Low Budget, Loss of Work – A Sombre Durga Pujo in Bengal’s Nadia
Pandal makers’ livelihood has been hit.
Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam
Video Producer: Aliza Noor
Ahead of Durga Puja, from 22 October, many concerns have been raised around following COVID-19 protocols – like social distancing and wearing masks. In West Bengal’s Nadia district, celebrations are looking very different this year.
This time, the Pujo celebrations are not just sober, they also have gravely affected the livelihood of a lot of these workers, who work on the pandals every year.
Sailen Biswas, a pandal maker, said: “Pandal-making is the only work we have throughout the year. This is my only livelihood.”
Like him, pandal workers are having to make do with whatever little they can earn amid a pandemic. I visited a pandal near my hometown and spoke to workers about how Pujo 2020 is different.
‘Surviving on Meagre Earnings’
Biswas, who has been working on pandals for 25 years, says he is working on five pandals this time. Their commission has also gone down as compared to last year.
“For us, it has decreased a lot. We are coordinating with our boss and labourers, and adjusting with them for this year’s work. We are anyway taking Rs 50 less per day.”Sailen Biswas, Pandal maker
A tea seller, whose business usually picks up around this time, has also gone down. Usha Devi said she is not getting any orders but is somehow trying to make ends meet.
“This year’s Pujo is not as glorious as previous year’s. So, there are only a few customers. We are surviving with whatever little we have,” says Devi.
Kamal Chandra Saha, part of the cleaning and maintenance staff said, “The problem is that there is no work. My sons are also sitting idly at home. They are trying to do something. I am doing whatever I can. Whatever work I used to do before, none of that is happening right now. I used to work as a cook, even that work is off.”
Less Grandeur, More Focus on Precautions
Biswas stated that, according to the guidelines, they must wear a mask, use sanitizers and maintain social distancing. Hence, they are trying to follow the same and the focus is on safety this year.
Similarly, Binoy Prasad, an electrician who has worked on these pandals for years, explains the decrease in the budget and the subsequent effect on their work.
He said that their budget used to be Rs 30,000-40,000 per pandal but it has come down by nearly 20 to 30 percent. He also noted some important changes, besides the budget cut.
“This year, the government has said that we have to make open pandals, so the number of lights/chandeliers we put up, generally, has come down.”Binoy Prasad, Electrician
He continued to tell me that, in previous years, themed pandals left more scope for him to prove raw materials but this time, he is having to keep everything simple. Prasad also noted they have a contract with the Pujo committees and they don't get any funds from the government.
Keeping in mind the pandemic situation, the secretary of the Pujo Planning Committee, Hairjit Das, stated that a lot of people did not want the Pujo because of the same.
“Our honourable Chief Minister is saying that Pujo should happen, as it is an important festival for Bengalis. So, keeping her words in mind, not only Kalyani but the entire West Bengal, even Bengalis staying away from the country, are celebrating Pujo.”Harijit Das, Committee Secretary
The contributions are a lot less than the previous year, DK Ghosh, president of the committee, tells me, adding that contributions from people have gone down too. Thereby, they had to cut down on a lot of things.
“The ritual of worshipping the goddess has to be followed, and only that will be done in full scale. Other than that, everything else has been curtailed,” he said.
However, an important thing to be proud of is that contributions from people of all faiths make this pujo special nonetheless.
“There is a diversity of people here, Hindus, Muslims, Christians... and everyone is cooperating with us and they have all contributed.”
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