Durga puja festivities overcame lurking fear of terror strike

October 9th, 2008 - 3:15 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Oct 9 (IANS) The surging, never-ending crowds at Durga Puja marquees across the city, especially the predominantly-Bengali Chittaranjan Park, was evidence that Delhiites were determined to enjoy the festivities to the brim and not be cowed down by last month’s terror strikes. The Durga Puja marquees or pandals were crowded since Monday, or Saptami, and the throngs peaked on Wednesday, the final day of the Puja before the immersion ceremony Thursday. Everybody seemed to be heading towards south Delhi, in particular Chittaranjan Park, and traffic slowed to a crawl.

The police were on their toes right through the festival, not taking any chances in view of the Sep 13 terror bombings in which at least 24 people were killed and around 100 injured. All festivities had to end at midnight and the police were very strict about enforcing it.

“There may have been a risk coming to pandals, but with such stringent security around - who wants to miss out on the festivities?” said Vrinda Aggarwal, a law student from Meerut.

Chittaranjan Park, also know as the mini Bengal of Delhi, houses a dozen odd marquees organised by the residents. The pandals compete for the most aesthetically beautiful idol of Goddess Durga and the best decorated pandal.

The major Durga Puja celebrations were at B Block, Shiv Mandir, K Block Co-operative Ground, Mela Ground, and Navapalli (Pocket 40). The week of festivities also saw performances by well-known artistes and troupes from West Bengal and Bangladesh.

Asked if the celebrations this year were different from the past, Agarwal’s friend Arjun Sinha, a student of law and a resident of Chittaranjan Park, said: “Significantly lesser crowds have come this year, maybe one-fourth. I mean, normally one can hardly walk on the roads connecting pandals - there are so many people. Still, I don’t think anyone who wants to celebrate can be stopped by a threat of a blast.”

Many at the K block Co-operative ground and B block felt the reason for the restraint among the people was probably not so much bomb threats as the stringent security provisions.

“I know of people who chose to remain at home because they didn’t want to take the trouble of negotiating manic traffic jams and wait in never-ending queues (to enter the pandals). Queues to enter the pandals and traffic jams around the colonies act as a deterrant!” said Akshay Majumdar, a resident of D block Chittaranjan Park, and a volunteer to monitor crowds.

“I even went to the Kashmiri Gate pandal (north Delhi) yesterday, but the security was so stringent I couldn’t get in even after waiting for an hour in the queue. That’s how bad it was,” he added.

For many, the pujas are a time when friends go “pandal hopping”.

“It has been a tradition for eight of us friends for the past 12 years to meet up this time of the year to do our rounds at pandals. Come hail, come snow we will go! Bomb hoaxes cannot dissuade our spirit,” said Manish Chandra, 25, a BPO employee.

Said Ankita Chakravorty, 25, member of the K-Block organising committee: “We had a bomb hoax here Tuesday, and the crowds were less so there was no panic or alarm created - the celebrations went on smoothly.”

The idols are immersed in the Yamuna river on Thursday, or Vijaya Dashami, also celebrated as Dussehra, marking an end to the five-day celebrations.

Kanhaiya Lal, a security officer of a private firm posted near B Block, said: “The traffic was simply going haywire around the pandals. There was always a traffic jam. Many people returned after being unable to find parking spots.

“This time the security was quite stringent. Apart from physically frisking each person, we also checked the vegetables, especially the brinjals, that came for the bhog (holy offering) to check for possible bombs,” he said.

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