Kolkata 2012: Concept of Para & Maath

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Kolkatta – This is a picture taken in a neighborhood in South Kolkata. The playground, in the forefront, is used to play football and cricket. While a few boys play cricket, some others sit around and enjoy the game, its passion and its activity. In Bengali the playground is called “maath”. This is the epicenter of the neighborhood, for cultural activities, games and also for a walk and a chat.

During Durga Puja, the scene is quite different on this playground. Beautiful castles and decorations adorn the ground. It is full of people, in bright colorful clothes and brighter smiles. During the four days of Durga Puja, the ground transforms to a festival and to seek the blessings of the Goddess. This is holiday time, a time for carnivals and to go pandal-hopping, enjoy delicacies from the food stalls around the Puja pandal, a temporary structure, built to celebrate this festival of joy.

Around the pandal, during Durga Puja, there are little stalls set up. These stalls are temporary structures and are full of customers, smiles and excited festival chatter.

Colorful toys, jewelry, and soft toys are commonly sold. So is food, for the people of Bengal are passionate about food. Game stalls would have many children and the stalls would have small plastic toys as gifts. Bouncy castle, the merry go round (locally called Nagar-dolas), and “shoot the balloons” would be the star attractions. The organizers of this Durga Puja also have painting, drawing and singing competitions.

Durga Puja is a celebration of the spirit of the community; it attracts people from all over India, to enjoy the color and joy of this celebration.

On most of the evenings, during those four days of Durga Puja, there would be a musical show. This might be accompanied with dance and a music band. Local talent, professionals, and some artists who live in the locality (paara) would perform.

The changing uses of this playground are amazing. It might be that a minister has to address an audience. During this political event, it would be full of chairs, speakers, and of course, people. There would be a huge collection of the local police to regulate the whole event. The event management team would decorate the ground. The local sweet shops, called the “misti dokan,” would make plenty of samosas and jalebi for the people. These can be enjoyed with the event, on this ground. Yes, they do make you drool.

Most neighborhoods in Kolkata, colloquially, ‘para’s’, have such grounds. They are a very interesting place and full of stories. The morning walkers, the cricket nets early in the morning and the people who sit and relish their tea (yes, you do not just drink tea, you relish it) gives a different dimension to this ‘maath’.

The playground’s heritage is still strong and relished and very much cherished.

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