Pratik Basu is a prolific and published author who has worn several caps; cook, housekeeper, animal lover, cigar afficionado and most recently, CEO Buena Vista Television and FTV
The showdown that inevitably leads to the Puja Committee of a housing society, like Sidhant’s, resigning en masse is fuelled by strategically released rumours which, given the innate creativity of the average Bengali, are never short of inventiveness with even standard canards – misuse of contribution funds, under reporting of advertising revenue, taking the family out for meals at fancy restaurants under the pretext of business entertainment – appearing newsy and fresh. As it does every year, it takes a series of exhaustingly prolonged meetings to persuade the key members of the committee to withdraw their resignations or, at least, hold them in abeyance till the current year’s event is over for, without the firm of Ganguly, Mukherjee & Bhattacharya, warts and all, there is no Durga Puja because for every ten detractors of their way of doing things, there is not one willing to put his shoulder to the wheel and demonstrate how it should be done.
Appeasement of the key members requires making some hard concessions, the hardest of which is to agree to an in-house talent show that Ganguly has been pushing for with the unstated but obvious objective of showcasing his daughter’s Kuchipudi skills, which, if an impromptu recital she’d given at a dinner he’d hosted some months ago is anything to go by, are conspicuous by their absence. Whereas Kuchipudi proponents are quicksilver and scintillating, fleet-footed and fluidic, she’d exhibited characteristics quite the contrary, tending to be ponderous in movement, thumping the floor in a flatfooted manner to the tick of an internal metronome that was at complete variance with the beat of the mridangam she was supposed to be dancing to. Not to be outdone and notwithstanding plaintive pleas that past such efforts have met with critical disfavour and sparse attendance, Bhattacharya proposes that the Kuchipudi performance be preceded by a Rabindrasangeet recital by his own progeny, who, though diminutive of stature, has recently revealed a voice of stentorian proportions (albeit remarkably incapable of holding a tune) through the vocal pyrotechnics she’s taken to doing at the crack of dawn to the consternation of neighbours both a floor above and below.
Having ensured that their offspring have a stage to showcase their myriad talents, the reinstated puja committee must now address the issue of getting Siddhant featured among “the top-ten housing society pujas to watch out for”, which, according to resident marketing guru, Mukherjee, requires thematic uniqueness – positioning, in marketing lexicon – to catch a roving journalist’s (or television camera’s) eye and innovative marketing to ensure that said eyes rove in Sidhant’s general direction. Both matters dominate heated sessions of great inventiveness and enterprise over several weekends with suggestions for themes ranging from Durga in the image of the incumbent Chief Minister slaying Asoor in the guise of a former aide and confidant who, recently, has been giving her much grief, to Durga as a kind of avenging dark knight rising to slay Bane as Asoor, a proposal that catches Mukherjee’s fancy – “certainly topical, contemporary and thematically relevant” – and wins his approval, though, as a minor concession to tradition, he agrees that the goddess will wear white instead of the black that the Dark Knight is partial to.
With the biggest hurdle out of the way, the rest is pretty much routine for Ganguly, Mukherjee & Bhattacharya, not that there aren’t a few obstacles still to clear along the way, which they do with their usual mix of persuasion, threat, compromise and ersatz assurance. The primary debate, as it is in most building societies, has to do with advertisers and corporate sponsors – what advertising to accept and what not to – for, if revenue aggregation is the driving motivation, why should a popular brand of contraceptives not be permitted a 40 ft. x 20 ft. billboard of a scantily-attired Sunny Leone across Sidhant’s entire front façade if they are willing to foot the full cost of pandal decoration and illumination or, if a popular children’s TV channel is prepared to feature one’s puja in a daily, local-events capsule, why can’t Ganesh be accommodative enough to sit astride Mickey Mouse instead of an inconsequential rat or, if tradition permits Durga to have from 10 to even 18 hands, what’s the harm if some of them hold branded, everyday items – noodles, biscuits, soaps, detergents, toothpastes, deodorants – so long as the featured brands pick up the inflated tabs?
When a younger mind more intuitive than mine suggested Batman as Sidhant’s Puja theme, he wasn’t far adrift because organizing a six-day event in a housing society is nothing less than a Christopher Nolan production with interminable plot twists, labyrinthine turns, unexpected endings, new beginnings, traumainducing villains, scarred, traumatized heroes and a week-long, mother-of-all climaxes – an adrenaline rush that uplifts the heart, though one’s never quite sure what permanent damage it does to one’s soul. Still, I’m glad for it because irrespective of what goes before or what will inevitably happen after, for those six autumnal days, sixty disparate families in Siddhant have a unified sense of purpose and are almost as one.