The devil spares no one and Phailin seems no less a monster than the mythical Mahishasura.
On Saturday morning, the signs of an impending disaster were starkly visible across Odisha. Deserted pandals and an eerie silence pervading the lanes of Cuttack, famous for its unique Durga Puja celebrations, bear testimony to the fear of a monstrous cyclone lashing Odisha. As heavy rain started inundating various parts of the state from Friday evening, an overcast sky since on Saturday morning threatened to mar the puja celebrations in neighbouring West Bengal as well.
“The pandals remained deserted on Saptami (Friday) and ashtami (Saturday). People are forced to remain indoors and stock up ration preparing for a calamity and praying so that it does not befall them. Where is the question of celebrations under such conditions,” said Sanjay Satpathy, a government employee.
More than 100 community pujas are celebrated across Bhubaneswar. Cuttack, the main commercial hub of Odisha, marks the biggest Durga Puja celebrations in the state. An incessant monologue of rain, however, has dampened the revelries this year.
“This puja has turned out to be a huge loss. Every year, puja gives us an opportunity to make good money, but this time the income has vanished with the crowds,” rued Maguni Raut, a food stall owner. Puja is celebrated in more than 200 different venues across Cuttack.
“It has never been so bad. Pujas have been never marred by natural calamities. Even the super cyclone (1999) happened after the pujas,” he added.
Several hundred kilometres away, Kolkata, too, looked grim and desolate.
The sky has been overcast since Saturday morning with puja organisers ruing the submission of the goddess to the impending cyclone.
Puja revelry reaches a crescendo in Kolkata every year, but this year it’s a different story. A depression over the Bay of Bengal that has sent torrential rains to the city and its suburbs on Tritiya, Chaturthi, and Panchami days forced many to skip puja shopping and instead rush to store food items and essentials. The dense cloud cover lifted slightly on Sasthi, followed by sunshine on Saptami. But from Ashtami the mood has again turned sombre with an overcast sky that clouded the moods of millions on Saturday.
“We are all worried about the cyclone alert. All we can hope is that it does not rain too much here,” said Debasish Kumar, member, mayor-in-council, Kolkata Municipal Corporation, and president of Tridhara Sammilani, one of the famous puja committees in the city.
Over the past two days, Howrah Station, which serves as the gateway to lakhs of Bengalis who flock to Odisha sea beaches such as Puri, Gopalpur and Chandipur every year and especially at this time of the year, was a scene of desolation. Throughout the day, hundreds of tourists could be seen returning from these favourite spots after cutting short their holidays.
Predictably, all of them were in bad mood and sulking at an invisible enemy.
“We go to Puri regularly. Puri packs all three – Durga Puja, Lord Jagannath and the sea. Never did we have to come back half way through the trip,” said Niranjan Bhattacharya, a retired school teacher as he deboarded a train on Astami morning at the station.
A huge number of tourists from Bengal were sent back from Odisha on Friday itself following cyclone alerts. A high alert has been sounded in tourist spots in Bengal as well. Both fishermen and tourists have been advised not to venture out into the sea in places like Digha.