In a narrow Kolkata bylane, a group of poor children play host to city’s smallest Durga Puja
These are children whose parents were once migrant workers and have lost their jobs because of the Covid-19 pandemic, children from remote villages of rural Bengal whose families have been hit hard by Cyclone Amphan, children of sex workers from Asia’s biggest red-light area and children from a local slum.Updated: Oct 18, 2020, 01:06 IST
Durga Puja – the biggest annual festival of the Bengalis – begins next week and 14-year-old Sneha Mondol is too busy now-a-days to find time to sleep and eat. The 1.5 feet high idol of Goddess Durga, which she and her friends have made, is almost complete and the children just need to give a few final touches before they take it to Kolkata on Sunday.
“We are all so excited. On Sunday we will be going to Kolkata for the first time with the idol. Everything is set and a car has been hired which will take us to Kolkata and bring us back by evening,” said Mondol, a resident of Bhandarkhali, a remote village in North 24 Parganas, around 80 km east of Kolkata.
While the focus will be on the biggest Durga Puja pandals in Kolkata, a group of poor children will be organising a Durga Puja in a narrow bylane in south Kolkata, perhaps the smallest puja in the city.
These are children whose parents were once migrant workers and have lost their jobs because of the Covid-19 pandemic, children from remote villages of rural Bengal whose families have been hit hard by Cyclone Amphan, children of sex workers from Asia’s biggest red-light area and children from a local slum.
Mondol’s father, Dibakar, used to work as a carpenter at Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh earning around Rs 15,000 per month. But he had to return home during the pandemic and is now almost jobless.
The idol is being made by Mondol and her friends at Bhandarjhali village, while another group of children in Mathurapur village in south Bengal is busy making the decorations with sholapith. Every day they work for two to three hours in the afternoon to complete the job. It is almost done.
“We are making all kinds of flowers – rose, lotus and lily among others - with sholapith. We are also making various designs in which small fairy lights would be tied. These would decorate the pandal where the puja would be done,” said eight-year-old Teesha Purkait.
The simple pandal, a cubicle measuring four feet on all sides, made out of bamboo sticks is being made by a group of children whose mothers work as sex workers at Sonagachi, touted to be the oldest and largest red-light area in India. Children living in a local slum are assisting them to decorate it with face-masks, empty sanitizer bottles and face shields.
A couple – Swaguna Mukherjee and Joydeep Mukherjee – who run a NGO to promote Indian art and culture is behind this initiative. The Mukherjees identified the qualities of these children during their trips to the villages and brought them together on one platform. The children are being guided in idol making and sholapith work by craftsmen in their villages.
“We have been providing relief to the villagers and needy people in the city, including slums dwellers and sex workers during the pandemic and in the aftermath of Cyclone Amphan. It is then that we came across these children. The idea of organizing a Durga Puja with these children was taken lately,” said Swaguna Mukherjee.
A girl who earns her living by singing on the roads in the heart of Kolkata will be the sole performer of this puja.
Mondol and her friends will be visiting Kolkata with the idol to set up the pandal and the idol inside it. Purkait, on the other hand along with her friends will arrive in the city to fit the sholapith lights and decorations on October 21, the day of Panchami. The annual festival starts on October 23.
While the budget of the city’s mega pujas run into several lakh rupees and has even got grants from the state government, the puja organized by Mondol and Purkait along with their friends has a budget of less than Rs 10,000 which is being donated by the couple.
“Please come and see our puja,” Purkait signed off.