In Mysore, they call it Dassera today; in Calcutta Puja. In Mysore, the court elephant will come out in the evening, or a procession of elephants, though the maharaja may not be riding them. He was become too heavy for them. In Calcutta, The Statesman and The Telegraph will be closed. They will be having Puna holidays. Not one day, but two, three days. Imagine Calcutta, that most literate of Indian cities, without newspapers.
I do onto remember being in Calcutta during Puja, but Calcutta is a year-long puja city, the City of joy. At one of the Metro stations, they play Rabindranath Tagore's music between trains. And you are never far from Tagore when you are in Calcutta.
Talk of the Chhatrapati Shivaji cult in Mumbai, Calcutta has three cult figures: Rabindranath Tagore, Netaj Subhas Chandra Bose and Satyajit Ray. Leander Paes, if he continues his winning ways, would soon be added to this list. And already there has been a minor riot on account of Saurav Ganguly being dropped from the team. No, Ganguly should never have been dropped, I agree, but there was no need for all that heartburning.
There are other minor icons in Calcutta. Mani Kaul is one. And Shyam Benegal would have been another if he had been born in Calcutta. If is his misfortune he has not been.
As a city, Calcutta has been dying for several years, or so people say. But a brand new bridge across the Hoogly, the Metro I mentioned earlier, a floating hotel, the nightly floodlighting of the Victoria Memorial, the Taj Benegal, considered by the group as its best property yet, these are not sign of a dying city.
Nor is Mysore a dying city. It is quiet and peaceful and of all the cities in India nearest resembling R.K. Narayan's Malgudi, but it is not dying or dead. It is one of my favourite cities, precisely designed, the straightest roads, the palace in the center, Chamandi Hills at one end, Brindavan Gardens at the other, and Tipu Sultan's Siringapatnam not for away, a clean station with trains streaming in from Banglore, several educational institutions, nice hotels, strong coffee and fluffy dosas, a well-stocked zoo, and equally well-stocked stables of the maharaja, with a couple of dancing horses. In the night, a light comes in the dome of the palace - all's right with the world.
I was in Mysore during a Dassera. It is the best time of the year to be there, the entire city lit up, not with neon lights but in the soft glow of lamps. There was an exhibition on at the technical college, sandalwood oil, sandalwood soap, sandalwood gift articles such as combs, boxes, hand fans, paper cutters. And in the central maidan, troupes had come from various parts of the country and were performing items, including a young woman doing a cabaret, very popular.
A happy Dassera to all, and a happy Puja.