Every city has a vibe that makes it unique, that sets it apart from the other cities, that gives it, its own identity. While Mumbai is the happening tinsel town, Bangalore is the tech-city of the country. What is Kolkata all about – Art, Poetry or Dreams? What defines the vibe of this city? Kolkata or Calcutta as I prefer to call it wasn’t exactly how we see it today. Calcutta has been the turf for fine artisans, poets, sportsmen and more. The charm of the city goes back to the times when words were exchanged not over short web-based messages but were thoughtfully written over postcards and sent via mail. The charm of the city goes back to the time when a tram ride was a way to absorb the city’s positivity. The charm of the city goes back to the time when toy-sellers were anxiously waited for by children at the doorsteps. In all these years, did the charm get clouded by the advent of technology? Can I get a picture of Calcutta’s root that influences the vibe till date?
It’s tough to picture the Calcutta of yesteryear. Enter, Chetla Agrani’s 2019 Durga Puja! If you want to experience the raw Calcutta that is untouched by the impact of high-end gadgets and technology, this is the place to be!
Theme of Chetla Agrani Puja 2019
The theme of the pandal this year is based on a line – ‘Kolikata choliteche, norite norite’ from a poem by the title ‘Ek Din Raate, Aami Swapno Dekhinu’ written by Shri Rabindranath Tagore. The lines convey how in modern-times we’re losing out on the connection with the city. As we approached the pandal, a distinct melody of ektara could be heard.
The colourful art installations captured the eye and the play of lights added on to the beauty of the pandal. The entire exterior of the pandal is made up of artistic letter boxes with beautiful patterns drawn on them. On the right, a huge figurine of a pied-piper was triggering curiosity. Right next to the pied-piper, ran a column of what looked like electronic mouse. Vibrant, recurring red lights intrigued everyone around and the SnapChat stories were now getting updated!
Element 1 – Post Boxes
As we moved towards the left end of the pandal, a series of wooden post boxes with addresses of eminent personalities of Kolkata, past and present, caught our eye. Depicting a practise that is fast becoming obsolete, the post boxes each had a lock on them. What a lot of research must have gone into this! I searched for Shri Rabindranath Tagore’s letter box first and here it is –
The Tunnel of Nostalgia
The main arena led to the interior of the pandal, via a small tunnel full of nostalgia! The tunnel was very thoughtfully planned and if you love Kolkata, this will bring back tons of memories. The ceiling defined the theme and the walls evoked nostalgia. A number of pendulums adorned the ceiling of the tunnel; depicting the way time is lapsing. What is worth noting is that not all the pendulums oscillate, some were still. The static pendulums mirror the people in Kolkata who do not want time to progress, who miss the Kolkata of yesteryear and never want the city’s warm vibe to fade.
Many sounds from 1970s were playing on loop. The music comprises of commentary as heard on Prasar Bharti, greetings from Akashvani Bhawan and more. I wondered, did the team miss out any aspect about Kolkata’s soul? This was amazing!
On display were also antiques such as gramophone, type-writer, telephone, vinyl records, the shiny, red, letter box and more! I couldn’t stop the urge to capture the nostalgia that adorned the tunnel walls! Do notice the green window!
Chalchitra Thakur, Live Performances and a Spectacular Cieling/Roof
But, wait, the principal attraction was yet to come. We stepped into the courtyard of an old Rajbari, only to witness the four divine idols, standing tall in all its glory, under a roof that depicted Kolkata’s famous monuments. Here we were standing, in front of the protector, soaking in the beauty that was brought to life by Anirban Das, the chief artist and the brain behind this breath-taking pandal!
On either side of the pandal were live-performances that recounted to the spectators about the vibe of an old Zamindar bari (home) and the many moments that a husband and his coy wife shared. The common instances such as the wife playing the piano while the husband lovingly looked at her were aesthetically presented. The performances were presented by ‘Bahurupis’
The idol of Maa Durga was artistic and evoked a sense of calmness. The idols followed the ancient tradition of ‘chalachitra’ meaning having a single ‘chala’ or a background for all the idols. A crowd of more than lakhs come to witness the exuberance and as I turned to take a look at the ceiling, I saw the frenzied crowd of the day, beaming with excitement.
300+ artisans have worked to set up the pandal and what particularly catches the eye is the spectacular, sepia ceiling/roof. Why sepia? One might wonder because, it looks beautiful but that is not all, a tiny bit of fact changes the perspective – the sepia is to represent the view of the city as seen from an airplane! I could identify a lot of Kolkata’s structures on the ceiling, the Howrah bridge, Victoria Memorial, Eden Gardens, Writer’s Building and more. The structures were reversed, conveying the message of re-connecting to the roots. To add on to the theme, the music that was being played was also a blend of old and new. Few lines of the song were Tagore’s composition while the other lines were written by the team members of Chetla Agrani!
What do I Take Back Home?
As Srinjoy Chaterjee, Executive Committee member, Chetla Agrani says, ‘There is nothing in this pandal that you won’t find in Kolkata and there is nothing in Kolkata, that you won’t find in this pandal!’ I agree with him a thousand times!
There’s much more than what meets the eye and looking beyond the shiny decorations, the flickering lights and the bright artifacts can narrate a story that can tug at your heartstrings.
I’m extremely grateful to Mr. Srinjoy Chaterjee for sharing the beautiful tales and for enabling me to connect with the soul of Kolkata by way of his narration. The beauty of the pandal and the degree of dedication is sure going to haunt and inspire me.