Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Spectacles Called Durga Puja


Durga Puja represents a perfect example of transformation of local festivals into high profile festivals for touristic consumption. Although, the spectacles, as Kaleidoscope is observing since time immemorial is yet to gain touristic attention compared to what even the monotonous evening prayer gets at Varanasi.

Constructed space and spectators in AE (1) block of Salt Lake 2012

There may be two major positions, first, urban festivals gives boom to the city economy as we all see a rise in the consumption habit of Kolkatans. Second, and more importantly there is an element of ethnic pride and we can argue that the puja reinforces the content and meaning of collective identification.

Shibmandir's Puja at South Kolkata. It is classic mix if tradition and modern going hand in hand. The ritualistic part is controlled by the Temple committee and the decorations, etc. by a separate committee.
One must remember Urban spectacles are produced - in the sense of Henri Lefebvre and always include the process of commodification, hence, we see this

Gates with advertisement is one of the most important source of revenue - taken at Ekdalia Evergreen pandal 2012
Competition between different Puja pandals are now sponsored (taken from website)


Aestheticisation: 

The aestheticisation of every day life comes alive a few months before the actual commencement of the puja. Kaleidoscope is no exception. He accompanies the queen to several "good", aesthetically charming stores to buy materials of aestheticisation. It costs huge... but Kaleidoscope and the Queen finds it a pleasureful pursuit to buy clothes in this once in a year indulgence of consumerist selves. 


People taking snaps... one of the major pursuits of the Puja event is to look beautiful, capture them and preserve them.

The construction of spaces for consumption:

The Puja opens up the possibilities for the creative construction and transformation of a space. Most of the big puja pandals starts organising themselves immediately after one puja gets over. Within in a few months, the open space selected for the puja observes a great transformation. There are use of symbols, and material objects that signifies the transformation and makes the consumption possible.



Mudiyali Club 2012: constructed by the Zari and other glittering materials used for the decorating the idol.


Shibmandir 2012: the theme was DNA and human cloning


Hand pulled rickshaw has been aesthetically used by the Kashba Bosepukur Puja PandalL the entire construction is made by Pine wood.
Add caption

Part of the Kashba-Bosepukur Pandal


The essences:

There are almost ritualistic restrictions in experimentations with materials of the idol. There are several experimentations with the forms, but the materials i.e. mud covered straw and bamboo structure with paints. 



A typical "ek-challa" idol, taken at Saltlake AE (1) block 2012

Worshiping of "Bhanga thakur" is done by the Brahmin Professionals: Taken at Saltlake, BJ block Puja 2012


Spectatorship: 
The space that is created in the name of the Puja is lived and relived by the spectators. It reminds kaleidoscope that of Lefebvre's "third space." Each year, with ever increasing energy the space for the puja which constitutes a mix of tradition and experimentations with tradition is lived by the spectators - all with new clothing, aesthetic looks and energies to find a space in over crowded spaces.

Long queue of Pandal hoppers outside the FD block pandal, Salt Lake 2012

Spectators of the Puja at Ekdalia Evergreen 2012
There are late night pandal hopping, eating, spending money in commuting, making plans for spending money with dear and near ones... and so on... the space is relived and consumed as a whole. 

Concerns:

Kaleidoscope and the queen are hopping pandals for last several years. They ritually visit to the thematic pandals and also the pandals with little or no change. They, like many others make plans, fight over plans, save money, spend the savings without regrets, eat, drink, spend days without regular tasks. They feel that the entire city becomes art gallery. Yet, the touristic attention towards Durga Puja is much less. The consumption is still restricted to the Kolkatan's, who in turn gives their savings to the business houses. Apart from the domestic consumers, the city does not earn much concrete stuffs from the outside. There is a huge potential of making festival tourism that can circle around the great transformation of the space. Kaleidoscope and Queen discussed and debated the issue. They worked with The Boss, to make sense of the festival, transformation and consumption. They might write something out of their experience... however, Kolkata till date fails to utilise the tourism potential of urban space transformation. 


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Durga Puja and transformation of Kolkata: time to think beyond


Kaleidoscope along with the boss is roaming around the city for last couple of days in order to make sense of the greatest festival of Kolkata - the upcoming Durga Puja. He finds the pre-puja works as astonishing especially the ways in which art works are progressing. Kaleidoscope had been a regular spectator of the festival, but never had an insight of the background of the festival.


The beauty is to be found at each corners of the city, from far north, north, central, south and to the far south. Huge pile of materials for construction, dozens of labours working round the clock, and organisers with their excellent management skill are transforming our known Kolkata into a hyperreality and fragmented micro-environments comparable to art works in art galleries. 

Artists from art colleges, their students, labours with acquired skills are working together to make things happen, to entertain the spectators, pursue their creative impulse and often to spread specific awareness through symbols in an abstract way now popularised as theme.


