When homecoming during Puja is not so sweet

Report by: 
Debanjan Mukherjee
Kolkata
22 Sep 2017

As the sky starts adorning itself with cloud balls, Bengalis across the globe prepare themselves for homecoming for their biggest festival. But seldom do we hear about Bengalis who are fortunate to spend Durga Puja with their family, but are not quite happy.

Meet Gautam Chakraborty from Sodepur who is getting a chance to enjoy the festival with his wife and two kids after years but is not at all ecstatic. Gautam loves mountains. He started hotel business in Darjeeling way back in 2000 and gradually expanded to Rishop, Lava and Sillerygaon in North Bengal and Gangtok in Sikkim. Since 2009 he has been running a travel agency, and according to him the festive season is a tremendous pressure time for people like them. This is the first time Gautam's kids will get their father around during the Pujas.

Then why is he not that happy? He says: "For the last 17 years, hills have become a part of my life. I can't think of my day beginning without enjoying a glance of Kanchenjhungha from my room at this time of the year. This is a pick time for businessmen like us to serve tourists. But this year I am experiencing something which I never dreamt of. I have not been to hills for over three months. I have not met the people there with whom I spend leisure time. They are giving me phone calls every day, enquiring about my health and asking same questions. I know them for years and I understand that actually they are trying to feel my presence through my voice. I am feeling the same. This is a suffocating for me.'' The reason behind his staying back at home is the current sutuation in the hills of Bengal.

According to Gautam, 50 per cent of bookings for Darjeeling and Sikkim done through his company Wild Wings.Biz has been cancelled in the last three months as situation deteriorated in Darjeeling due to stir by local people in demand for Gorkhaland.  "I don't blame the tourists. Nobody wishes to find themselves in an atmosphere of tension. But what has saddened me is that despite my repeated assurance that situation is absolutely fine in Sikkim, people are not ready to go there. Information that I have gathered so far suggests many hotels in Gangtok have rooms unbooked even today when Puja is just two days away".

Asked what his friends in the hills are saying about the ongoing situation there, Gautam said: "They are blaming the politicians for their plight. They are simple human beings but smart enough to understand what is going on. But as far as my reading is concerned, they are in favour of separate state. Their businesses have suffered beyond imagination, they are desperately praying for withdrawal of the bandh but mentally they are supporting GJM's demand". The Sodepur-base travel agency owner, who does not deny that a chance to spend the puja with his kids for the first time is a matter of joy, has, however, not given up his hope. "My years of experience in the hills says Bimal Gurung might lift the bandh at the last moment just for the festive season. If that happens it will take just a few minutes for me to pack my bags and leave for the hills".

The man who knows the sentiments of hill people like the back of his hand and has also penned a book on his memories there, says if the bandh is withdrawn, travel freak Bengalis will not even bother reaching there by bus and flight, since several trains to New Jalpaiguri have been cancelled. Right now the Sodepur-based hotelier is standing right in between happiness with family and call from his friends in hills.