It’s Puja time, and in Kolkata envoys line up at pandals

(Last Updated On: October 10, 2016)

A couple of days before Durga Puja, David Donahue, Principal Deputy Secretary for Consular Affairs along with Craig L Hall, U.S. Consul General in Kolkata, paid a quick visit to a few pandals.

With every pandal they visited, Mr. Donahue and his teams’ interest grew. “I am disappointed that I have lived this long and never heard about it,” he said at one point. Mr. Donahue, however, also chose to mix pleasure with business.

“2017 will be a year of tourism between India and the United States; we will do everything to promote tourism between the countries,” he said, pointing that American tourists prefer to visit “usual tourist destinations in India” but not the Puja. Mr. Donahue’s pitch may encourage the flow of American tourists to Bengal during the Puja. “Perhaps that’s what got him here,” said a consular staff. The Consul General too was excited.

Meeting people

“My wife and I will visit many pandals and enjoy meeting the people in the communities who build them. We will enjoy the incredible art work, the lights, the food and the fun,” Mr. Hall told The Hindu. But it is not only the U.S. Consulate, but at least half a dozen diplomatic posts in Kolkata have actively engaged themselves with this year’s Puja.

The Chinese Consulate has drawn an extensive plan to engage with the local communities during Puja. A press note from the Consulate says it would be one of the “sponsors” of a programme to award few exciting Pujas in the city. Many prominent guests, including “IAS, IPS officers, political leaders, diplomats of foreign missions, private and public sector CEOs and ministers from foreign countries” would move to different areas to evaluate Pujas, the note said. The top four winners will have a “one-week, all-expenses paid, tour of China,” the release says.

Neither the Americans nor the Chinese interpreted the reasons for their engagements with Puja, but a former bureaucrat in the city quipped that the effort could be part of a policy “to step up engagement with the communities in Eastern India for reasons known to the countries.”

Bangladesh has also engaged with this Puja, albeit in “a unique but interesting way,” says an officer of the Deputy High Commission in Kolkata. The country has issued about 15,000 visas in last three weeks, which is described as “a record.”

“It is nearly 40 per cent more than last year,” the officer said. “Whoever approached us to enjoy Puja with their family got a visa,” the officer said. But the country’s “major engagement” with Bengal and India was to host more Durga Pujas in Bangladesh with “extensive arrangement and splendour.”

The British Council planned an elaborate event, in collaboration with two Pujas, one in north and the other in South Kolkata, to mark quadricentenary of William Shakespeare’s death in 1616. The British High Commission is screening short films on the Bard’s plays in the two pandals. The pandal hoppers get an opportunity to cherish “The Globe Theatre’s Complete Walk” while having a “multi-screen experience with 37 shorts of Shakespeare’s 37 plays,” said a British Council release.

French play host

The French Consulate, on the other hand, had co-hosted the “first ever” Indo-French Durga Puja three years ago and continues to engage with Jagaddhatri Puja (another name of Durga) in Chandannagar, about 40 km north of Kolkata, a former French township. But the Consulate also associates with the Puja in Kolkata.

Source: The Hindu

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