Monday, October 11, 2010

Of the 'Puja' Magic...and things like that!!

As I was going back home last week, sitting beside the driver in an auto,it rained cats and dogs.The driver grumbled and said. "The rains have no business spoiling the pujas for us at the last minute, look at all those shoppers, they wait all year just for these five days of happiness, and now the rains are spoiling the fun..I will just pray that the pujas aren't disrupted." His true feelings made me feel for him, and as I looked around I found out that these were the very sentiments shared by almost all the people in the city,as they scurried for cover in the maddening rain.Turns out, the Gods did listen to him and sunny days are back again.That little interaction though,made me relive my own association with the Durga Pujas as well.Though am not a Bengali,and am no expert as to what rituals are followed on those five auspicious days, but am as much attached to the pujas as anyone else is, for my very own reasons.And its for the very reason that I write this, for am sure all my Bengali friends already know a lot about the pujas and its history,and am certain it would be of interest to them to hear the other side of the story, i.e; on how a non-bengali looks at the grandeur of the pujas.

When I was in school,the coming of the pujas meant an extended holidays running up-to Diwali, so naturally it would be awaited with great anticipation.But more than anything else,the first thing that comes to my mind whenever I think of durga puja and my childhood, is Lights.I still remember quite vividly,how excited I would be to see those light bulbs being strung across our whole locality.Those little shinning bulbs would mark the actual arrival of the pujas for me.And then there would be famous figures(Like Rabindranath Tagore) and famous events(like the WTC attack), which would be made out skillfully with small bulbs, making for an excellent viewing.Then of course there where those larger than life hoardings decorating the pavements, screaming out things like "Bantuli tel"and "Chandralok chnaachur" and what not.And how can I forget the soulful rhythms of the 'Dhaak', it still makes me tap my feet instantly,(more than any Dj can) and truly takes you to another world. I have to admit here that,spending a good part of my life in the lanes of Shovabazar, did help me get accustomed to the pulse of Durga puja, what with famous pandals of Banyatola and Ahiritola nearby, virtually the whole of Bengal would throng to have a look at them.Which brings me to another fond memory.My pujas in those days would be mostly spent sitting at the corner of my balcony and gazing at all the different kinds of people passing by.Trust me, its an experience in itself to look at the different antiques of people.You could sense their excitement.Some would come out with the most atrocious and vivid clothes, some children would be crying hoarse,while girls as usual would be giggling madly, and the elderly would quietly trot along,holding their grandchildren with firm hands.It would be such a large and striking canvas, no painter can ever put it in his paintings.

The other miscellaneous aspects that comes to mind is of course the loud,blaring music outside every pandal.Songs like "Tum to tehere Pardesi", " Dekha hai pehli baar", were the order of the day, and I must admit they did sore my eardrums and made me hate Kumar Sanu for no particular fault of his.And then there were those never ending announcements in extremely broken Hindi, for all the "Bapi da s" and 'pontu s",who kept getting lost in the crowd.It would keep up the amusement all night and not to mention with it my sleep too.
And then came the pandal hopping itself.Now I can go on and on that but I know that most of the people who will read this already are accustomed to the magnanimous proportions the pandals and the lighting take the city to.So keeping the astounding creativity aside, what I loved most was holding my father's warm hands and strolling around the crowd, eating all those street side food without any guilt, looking at so many different faces, and just soaking in the "Puja air"..Yes that is one term only Kolkatans can comprehend.

With all that also came the heart-wrenching prospect of seeing all the madness coming to an end.I remember sitting outside my balcony at Navami almost till three in the morning, just gaping at the crowd, listening to those soft Bengali tunes,taking in everything as much as I could, just to not let the moment get away.But sadly it does. To see the bulbs going off one by one, the billboards being removed; would almost bring me to tears(to hell with 'almost', it did).And I can swear that the people who would be removing it would be just as distraught.Years kept passing by, but that one emotion that I cant change is the one that I face on the night of Navanmi.Hell why does it hurt so much?

