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The goddess gets the blues


First Mamata painted the city blue and white, and now her loyalists are bent on dressing Durga in a different colour. With the traditional red having Leftist associations, there is poriborton in the pandal.

When Goddess Durga descends from Mount Kailash along with her four children to visit her parents this October-end, there will be a shock in store for her. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee's loyalists plan not to drape her in the traditional red sari, but in a blue and white one. They will do this to please their leader, who decreed a blue-and-white colour code for all public structures in Bengal in January this year.

Many Durga Puja committees patronised by Mamata's men have decided on this colour combination for not only the Goddess' attire, but also for the pandals and other structures. One such puja committee in Mamata's assembly constituency in South Kolkata has gone a step further - it will paint the facades of all houses on the road leading to the pandal in blue and white. Trinamool leaders Madan Mitra and Saugata Roy, who are patrons of this particular puja committee, admit that the idea is "inspired" by Mamata's colour code.

This colour combination will be dominant in at least a dozen-odd Durga Puja pandals patronised by senior Trinamool leaders and ministers across Kolkata. More than a hundred puja pandals in the districts will reportedly follow suit. Traditionalists are already up in arms against the plan. "It's one thing to paint government buildings blue and white, but changing the colours of what the deity wears is inexcusable, " says Gaurishankar Bandopadhyay, a wellknown Kolkata-based Hindu priest. The Goddess, he adds, would look "staid and even ridiculous" in blue and white. "Red is the colour of shakti, which Goddess Durga symbolises. Anything other than red is unacceptable, " adds Sanskrit scholar Nilomoni Ghoshal, who is also considered an authority on Hindu scriptures.

Such criticism seems to have had some effect - at least one puja committee in Siliguri has reversed its decision to change the colour of the Devi's attire. "Some pandits criticised us, so we're painting only the main structure made of bamboo matting and jute blue and white. The Goddess will wear a red sari, " says Pijush Kanti Das, secretary of Pradhannagar Bijoya Sangha Durga Puja Committee.

Mamata's prescription of blue and white came earlier this year and stemmed from her deep aversion to red, a colour associated with her archrivals, the Left. Soon after coming to power in Bengal, her government and Kolkata's Trinamool-controlled civic body started painting many public structures green, the Trinamool's official colour. But green made the structures look hideous and the scheme earned a lot of flak from the people of Kolkata. She then came up with the idea of blue and white, a politically neutral colour combination, which some of her aides say was inspired by Mother Teresa's cotton sari. "Our leader is greatly inspired by Mother Teresa, " says urban development minister Firhad Hakim. Kolkata mayor Sovan Chatterjee, who suggested a tax rebate for house-owners who paint the exteriors of their houses blue and white, gives it a different twist: "Since the sky is the limit for Bengal's impending development, and white is the sum total of all colours and symbolises peace and harmony, our leader came up with this colour combination. "

With Mamata's men fiercely protective about their new colour code, it wasn't surprising to see tempers flaring when a Left legislator, Ali Imran Ramz, quipped on the floor of the assembly a few weeks ago that the blue and white combination was inspired more by the colour of Mamata's slippers than by anything else. The remark not only earned Ramz a day's dismissal from the House, but it also led to Mamata promptly replacing her blue-and-white rubber slippers with plain white ones.
Mamata's loathing for red came out in the open soon after she became Union railway minister in the UPA 2 government in 2009. Red was discarded from all events organised by her ministry. Manufacturers of plastic chairs reaped a rich harvest by making tens of thousands of green chairs for the railway ministry and Trinamool events. And no longer were visitors accorded a 'red carpet' welcome but a 'green carpet' one. Red roses on the dais gave way to flowers of other hues. Even the red brick structures at railway stations got a green makeover.

Now, road dividers, walls of government buildings, railway stations, public furniture, lamp posts, sheds and even flyovers are getting a blue and white makeover in Bengal. About 1, 500 policemen below the rank of assistant commissioner in the three newly-created police commissionerates in Kolkata's outskirts and in Siliguri and Asansol will shed their 150-year-old khaki uniforms for blue caps, white shirts and dark blue trousers, which the Chief Minister thinks will make them look smarter.

Some of Mamata's over-enthusiastic supporters even suggested that the colour of the 235-year-old Writers' Buildings, the seat of the government, be changed from red. When conservationists protested, the red colour remained, though the landmark structure is festooned in blue and white fairy lights on important occasions.

In Kolkata, this is one 'poriborton' (change) that is amply visible.

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