New Jersey Durga Puja 2011: A Personal Perspective

Believe me, it was white until it fell in your mutton curry.Yet another Durga Puja festival concluded with great pomp and fan fare. And each year we see the festival transforming itself in different ways. Some people hate change. They feel that tradition is something that should be protected with great care. Others feel, nothing should be cast in stone – rules and traditions should be broken to herald in fresh views and thoughts. I am okay with either school of thought, although I tend to lean towards the latter philosophy. Organizing an event like Durga Puja is not a trivial task, and not all things work according to plan. Besides it is not easy to satisfy everybody.  However, I can speak about my experience and what I felt about the festival this year, especially the one celebrated by Kallol of New Jersey.

The process of pre-registration, that caused lot of heart burns few years ago, seems to be well accepted by now. The process is also quite streamlined if you are internet savvy. This year Kallol formally introduced pre-registration of daily passes. I have been asking about this for quite some time, and I am happy to see the committee members introduce this feature. The system of retaining reserved seats for the high-paying registrants (read donors, patrons etc) with white tags, still seem to cause quite a bit of dissatisfaction amongst the traditionalists. One cause for concern is, that in this hall, even with the best audio system, only the first few rows can listen to the sound with some degree of clarity. The rows in the back can only hear a cacophony of reverberations mixed with constant chattering of the socialites. Hence anybody who wants to seriously listen to what’s being performed on stage, need to stay within the first few rows – a large portion of  which were reserved for the white tag holders. Hence  it was no surprise when artistes like Anindyo Chatterjee and Purbayan Chatterjee found the rows in front sparsely populated and had to request the audience to move up to those exclusive seats. I understand that those who contribute more financially, need to be given some incentives or rewards. But the Kallol execs should also understand that there are many who may not be contributing as much financially but are giving a lot of physical effort and their time voluntarily for the success of this event. They also deserve to be treated in better ways. I have heard complaints that some such people were rudely asked to get off the white tag seats just because they wanted to seriously watch a program they love but were wearing an orange tag badge.

Kallol also tried, to some limited degree, to enforce the policy of no seat blocking with shawls and other objects.  It has been an old practice of throwing a shawl or some other object on the seats early in the day and stake a claim during the high profile programs.  Some times they do not even come back during the show while people who would like to watch it are prevented from sitting on those seats. Kallol committee members this year were quite strict about this and have fought quite a few nasty battles to recover those protected seats for their guests. But until we try to co-operate with them and try to understand that this is a community event and every body deserves a seat , we cannot get rid of this menace.

The food service was excellent and I haven’t heard much complaints. The lines were well managed and the food quality was very good.

The entertainment program was quite good, especially the local artistes (kids and adults) did a fantastic job.  Of the visiting artistes, Pt. Anindyo Chatterjee and Purbayan Chatterjee were excellent.  Nachiketa disappointed us by singing fewer songs than expected. He should have sung few more songs and waste less time in  breaks. Tarun Chatterjee’s play “Kabar”, although a very powerful play, was certainly not appropriate for the venue. The play also seemed to be not very well prepared, although Tarun Chatterjee’s performance was above par. Aparna Sen and “You and I” program was one of the key attractions of this event, but it failed to impress me. Ms. Sen is an excellent screen actor and a superb film maker, but her reading did not do justice to those love letters and their writers. To bring a letter to life on stage just through reading demands a different kind of skill which very few posses. The music by Soumyajit and Sourendra had no synergy with the letters except for the theme “love”. Soumyajit and Sourendra are both well trained and talented musicians, but I don’t know why they had to mix multiple songs for no reason. For example, I have no clue why he felt compelled to switch to Manna Dey’s “Lolita” from the famous Mand rendering of “Kesaria Balama…” ! Why couldn’t they perform each song as they were meant to be performed. Gimmicks can potentially impress some people, but for many it can be a source of annoyance.

Overall, the festival was quite enjoyable and I thank all the organizing committee members and volunteers for giving us a very pleasant weekend of Durga Puja celebrations.