Talking to the organisers, artists and observing the great transformations of the city is unexplainably vivid. There is no patterns in narratives that are coming out of the study regarding the history, thoughts, plans, executions, institutions and institutional structures which is making this study more fascinating.



A few art works. (Courtesy: http://bongfood.blogspot.in/2010_10_01_archive.html)


While Kaleidoscope is observing this great transformation, he is in a quandary... While the city of Varanasi can promote its Sandhya arati which is just a repetition of similar actions over time to pool tourists, why cannot our state do something to promote this art form? Why cannot we show to the world about the nature of art work performed by our talented artists? Why does the Puja restrict itself only to a few localised awards?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Building up the Jungle: places and transformations

The tempo of work continues even after twilight 

Kaleidoscope is now living in Post Belghoria Expressway era.

The archaeaology of expressway:

The inception began before Kaleidoscope even born. The place which is now speedy expressway was a huge pile of soil, covered with lusty green grass surrounded by trees. It was the place for Kaleidoscope to play around with friends, in his early childhood. Later he went for morning walks and evening walks. Watching birds had been larger than life experience. Expressway, which now completely engulfs the lusty green field is black and white, speedy and enhances the quality of life of kaleidoscope (?).

The newer Jungle:

Since, the place around the expressway is now well connected to the airport (only 3 mins of bus ride), dunlop (6 mins of bus ride), and NH 6  and NH 2 (15 mins of bus ride), there are urban jungles coming up. The places where Kaleidoscope used to play around... large water bodies and wetlands that housed several wetland birds are now filled up by large scale earth moving equipments. There is a sudden replacement of the greenery, birds, fishes and several other material beings. Much plausibly memories, attachments to the place where Kaleidoscope thought he belonged is also getting replaced rapidly. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Will FDI combat the agro-politics in West Bengal?


The answer probably is "we will never know." We will never know until it is implemented. Meanwhile, there are strong protests from different corners.





Kaleidoscope thought this is a high time share his experience with cold storage politics in Bardhaman, West Bengal.

The story:

Kaleidoscope went to Baghnapara region where annual production of potato has been quite high. The troubles which Kaleidoscope and his boss had, was with the losses of farmers both with under and over productions of Potato and an increasing rate of farmers' suicide. Kaleidoscope visited several stakeholders of the cold storage including the farmers, middlemen, local political personalities, storage owners, investors and a couple of families having their members committed suicide because of huge loss and indebtedness with potato cultivation.
 
The story goes roughly like this:

Pre-cultivation:

A. Farmers' decision to cultivate potato

B. Local loan providers' willingness to lend money.

C. Store-owners's assurance of giving space to store

Post-cultivation:

A. Production with huge loaned amount - resulting selling off potato at throwaway price.

B. Production but space crunch at storeage - resulting selling off potato at throwaway price.

C. Having space and holding potato for right price - high interest rate of the loan providers and ultimately selling off the potato bond (the paper which contains information regarding the amount of potato deposited) to the loan provider at considerably low price.

D Holding potato - but then sudden fall in the price rate incurring loss

Politics and economics of potato bond

The potato bond usually goes from one hand to another in exchange of money. Quite often the money is borrowed from local money lenders - who frequently is the cold storage owner or a large share holder. Therefore, at the end of the season, the entire produce of the region goes under control of a handful of people who can then control the market price effectively. Their political nexus is strong enough to influence regional leaderships.
The potato chain, (ref. Nath, Suman and Chakrabarti, Bhaskar. (2011). Political Economy of Cold Storages in West Bengal, Commodity Vision, 4(IV): 36- 42


What FDI promises:

So far Kaleidoscope understands, FDI promises direct purchase of items from the farmers and then direct sell to the consumers, so as to remove the price hike and less payment to farmers by the middlemen. Kaleidoscope's cold-storage experience much plausibly suggests that FDI would definitely improve the condition of the small and marginal farmers. Kaleidoscope however is living with a few questions.

The questions:

1. Does a state like West Bengal have the infrastructure where foreign traders can go to remote villages and purchase items directly from them? 
If they does not, wouldn't it create a new class of middlemen who will make profit by directly procuring items and selling them to the traders?

2. Could not we make better financing system available at the villagers so that the money lenders fail to exploit them? 

3. Shouldn't we make stronger agro-cooperatives who can directly deal with the markets, even if there is no FDI?

3. Should not we make a concrete data bank on cold-storages and their distributions and start imposing regulatory mechanism so that local co-operatives can work effectively?


Kaleidoscope thinks that if these infrastructures are build up, agro-cooperatives can negotiate with foreign traders better and make most out of it. If the negotiations fail they can independently build up marketing mechanisms for better profit and better price.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

If it is private, then why in a blog? thinking beyond Private/Public dichotomy

Today, the Queen's elder cousin (with a generation gap and hence the question) asked Kaleidoscope about blogging. Kaleidoscope's usual answer made it difficult to draw the boundary between maintaining diary and blogging. One of the major reason for this blurring boundaries in the answer is that Kaleidoscope, quite often than not writes down stuffs that are personal, although in a supposedly "difficult to decipher" form. The Question Kaleidoscope asks to himself:

Why does Kaleidoscope write private stuffs in his blog?

