Wednesday, October 4


Calcutta’s Durga Pujo keeps an army of theatrical propmakers busy for months making pandals. These fabric and plywood temporary shrines remind me of Harbin’s ice festival, Buddhist sand mandalas and Francisco D’Anconia’s vanishing palace, not to mention the submersible shrines at Haji Ali and Bandra in Bombay.

First impressions of the city itself: barefoot men pulling rickshaws through waterlogged streets. The Ambassador, which has vanished among Delhi civilians, lives on as the standard Calcutta taxi. Wide streets and a low-rise city.

Pujo lighting is distinctly theatrical, cellophane on spots:

Hand-drawn rickshaws:

Evening on the Hooghly River:

The Floatel, a floating hotel owned by a friend:

Corporate sponsorship gone mad, as if Gatorade had sponsored a Nativity creche:

Supporting the chandeliers in the flimsy structures requires a bit of engineering:

Durga slays Mahishasura. To her side at her children Ganesh, Lakshmi, Saraswati and Karthikeya.

The food courts in Maddox Square:

The inspiration for Jar-Jar Binks:

Anuvab puffs a Gold Flake:

Outside South Point, one of Asia’s largest K-12 schools:

Hand-wired and cellophaned bulbs are strictly low-tech:

Puchkas (pani puris):

Golf course at the Tollygunge Club, a colonial remnant:

Party laser at a bar called Shisha (Hookah):

Laser catches a friend’s head and nose ring:

Glass of water:

This one was a woman’s idea, I swear:

Birla Temple:

Garden outside the Victoria Memorial:

Freaky trash can:

What Indira Gandhi nationalized, Tata rebuilt:

Cabbies choose their own religions:

College Street:

Coffee House:

Revolution on the walls:

Anglicized spelling:

Coffee House reminds me of Bade Miyan in Bombay and Katz’s Deli in Manhattan:


I wouldn’t trust the signs:

An Ideal Boy‘ at College Square:

This entire temple is a façade:

Bamboo crowd barriers for the Durga visarjan (immersion):

Durga eyes = Cheshire Cat:

Snakes on a Pujo:

Little Richard called. He wants his wig back:

Bahu Bazaar (Bridal Market) is full of wedding bands:

Calcutta has above-ground trams:

Bus windows shaped Mughal-style, like Air India:

The Calcutta metro seemed fast and efficient, though not as nice as the new Delhi metro:

New Market:

Greco-Roman-style Durga:


New Market hotels have trees sprouting from the top; remove them and the building crumbles:

Art Deco cinemas:

Three-wheeled delivery vans:

It’s not her skin I’m worried about:

Accidental syncretism on the way to the immersion:

Glucose heaven:

Forum mall:

Is this the Osho — a religion store?

Traditional Gujarati values include Rakhi Sawant, which is sort of like inviting Pamela Anderson to Christmas:

Tiranga at Dum Dum (Bose) airport:

The pandals are actually judged:

Baba cake, a vertical cupcake at Flurys:

Waterlogging after an hour of rain:

Update: Also check out this video clip of drummers, lights and pandal-hopping.

Related posts: Twelve drummers drumming, Cutta Snark



 Comment feed
  1. 1Saheli

    OMG, that Horlick’s Pandal deserves a post of it’s own. Wow!

    Beautiful pictures as always.

  2. 2ng

    To Horlicks:

  3. 3brown_fob

    Wow! those were great pics Manish.

  4. 4JB

    Savoured, vicariously, through these!

  5. 5Kush Tandon

    Sonar Bangla, Manish.

    You have been kolkutta, now you are a bonafide bandrolok

    However, I would rather spent time getting to know Rakhi Sawant.

  6. 6Nina P

    Wow. Wow. WOW! Thanks for your photos.

  7. 7Greatbong

    Awesome awesome pictures…Samaj Sebi Pujo…oh the memories !

  8. 8bongopondit

    Nostalgia inducing pictures……especially the ‘Durga Bari Pujo’ outside the school - my regular haunt for eight long years ! Glad to see some of the kitschiness alive as well :-)

  9. 9Nanda Kishore

    Great pictures, Manish. Dil garden garden ho gaya. Kolkata is a second home to me and god knows I miss Pujo, especially the pandal hopping. And of course, beautiful girls trying to look their best.

    Did you try out restaurants that serve Bengali fare, such as Charnock City?

  10. 10RP

    Excellent pics, Manish.

    I belong to this great city although I have been out of it for the last few years. All the cities in the world have their own idiosynchrasies and Kolkata, for one, has a lot of them. And I believe you can enjoy any city if you try to see/understand all those unique features it has the way a resident of that city will. Kolkata has so many things to complain about, if you will - traffic, congestion, pollution, humidity etc etc. I have seen so many outsiders missing the whole point, the basic charm of the city ‘coz they get all to worked up with these factors.

    But seeing these pics is so refreshing. There is so much character with the city of Kolkata and its quite a challenge to see it all in the first visit. You did it all with aplomb. The college street, coffee house pics are so touching. Frankly, I would love to see Kolkata progress in all fields, but would hate to see it lose its historic, congested and to some extent, colonial character and look and feel. For me, that IS Kolkata, my home, my character.

  11. 11DDiA

    Please tell me you tried the food at “Oh Calcutta”. And I have never been there without spotting one or more of the local (gl)literati gorging on their Kosha Mangsho (steamed and seaonsed meat). That place deserves a shout out of its own.

  12. 12Tirthankar Basu

    Good Pictureblog…check out my Kolkata videoblog