Over the years lots has changed the world over, but the pujas in Kolkata always remain the same.The people still are as anxious about it, the crowds still throng to see the best pandals throughout the night, the last days in the run up to the pujas,are still spent in shopping overdrive and the songs still keep blaring out of the speakers.(Though Himesh has taken over Sanu).

Like that auto driver said to me, its the very thing I find the most intriguing about the pujas.People here wait the whole year for these four days, forgetting all their sorrows and joining in the festivities with such vigour, its simply amazing.The rich colours of the crowd, the smiling faces, and the same ruthless devotion for the goddess,its almost infectious.Though am not much into deity worshiping it fills my heart with immense joy, to see the people maintaining our rich culture and rituals with such aplomb.The crowd you will see, has no division, the street urchin walks beside the rich zamindar, with the same strut,and both bow their heads before the goddess to seek her divine blessings..Its that time of the year you see..Where the city comes to an absolute halt for those very special four days.

I have had my differences with Kolkata, I have severely criticized it for its wayward ways.But when it comes to the pujas, I wont have it any other way.It is the one thing that I, as a Kolkatan am supremely proud of, and always boast about it to my relatives living in other states."Come and be astounded". I would declare. They don't understand whats the fuss all about, They never will; that feeling, I guess,is reserved for us Kolkatans only.Come the pujas , Kolkata is the place to be.
Happy Durga Puja all my dear friends...Its time to get submerged in the puja magic.You see, its that time of the year again!!!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Walking down the last trail ???

The last post that I wrote outlined my fascination for the King of the Indian forests, The Tiger,.Being a personal account it simmered more on my experiences, but now I would like to add another dimension to this angle.Lets come down to the more gruesome and gory details of of the our national pride, which seems to have eluded the minds of the protectors of our forests all these years.The more I loved the tiger, the more I learnt about it, and unhappily what I learnt left me quite stunned.
1411, that is the figure that has been glaring down at us from various billboards throughout our city.A mobile company's "save the tiger" campaign has been quite a hit, with celebrities galore putting their voice behind it.People are suddenly aware of our national animal's dimming fortunes, what with blogs and social networking sites going into a tizzy trying to fill up their pages with debates galore on what needs to be done to save the precious animal.The sudden rise in this awareness is a good thing, but the more prominent question that needs to be asked is that are the voices strong enough to bring our corrupt and inept netas from their slumber and finally force them to do something for the "dying" animal? I think not, for the simple reason that animals cant vote!!

Though the number 1411 has stuck with all and sundry, I would like to aware my readers that it is an old number, the census figure of the year 2005.Many more innocent tigers have been butchered since. Though am not an expert on the issue, from whatever I have gathered by reading various books of Indian conservationists, the number should be somewhere around a mere thousand.

Chimerical though it may seem, but there used to be a time , when it was a toss up between humans and tigers, and at the turn of the century we had close to about 40,000 tigers!!If the words of conservationists are taken fore, we have lost close to a 1500 tigers in the last six years alone. Caught in metal traps , they are shot at point blank range. The tiger is being butchered primarily to tailor Tibetan dresses and for making Chinese medicines. This is appalling and shameful .At a time when we, as Indians, should be nurturing our National pride, we are slowly peeling its skin off and selling it off to foreign lands.
Tiger killings go a long way back too. In the pre- independence days, the tiger was the ‘prized trophy’ for the Indian royalty. Shooting a tiger signaled the coming of age for young princes. Post – independence the carnage continued. Amidst this blatant and senseless butchery, alarm bells were signaled in the 1960s.The tiger was vanishing and fast. Then , the country found a saviour in the form of the then PM , Smt. Indira Gandhi .An ardent animal lover, under her watchful eyes began a crusade to protect the tiger, which took the official form of Project Tiger, the worlds biggest conservation initiative, launched in April 11, 1973, and with a lot of jamboree at that. And it continued for over three decades, but all the celebrations came to a screeching halt in 2004, after the news of the Sariska tiger wipeout. When the project had started, we had about 1500 tigers; three decades hence about a 1000 remain in the wild. Whether the project was successful or not, is anybody’s guess.