The answer probably is

Kaleidoscope wants to share what is personal... but he does not want to share it with people who physically know him. He presumes, even if they know, they will not question directly, therefore, he makes a conscious attempt to form "messy text."

Then the most relaxing part:

In web world, with crores of pages, Kaleidoscope's words are kept as safe and secure, with a hope that there are people who read them... may be empathise them...

Therefore, blogging breaks the dichotomy between private and public... effectively... Kaleidoscope loves this uninsured status 

Things you can repair, do it... things you cannot, just sleep off

Kaleidoscope is blogging too much now a day. It is not that he is getting much more time than what he used to get. Do not associate hyperactivity and responsiveness with sudden rise of energy level with this frequent blogging.

Wish Kaleidoscope had "tools to repair"


It is just that Kaleidoscope is increasingly becoming aware that a lot of his world is irreparable. Whatever he could repair, he has done. For those things which are beyond the engineering capacity of Kaleidoscope is left undone.

The work load is increasing each day. Meanwhile, Kaleidoscope is hiding himself from the daunting task to the character in blog - the Kaleidoscope. He is famously known as possessing almost charismatic character of "sleeping off" the irreparable items. Now that the pending repairing task is increasing, Kaleidoscope is increasingly suffering from paucity of sleep! He wakes up for a day long headache... he sleeps for a night long restlessness - somewhere deep inside Kaleidoscope hears "repair... repair... repair..."

Monday, October 1, 2012

Banking Reform, Cash Transfer and a Promise of Transparency: PMO's Paradox


This Photo was taken by Kaleidoscope during his MGNREGA fieldwork and is awarded by UNDP as one of the top 50 photographs in Humanising development campaign  http://www.ipc-undp.org/photo/

Kaleidoscope was enthusiastic to evaluate the implementation of MGNREGA in Bardhaman - one of the better performing districts in West Bengal for four consecutive years.

The banking factor:

In the last two years of his evaluation period, MGNREGA payment was supposed to be made by direct account transfer, which required the following things:
1. Location of state recognised banking systems in villages, which was often not the case.
2. Bank's readiness for opening a zero balance account for all the job card holders in the region, many of them might draw Rs. 1000/- or less per year.
3. People's banking know-how.
4. Adequate staff in the banks to handle such a huge number of accounts
5. Security facility to the bankers to manually carry the money from one branch to another.

The noble aim was: a) make the money transfer transparent; b) install banking behaviour; c) reduce workload from PRIs

The issues with banking:


kaleidoscope during the long fieldworks found out the following:
1. forget the private banks, even nationalised banks did not show any interest to open zero balance account, Panchayats had to pursue the matter, sometimes with threat and potential violance.
2. Staff shortage made it horrible to the bankers to manage such a huge amount money transfer and account handling, as people queued from early morning to late evening to collect money primarily because of a mistrust to banking system.
3. Banking staffs took high risk to bring lakhs of rupees without police support.
4. Actual workers, in places had to pay a percentage to the local dadas, which they also paid when banking system was not installed.


The two interesting recent phenomenon:


Before coming to the actual point Kaleidoscope must quote from two contradictory facts:

FACT - A:
August, 22 India's national bankers observe a two-day strike to oppose Banking sector reform.

"Foreign ownership of Indian public sector banks is capped at 20 percent, and some global banks have been pitching for a hike in their holding limit to expand their presence in Asia's third-largest economy by acquiring smaller regional banks.
In what is being seen by analysts as a positive step towards reform, parliament is likely in coming days to approve amendments to banking laws that include raising the limit on shareholders' voting rights in public and private banks" [see Reuters http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/08/22/india-banks-strike-idINDEE87K08920120822]

FACT - B:

September, 28 "Prime leads initiatives for direct cash transfer to subsidy beneficiaries"

NDTV reports that "The Prime Minister has begun the process of developing a system that will allow cash to be transferred directly to the bank accounts of those who qualify for government subsidies and schemes." [http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/prime-minister-s-new-scheme-for-direct-cash-transfer-to-subsidy-beneficiaries-273418]

The paradox:

The MGNREGS experience which Kaleidoscope reports is still there. There are payment delays, people loose several man-days because of banking takes huge time. Banks and Post offices are reluctant (and they have every reason to be so) to work for these schemes. Middlemen are there, in the name of help they take away a certain percentage of money from the beneficiaries. Furthermore, if gradual reform in banking sector ultimately results in a significantly high degree of privatisation, should we expect private banks to open accounts for such beneficiaries? Does rural India's has such infrastructure that we can run banking reform and subsidy transfer hand in hand?