Pandal-Hopping Pandemonium

Written By

Anindita Sen

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In the mid-eighties, we came back from Manila, Philippines to Calcutta, after staying there for five years. Our daughters were very young and feeling lost and confused in the new environment. So I was determined to show them the brighter side of the city. Fortunately, it was Festival time. Durga Puja was being celebrated. I thought about how as a child I used to accompany my grandfather to see all the images in the nearby pandals and decided to take my children out in the evening to show them the grand images and spectacular lighting.

After we had visited three or four pandals close to our house, we came to a huge pandal constructed in the form of a South Indian temple. The lighting was breath-taking. There were separate lanes for people going in and out marked by thick ropes tied to bamboo poles. I started feeling quite nervous to see such a huge crowd and held my daughters’ hands so tightly, that they started to complain I was hurting them. However, we joined the crowd, and were swept along. To my relief, we gained entry to the pandal without any mishap. We did not get much time to see the idols, but I remember that both my daughters were much taken by the image of ‘Mahisasura’, which was in the traditional style with the head of a water buffalo. It was green, and wore red ‘nagrai’ shoes.

I could not stand the pushing and shoving anymore and told my daughters that right after going out we would head home. For once they did not make a fuss about it. While going out the situation became worse. A group of young boys blowing on their bamboo horns, creating an awful cacophony, tried to overtake us. The pressure of human bodies became intolerable. Somebody pushed me from behind and as I stumbled, my younger daughter’s hand slipped from my grasp. My heart skipped a beat.

But I quickly spotted her extended hand and held on to it for dear life. I walked faster to where the crowd had thinned a bit. I breathed a sigh of relief and looked down at my daughter to tell her to hold on to me more tightly. Then to my utter shock and dismay, I saw that it was a little boy whose hand I was so firmly holding. The poor thing was looking quite aggrieved and puzzled to be dragged along by a completely unknown woman. I frantically glanced about with my heart in my mouth, and saw that my younger daughter was trotting close behind me with an equally aggrieved expression on her face. It transpired that the unknown child was one of the group of horn-playing boys. I quickly let go of his hand and gripped my daughter’s and vowed never to go out in the evening, on foot, for Durga puja again.

Safety tips for your children in a crowded place

If you happen to find yourself with two children in a crush of people, please follow a few simple rules:

  1. Tell your children immediately to not let go of you under any circumstances.
  2. If one child is very young, it’s best to pick him up, to avoid his falling.
  3. Depending on the age of the other child, fix a place you will meet if you happen to be separated.
  4. If you anticipate a crowd even before setting out from home, like a fair or a puja, write your name and contact information on some parts of their person. It would help their rescuers greatly.
  5. But above all, if the push and pull of bodies is unmanageable and you worry at all about being separated, identify the next exit and leave immediately.

Can you think of any more essential rules to observe when in a throng of people? Please write in and tell us!




Anindita Sen, 66 years, lives in Kolkata. She now enjoys a life of retirement after being a school teacher for over 30 years and raising two daughters with unnecessarily strong personalities. She performs Rabindra Sangeet, and enjoys books, movies, friends, and family. She is a proud and harassed grandmother of three.

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