One thought on “New Jersey Durga Puja 2011: A Personal Perspective

  1. Sad that Durga Pooja is over although couple of more festive gatherings are coming up in the horizon. Overall, well done and kudos to Kallol in organizing and carrying out yet another memorable Durga Pooja. We know it is not easy in terms of logistics and unfortunately you cannot please everyone; since the purpose of pooja is to get the family together and enjoy three days to the fullest with friends, that was a roaring success. Now, I would like to raise some concerns and maybe we can discuss this in future Kallol meetings as Lessons Learned.

    a) There were “volcanic” and extremely nasty verbal exchanges (ek kathai abohawa besh garom chhilo) during cultural programs between attendees themselves as well with my bouncer buddies. I am sure you may have guessed, this is to with the front few rows designated for “Donors” with white tags. This needs serious rethinking. Although I understand and fully appreciate the intent of keeping a few rows for people who commit more money for the event, but at the same time this creates lot of divisions and ill will amongst lines of friendship. Let me explain a bit, donor seats were 25% un-utilized up to the beginning of Anindya and Purbayan when the Kallol committee members started to enforce that every seat be occupied with white badge. Many orange badges saw that and started fuming since Orange rows were overcrowded. Another problem was more donors than seats. This led people to put grown kids (legitimate seat holders by themselves) on their laps so that all donors can seat. Watching a 3-4 hr program with a kid on your lap can be extremely cumbersome and painful. The “bouncers” Amit, Alok, Prosenjit and Tathagato tried their level best of stopping the myriads of seat reservation tactics (except inner garments, people open everything), but when floodgates open up, what will a few well intended “bangosantans” do? Also, it is very sensitive to ask a senior Kallol member and loyalist to vacate a white badge seat and move to orange badge area just because he/she did not pay the threshold amount in cash; knowing full well that these stalwarts and kallol pioneers have given more to these poojas over the years with their selfless love, commitment, night after night of sheer brawn and doing everything with a smile for 3 straight days. Some of them are our dadas and didis and we know we have this Durga Pooja only because they took charge and have handed over to the next projanmyo. When dad and mom grow old, do we throw them out of the plush sofa (akin to white badge) to the back of the room? Many of the veterans do not feel the same excitement and enthusiasm about Durga Pooja and many recant the good old days of Kallol and the high class and esteem it used to espouse towards the community it serves. This trickle of discontent may lead to a gush of attritions from loyal Kallol ranks to other pooja organizers. My humble suggestion is to remove the donor rows and make it first come, first serve. You want to show the donors your appreciation, give them closer parking, more visibility in website and the magazine, announce their names on a frequent basis, ensure they get access or one-on-one photo-op time with key performers, …. Just some thoughts.
    b) The food lines need to be revisited. I have seen people get down from their cars and walk straight to food tent for two straight days. Since there is no badge check, there was no stopping these folks and the volunteers serving and directing the crowd were helpless and has to serve everyone without filtering. What we propose is colored hand stamps or stickers given in Disney or Chucky Cheese (costs nothing), one color for each day to be checked by the tent gatekeepers. We know and have witnessed people exchange badges with fresh friends who did not register but wants to have lunch.
    c) Thanks to Kallol Cultural Committee for Anindya and Purbayan… what a phenomenal offering and rendition of Sitar and Percussion. Hats off to you guys. The best program of this pooja in my opinion. Nachiketa was absolutely terrible and disappointing but that may be because of my taste and traditional background. His sudden rant towards the couple (who were talking) reminds me of someone having the Tourette’s Syndrome. Artists do not like people talking in front rows and I have seen many artists tell audience politely and nicely. Nachiketa’s rant was an absolute revelation of his class. Kabor was a great theme but not appropriate for Pooja; but I understand that it was a face-saver since Patolbabu was canned. I did not see Aparna but heard people disappointed with lack of sync between the letters and the songs especially Kesariya and Lolita punched. But, again there were others who thoroughly enjoyed the program in its entirety – letters, songs and all. Most people did rave about the singer. Aparna Sen is a talented crowd-puller and we do recognize that and hence are appreciative of the effort she has put together and the research that went behind the show.

    Well, enjoy the traces of the Pooja season till the white stuff arrives. See you all in some nook and cranny in this our NY/NJ bengali life.

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