Why a Back to Basic Durga Puja 2020 was just what the doctor ordered!

Durga Puja has been an iconic festival for 100s of years. Not even ten days ago it has won the India Today Tourism Awards for best Festival Destinations followed by Konark Festival in Odisha and Katra in Jammu & Kashmir. For nine years the Government of West Bengal has taken steps to promote it as a landmark event for International and National tourism, presenting it as a central item of Bengal culture and as the Planet’s greatest congregation. The Immersion carnival as organized now has become a draw for tourists. In terms of generating income and livelihood for lakhs of people and in terms of being an intimate bonding occasion for millions , this indeed has now evolved into becoming an outstanding culmination of people’s energies, according to A. Bandopadhyay, chief secretary of West Bengal. In our 7th Community Blog since Covid 19, our team mates, Bengali by birth or Bengali in spirit stationed in Bengal or outside, across various professions and hierarchies share together what the “abnormal” Durga Puja 2020 meant to them.

“In a normal year, Durga Puja begins a week after Mahalaya, but this year 2020 was anything but normal. Durga Puja during this Corona time shaped up as “Puja koro na”. However, for me personally, my apartment’s puja though closed for all outsiders was open to residents only. Keeping in mind all applicable norms, our Puja was conducted. It ended with Mayer Boron and Sindoor khela. So for me the essence of Puja of worshipping the arrival of the Goddess remained though the festivity attached to it was muted,” says Moon Moon Seal, General Manager – Finance, Apeejay Surrendra Management Services Private Limited sharing an image of herself and the Goddess.

This was a unique Durga Puja for me and my family – the most muted ones for decades and two reasons contributed to it- My mother had a fall and had broken her femur bone and was bed ridden and the Pandemic was at its peak. We had Durga Puja at our complex and we remained inside our complex only without venturing out even for a single day. We did order food online to give some rest to my wife from her kitchen duties ! So a good time spent with the family at home minus the Pujo Hollar, Adda & fervour! says Ramakrishn Ghosh – General Manager, HRD, Apeejay Surrendra Management Services Private Limited.

“COVID 19 had brought a lot of anxiety and depression this year. The festive mood of Durga Puja was a big relief and brought on a wave of positivity. While everyone followed the restrictions due to COVID, the festive spirit prevailed and the most important aspect of the Puja which was pleasing the God was achieved. The positivity and energy that was felt during and after the Puja was a good indication that the Puja went off well” says Narasimhan Ranganathan – CEO Apeejay Shipping. Narasimhan’s Manager – Finance, Uday Sengupta, was involved in his Housing Complex Puja and spent the entire Puja with his family and neighbors. Their colleague Prosenjit Dey, Deputy Manager – Technical, Apeejay Shipping said Durga puja 2020 was special as he could celebrate puja completely with family, staying at home all the time.

“Durga Puja has always been a fun time for many reasons. This year has been remarkably challenging for all of us and we literally waited for pujo for a rejuvenation of our self with all the animosity and tension going on around us. For me Pujo means something different from others and we as a family have always priotrized spending time with closed ones rather than going into the crowds. Hence we have never craved for pandal hopping and in 2020 when it was virtually barred to do so, it did not matter to us too much. From 6th day of the Navratris to the tenth day , what we call in Bengal Soshti to Doshomi , each day we created a new flavour. Soshti usually I spend in my formals because its a working day so I was in front of my desk and system. In the evening I caught up with my old collegues and friends and laughed together with good old memories. On saptami, we went out for a brunch with our relatives and close family friends dressing up in traditional attire and eating pure Bengali cuisine, that was our way of finding coherence and celebrating the culture. Ashtami starts with giving Pushpanjali, since this year public gathering have been avoided we gave our offering to goddess from home only and wished for a pandemic free world. In the afternoon, I took my mom for a car ride and toured various pandals. In the evening we invited a few friends over for a scrumptious dinner. My nabami has always been allotted for my childhood friends.  I usually neutralise all my stress by spending and recollecting good old memories with them. This year we went for dinner at Barbecue Nation and went for a night out. Dosomi comes with a little bit of sorrow as it reminds that we have to get back to old monotonous life routine we have. Pujo has always been a breathing space for me and I wish to keep it that way” says Santosh Tewari, Deputy General Manager, Typhoo India

“I am not sure why but this year Durga Puja was very special due covid-19. We prayed to Ma Druga on the Ashtami day with Pujo Anjali and stayed at home with family & kids. I decided to step out and do a pandal round with my kids and visited eight puja pandel in my local area. There was no gathering and everybody maintained all physical distancing parameters” Sagar Mondal, Manager – Taxation, Apeejay Tea said. His colleague Beas Moitra, Company Secretary of Apeejay Tea added As a whole, this Durga Puja was good for me. “Asche Bochor abar hobe”!!! . Durga Puja festival is very close to each one of us in our family but the pandemic ensured that we curtailed the pandal hopping and adda with friends or dining out with family so none of that happened but still I managed to enjoy some moments.I decided to be at home with family in this Puja holidays since pandemic isn’t over yet but I and my family really missed the pandel hopping & eating out with family & friends, said Varun Choudhary, Manager – Marketing, Apeejay Tea.

