“Please take a step back,” I was told at a pandal in the city last year for getting too close to the idol. The volunteer was polite. The healthcare protocols were stringently in place.
A year on, the fear of the pandemic has subsided and citizens are looking forward to a fun-filled festival. Restrictions at city pandals will be lenient and the fervour is expected to set the stage for the upcoming festivals at the end of the year.
This time, Shillong will have 66 pandals under the Central Puja Committee (CPC). “There will be some relaxations in protocols this year owing to less number of positive cases. Volunteers at every pandal will play an important role in implementing the guidelines and keeping an eye on visitors,” said JL Das, general secretary of the committee.
Unlike last year, children, senior citizens and pregnant women will be allowed to enter pandals, which will give the usual razzmatazz a miss.
Das said it is mandatory for all local puja committees to have proper illumination, especially on the approach road. However, some committees will eschew elaborate light works and decorations. CCTV cameras are mandatory at pandals.
For bigger pandals, separate entry and exit points are a must.
The CPC will not organise the usual competitions related to Durga Puja. In fact, its traditional harmony meet before the puja will also be missing for the second consecutive year.
“We will hold a cultural program me after the festival as a symbol of peace and harmony. I appeal to people of all communities to be part of the festive fervour,” said Das.
The general protocols of wearing masks, using sanitizers and maintaining social distance will remain. Fire safety equipment and first-aid boxes are also on the to-do list of the puja committees.
The CPC will also ensure that all its volunteers and puja committee members and priests are fully vaccinated. “For those coming from outside, it will not be possible to check for double vaccination but everyone else from Shillong should have,” said a local puja committee member.
Cleanliness remains the mantra this puja and each committee has to deploy men to check littering. This is why, no visitor will be allowed to take food inside the pandal premises.
The volunteers of CPC have already been briefed about maintaining protocols and law and order during a recent meeting with ASP Supriya Das.
Immersion of idols on Dashami, the last day of the puja, will also be done following protocols. Not more than 25 people will be allowed in each vehicle carrying the idols and every puja committee has to arrange for a vehicle to clean the waste.
“This is the reason why we are trying to keep the idols not more than 5 ft, so that we require less people to carry them to the immersion ghat,” said another puja committee member.
Lights amid pandemic
Shopping malls and apparel stores in the city are brimming with buyers this year, a sign that revellers this time are more relaxed than last year. Nonetheless, the nationwide alert on a possible third wave remains.
Durga Puja will set the stage for other festivals like Diwali and Christmas. At the same time, any laxity on the part of citizens and the administration may boomerang as the Covid-19 infection still remains a reality.
The responsibility lies not only with puja committees, the authorities and the CPC but also with revellers who have to be careful about the protocols and have to abstain from crowding pandals. Though children and senior citizens have been allowed to be part of the festival, the onus lies on respective families to ensure that those with comorbidities take care to wear masks and avoid crowded localities.
It is the beginning of the year’s festival season and the rhythm of music should not die down for a spike in cases. All we need to do is be careful and responsible.
~ Team Sunday Monitor