple. Preparations to welcome the goddess start in July. Currently, over 15 specialised artists are busy making Durga idols. Shops in Market Number 1 have started stocking puja items from Kolkata especially. One can find annual puja booklets at news stands.
HT South Delhi visited the area, which used to be a barren land with few houses and no facilities till 1970s. “Kolkata is 1,500km from Delhi, but in Chittaranjan Park, you don’t feel away from home,” said Amit Banerjee, K block resident. He is one of the residents who settled in 1973.
FROM EPDP COLONY TO CR PARK
In 1954, the EPDP Association (East Pakistan Displaced Persons’ Association) was formed by people from Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) who were displaced during Partition. A number of government officers from there who had migrated to the capital had demanded place for a residential neighbourhood. The allocation of plots was cleared by the then minister for rehabilitation Mehar Chand Khanna. In around 1968, they were allocated barren rocky area near Kalkaji which later became Chittaranjan Park.
The original layout had 2,000 odd plots, divided into 11 blocks, from A to K, along with a number of markets and cultural spaces. However, in the 1990s, 714 more displaced families were accommodated. This resulted in new blocks, called M, N, O, K-1, K-2, Pocket 40 (referred to as Navapalli), Pocket 52 (referred to as Dakhinpalli ) and Pocket-K. The construction was started in 1969-70 when the first house was built by PK Basu in B block.
The name of the colony was changed to Chittaranjan Park in 1972 in memory of Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das, a noted freedom fighter whose birth centenary was celebrated in the B-Block Puja Park on December 28, 1970. The celebration was attended by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
The ministry of rehabilitation started allotment of around 2,200 plots in 1968-69. There were three categories of plots -160, 233 and 320 square yards that were sold at Rs 30 per square yard. Hence, the total cost of land for each of these categories came to Rs 4,800, Rs 6,990 and Rs 9,600. The plots were allotted by a draw of lots. Initially, most of the houses were single storeyed built and the allottees took loan from the government.
ROCKY REGION TO ESTABLISHED COLONY
Earlier, the area was rocky, barren and uneven with wild shrubs and bushes growing all over. The area was hilly including the spot where Kali Mandir now stands. Bhaskar Roy, 60, block J resident, recalls when the construction of his house started in 1970, there were hardly five to 10 houses till then. He shifted in March 1971 when he was 15. Roy had to walk for 1.5km to catch the school bus. There were no markets, streetlights, shops or extensive public transport. Residents had to walk down to Kalkaji for basic needs.
“As there were no streetlights, snakes, scorpions and huge monitor lizards could be spotted in the colony. But what was great about that period was that there was a lot of brotherhood and bonding,” he said.
When Sreebash Bhattacharjee, currently the general secretary of Chittaranjan Park Bangiya Samaj,came to this colony in 1972, there were hardly around 80 houses. We had to fetch water in buckets from neighbours. We had to go to Kalkaji to catch the bus. Autos refused to enter the area,” said Bhattacharjee.
The colony expanded by the end of 1990s. During this period, Raisina Bengali Senior Secondary School opened and the local markets developed. Kali temple got more visitors. For entertainment, people went to Chandralok cinema, a single screen theatre that shut down more than a decade ago.
The first Durga Puja was held in October 1970 in the park near Market No. 1 by a handful of residents. “I attended the first Durga Puja with my parents. Eventually, more puja pandals came up. The budgets of these pujas now range from Rs 50 lakh to R 1.5 crore,” said Roy.
After Durga Puja, Poush Mela is most popular event on every Bengali’s calendar here. It is a three- day festival during which folk artistes perform live. Traditional Bengali food prepared by homemakers who get an opportunity to showcase their culinary skills is relished by all.
“Poush mela is held every year to mark the harvest season. It originated in Shantiniketan, West Bengal and it was nurtured by Rabindranath Tagore. Food is the major attraction. There are different types of sweet rice like patishapta and puli pithe. Bengali cuisine is incomplete without shukto, a mishmash of vegetables and shutki, dry fish,” said Bhattacharjee.
Another significant festival is Poila Boishakh or the Bengali New Year that falls in April during which shopkeepers start new account books. It is popularly known as ‘Hal Khata’. The symbol of swastika is drawn on the opening page of the book (a register). Many shop owners also print and distribute calendars with images of goddesses. Music and dance performances are conducted a few days before the beginning of new year.
FAITH, FISH AND CLASSICS
The grand Kali Mandir complex came up in 1973. The temples of goddess Kali, Shiva and Radha-Krishna came up from 1985 onwards. Apart from being the most important venue for cultural programmes, art and craft exhibitions are also organised here. Lakhs of devotees visit the temple complex during Durga Puja.
“Sculptors and idol makers are especially called from Kolkata to make Durga idols every year at Kali Mandir. Many of us have been making Durga idols since childhood. We start preparations months in advance to finish the idols in time,” said Govind Nath, the main sculptor of Kali Mandir.
There are four markets in CR Park that are popular for fish and Bengali sweets. Market Number 1 that has the famous fish market came up in 1973-74. Markets 2, 3 and 4 followed soon. Fish sellers came from South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal in the mid 70s and set up their shops in small shacks. Now a pucca market has been developed, which sells a wide range of fresh fish.
Dried fish is also available. Bombay Duck from the coastal areas of Mumbai are also sold here. These fish are salted and dried in the sun.
BENGALI BOOKS AND NEWSPAPERS
The regional libraries in CR Park have not only managed to stand the test of time, but have also forced Bengali readers to come out of their homes. From works of Rabindranath Tagore, Bimal Mitra and Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay to modern littérateurs like Narayan Sanyal and Ashutosh Mukhopadhyay, thousands of such books are available in three popular libraries in Chittaranjan Park. Inside the complex of Kali Mandir is an old library which is loved by all. A major attraction for the visitors is the spacious reading room, where people can be seen reading Bengali dailies and weekly magazines between 5pm and 8pm.
Another library is being run by Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Memorial Society which houses many rare books, some of which are more than 100 years old. These books have been collected over the years; while some were donated by the readers and community members, many books were brought from Kolkata.
Another popular library is in the complex of Chittaranjan Park Bangiya Samaj. Thousands of Bengali books can be found here and it is frequented by locals every evening.
A couple of book stalls in the local market sell Bengali newspapers such as Anandabazar, Bartaman Patrika, Aajkaal, and Ganashakti. Every Bengali newspaper that is published in West Bengal is made available to south Delhi readers by evening.