Elsewhere in Haldia, Ashoke Banerjee, Associate Manager – Operations, Haldia CFS, Apeejay Infralogistics Private Limited chose to visit Kalighat late night to avoid crowds on pious Ashami. Malay Bal, Head – Operations, Apeejay Infralogistics Private Limited said that Keeping with our family traditions and rituals we have conducted Puja of  “Maa Durga ” in our home only with fasting and other rituals. I was at home in Kolkata and none of us visited any Puja pendals or were part of any gatherings or group celebrations. Jitendra Saha, Head – CFS, Apeejay Infralogistics Private Limited however did something interesting and special for his family. I decided to leave for Ranchi in my own car – on 23rd October we started for the trip. The trip was really good as the roads are excellent. We packed homemade food and snacks and avoided stopping at the roadside dhaba which we normally enjoy. Reached Ranchi on same day, next day we went to Disham falls, Jagganath Temples and some more temples around and spots around and ended the trip within 3 days.

Jitendra on his Durga Puja 2020 road trip

“We restricted ourselves to a minimum boundary, avoided going inside the “Pandals” with family & friends, having food from stalls and shopping which is a trademark of every Puja. However, we took a long drive on “Maha Aashtami” with family to take a view of some “Pandals & Puja’s” from outside says Chandan Saha, Associate Manager, Apeejay Tea. His colleague Kaushik Sengupta GM – Finance, Apeejay Tea shared , My family members and I did want to leave town for Durga Puja but we wanted to visit somewhere with least no of visitors and donate food to children. We approached Ramakrishna Mission, Barrackpore and they suggested us we go to Mandarmoni where both the visit and the donation could be done at the same time. We visited the place and stayed there for 2 days. Ramakrishna Mission planned our program and helped us in making our donations to 50 children.

Durga Puja 2020 was special with new costume called ” Face mask”, says Sipra Jana, Principal Officer, Apeejay Insurance Broking Services. I spent puja holidays peacefully with my friends outside and family at home. This year celebration was all about “adda” over coffee and food. Kolkata seemed new with less crowd and yet more festive.

“Durga Puja was spent in my ancestral village in Cuttack. This year the Puja was celebrated with a lot of restrictions as per the Govt Guidelines of Social Distancing. Only 5 people including the purohit was allowed inside the mandap. All the devotees were using Masks and maintained social Distancing of 10 meters from the mandap. Due to safety and precaution I was mostly in my home during the Puja to avoid the outside crowd for safety”. Tridib Sircar, Head – Sales, Apeejay Infralogistics Private Limited

Since in Odisha the Covid 19 restriction have been imposed by Govt. Mandaps were closed for public so it was observed with family only at my home and we dressed festive at work . Ajaya Kumar Sarangi, Head – ICD, Apeejay Logistics Park Private Limited.

Being an atheist, Durga Puja for me has always been more about community than about religiousity. My grandmother had started a small Puja in deogarh, Jharkhand 45 years ago to mark an occasion where she would give back to the community and over the years this puja had become the biggest celebration there, where for four days people from the different villages would come to share food with us–somedays as high as 15000 people eating together. In the 45 years, the puja just stopped twice–once the year my grandmother passed away and second was this year. So pujas for me this year was with a heavy heart. As my family stayed at home and ma tried to at least make up for the lack of the bustle of deogarh by making bhog at home, I realised how the puja for my family, who are mostly atheists, is more about a homage to the love for community building that my grandmother instilled in us and in these times of divisions and fear, a tradition that needs to go on. So, as we bid adieu to the goddess, I put in a silent prayer that next year we can leave the virus behind and come together to celebrate the beauty that is this shared festival of love, togetherness and hope. Aatreyee Ghosh, Creative Manager, Apeejay Oxford Bookstores Private Limited.

Aatreyee with Oxford Bookstore Corporate and Store team on Apeejay Ethnic Day on Shoshti, Durga Puja 2020.

Like they say in Bengali Asche Bochar Abar Hobe which means ma Durga will visit us next year as well.

Wishing a healthier 2021 for us all. !

Cover Image : The 5th year of Durga Puja at The Park Kolkata inaugurated by Smt. Nandini Chakraborty, IAS – Principal Secretary Department of Tourism, Govt. of West Bengal in the presence of Mr. Vijay Dewan, Managing Director, Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels Limited and Mr. Pramode Bhandari, Area General Manager.

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