One Dassera I spent in Mysore. If Ganapati is the festival of Bombay and Pune, and Holi of UP, and Onam of Kerala, then Dassera is the festival of Mysore - the old Maharaja state and the city.
The maharaja's palace was lit up and the city around it. The burnished gold dome of the palace, which is a small dome and not too ostentatious, shone under the illuminations, coloured bulbs garlanded the trees along the roadsides, and lights climbed into the Chamundi hills.
There was a mela on in the grounds of, I think, the engineering college, selling Mysore soap and sandalwood articles. In a maidan, there were the usual joy rides, and in a rent a girl was presenting cabaret items. The longest queues were to get into the tent.
When we were children we were told that Dassera was the birthday of animals. The Victoria horses in Bombay used to have marigold garland round their necks, and our own dogs, much against their wishes, were planted with red tikkas on their foreheads. In Mysore, I am told, the palace elephants are decorated and the maharaja goes around the city riding on his best elephant. I did not see that when I was there, nor did I see the maharaja's horses being garlanded. But a tour of the palace includes a visit to its stables. The horses are among the handsomest show horses in the country, as good as those of the President's guards, and some of them can dance to a tune. For a small monetary inducement of the syce, and a carrot or a lump of sugar to the horse, a demonstration of this is given. In this country, nothing works unless you are prepared to pay for it, and that applies even to horses.
The big festival of Calcutta, which falls around the same time as Dassera is Durga Puja. Calcuttans refer to it simply as Puja, and everything is closed for a week, including the newspapers. So Calcutta is without newspapers for a week, and with the Bengali labour both ferociously tradional and militant, this position will continue for ever.
Not that I am complaining. It is an ideal situation for newspaper employees, who, otherwise and in order parts of the couture, have to go to work on public holidays, such as today. Though, considering that, it is surprising that not many journalists are prepared to work in Calcutta.
In Bombay newspapers, the practice is to give a holiday to journalists of a particular community whose festival falls on that day. So there are holidays only for Hindus, and holidays for Christians, Parsis etc. Which is fine, except that there was one chief reporter in The Times Of India who, for some reason, used to five a holiday only to Hindus on Independence Day.