I think the time has come for us to realize some glaring loopholes that exist both at the centre and state levels, monitoring the survival of the tigers. Bandhavgarh has lost many tigers, Panna is facing a tiger drought as well. Dampha is beyond redemption, as is Buxa.Sightings in Dudhwa with over hundred ‘official’ tigers are low. Not a pugmark seen, not a single cattle kill- indications of a dwindling tiger population.The area around the Sunderbans has seen a seizure of skins and a number of seizures on the borders of Nepal and Tibet. There was a case in 2004, where a tiger skin was recovered from Assam, being carried, believe it or not, in a police car. Poaching is rampant.And we are not even talking of the other not so popular reserves like Manas, Indrawati,Nagarjunasagar, Palamau and Valmiki; all plagued by a severe tiger crisis.
Though the apocalypse appears sudden, it isn’t so actually. Tigers existed , but only in the imagination and files of park officials. The pugmark census method, has had always been skeptical. One fact though, is quite certain,most park directors conjure up imaginary tigers to show a higher population, it avoids unpleasantness, inquiries, keeps their jobs safe and creates a sense of false security. The CBI report on Sariska seconds that point, clearly stating that the census numbers were grossly inflated.Whatever the numbers might have been, ironically though, now there are none.

The most obvious culprit in this horrifying decline is obviously poaching. The other pervasive threat to the big cat is the steady decline of its habitats. India has lost over fifty per cent of its potential tiger habitats since its independence. The bigger misfortune though is that the government and Project Tiger refuse to recognize the current crisis even in the face of inescapable evidence.

So, is this the end of the road for the tiger? Is there absolutely no hope for its future? Possibly. But, primarily we need to inculcate in ourselves certain severe facts. In any strategy to save wild tigers we have to discuss the big cat’s future without confusing it with livelihood issues of forest dwellers. There is absolutely no connection between the two. Tigers cannot breed in coexistence with humans.If you force them to live with humans, man-animal conflicts increase dangerously, Livestock gets killed, man-eating is a possibility, tigers then get poisoned and then it doesn’t stop till the last tiger is wiped out. Simply put, tigers need inviolate spaces and so do the deer and the boar and the ‘gaur’, which are the prey of the tiger. It is these essential facts that must be understood by human right activists. It is then that the tiger population rise or are maintained at healthy levels. We must not forget that the Java, Bali, Caspian and now even the South Chinese Tiger became extinct because of excessive human interference in the tiger’s habitat, which resulted in sharp falls in the prey species and in the end triggered the tiger’s extinction. We must learn from them so that we do not repeat the mistakes, which would jeopardize the Indian tiger’s future.

There might be lots of possible solutions to cease this rapid decline in the tiger numbers, noted conservationists have pointed that out endlessly. But before that we need to to understand and digest that the future of the tiger is BLEAK.All of us as citizens need to be aware and raise our voices, because that is the only way to bring the Govt. into action.The media, both print and T.V., needs to do a lot more than to cover useless stories, and should devote much more time on this grave issue to make the Govt. and the citizens more aware of the situation at hand.Let’s get one thing straight, its quite certain that tribals and forest dwellers, armchair academics and human rights activists are not going to save tigers. A robust government and a cognizant society CAN. If the greed for tiger bones and fur does not cease, the king of beasts will forever live under the shadow of the gun.In the words of noted conservationist Valmik Thapar "Let us not loose our national heritage for want (or the lack of it) of collective effort and other petty issues. We have to keep the right foot forward and ensure that the memory of the Panthera Tigris doesn’t just remain in the pictures of books".Quite amply put that; you see its very easy to sit back and blame, but to walk on the right path is very difficult. Dark and difficult times lie ahead, and very soon we shall all have to face a choice, between whats right and what is easy.