They have turned busy neighbourhoods into a slice of rural Bengal—by a simple expedient of digging up busy Calcutta streets and planting banana trees—and their search for startling ‘themes’ has touched all things quotidian, from cricket bats to biscuits. But the Navin Palli Sharbajanin Durgotsav at Hati Bagan, in north Calcutta, has surpassed most in the breathtaking pursuit of a stupendous Durga Puja. The puja committee, which has been putting up pandals since 1924, has invited Pakistani truck painters—practitioners of a unique pop art form marked by brilliant colours and decorative patterns—to come and create its pandal. The expected lines about fraternal spirit issue forth from committee member Dipta Ghosh, but he puts his finger on it: “No puja in Bengal has ever had Pakistani artists take part in creating the artwork.” For, in truth, it’s partly the shock effect—of the fact itself and of the aesthetics—that creates a piquancy here. Domains and concepts that would normally clash are juxtaposed: Pakistanis and Shakti worship, trucks and the divine, Frontier aesthetics and Bengal. This is the furthest it has come: the restless, outbound quest for singularity in pandal artwork, which is only a few decades old, fuelled as it is by hefty corporate sponsorships in the age of TV publicity.
A typically decorated Pakistani truck
Truck trio Mumtaz Ahmed, Hyder Ali and Mohammed Iqbal at Navin Palli, Calcutta. (Photograph by Sandipan Chatterjee)
Navin Palli’s pandal has been made to resemble a truck and uses actual truck parts, which was custom-made for the puja at Calcutta’s Panagarh, where trucks are assembled. Cranes were used to put the parts in place and the painters would work from 10 am till 9 pm, with some rest in between. After work they would be driven back to their hotel in south Calcutta. For the artists themselves, the entire experience, so far from home, was expectedly a unique one. “We are charmed by the people of this country,” says Mumtaz Ahmed, one of the artists. “We have received so much love and affection. I find the festivities delightful.” In keeping with the unique pandal, the Durga idol too was made of parts of a truck, using clutch plates for the Goddess’s jewelry and silencer pipes for legs. “No, we will not immerse the idol, since she is not made of clay.... We may donate it to a museum,” says Ghosh. So it may come to pass that, at the end of a season of tension at the LoC and half-hearted talks between the PMs, Navin Palli’s truck with a Pakistani pop form becomes the oddball exhibit of 2013.
Very interesting news and quite a novel idea! Have been missing the fun, chaos and cacophony of Durga Puja for some time now.
The very unusual and very colorful pandal, should have had a clay idol, and clay idols must be immersed. I hope, I don't seem to be very emphatic about the matter.
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