As a child, I remember going out to the riverside parks with my dad and sit on the benches by the side of the Brahmaputra and watch the sunset and impending dusk. It was a certain period in the city’s timeline, when Guwahati was gradually approaching a modern style and yet modernity had not shown its ugly face. Somewhere it was all balanced out like the sound of heavy electrical instruments and the lead singer’s voice in a well orchestrated rock band performance. The simple audio and video cassettes were moving out and CDs had come in, only a handful of rich people had bought something called a mobile phone, even the construction of the recent flyovers had not started, there weren’t any of the malls or multiplexes or branded restaurants which we see now, the Nehru park was the main place for children’s amusement, you didn’t see teenagers with cigarette between their lips swearing abuses and moving around in costly cars and stylish bikes and the streets of Guwahati weren’t flooded with cars, bikes and people. Roads and streets of the city which were once deserted and dark, now bustle with human activities, lights and cars. Schools had simple routine, with academics as the main focus and fests on the sideline. Small shops and simple grocery stores were very much in business. Dressed and packed meat was not available anywhere.
Everything has changed. Just see how even the Durga Puja celebration pattern has changed in the city. Lights, crowd, canopy of temporary fast food joints on the footpaths, traffic jam, fun filled pandals, high cost images, the sound of the dhak, children dressed in new clothes and their crackers, the sweets and the khichdi, the pundits and their mantras (sometimes amplified)….all these together always create an unique and pleasantly nostalgic aura about Durga Puja in the city. History has its share and over the years Puja in Guwahati city has taken a lot of unprecedented twists and turns to reach the present state, a rather consumer driven state. More than the worshipping part of the event you will observe that people are busy with various sale offered by most companies whether be it ladies wear or cars. “This Puja…..” and you have a whole lot of offers and schemes to choose from. The present day scenario of any festival is dominated by a very strong market force. Most of the malls are open till late up to night. Amidst the glitter and pomp of materialistic demands and excitement, the religious devotion and attitude for the spiritual quest can be easily questioned. To add on top of it, you have the exponential increase in the number of private vehicles and its effect on the traffic of the city during the Puja; all through the four days the roads are jammed and crammed by people in their mostly newly bought cars and bikes thronging the Puja pandals. And yes don’t forget how some of the prominent pandals of the city become the haven of drunk and misbehaved youngsters, because of whom it is sometimes embarrassing to visit these pandals with women or girls.
Only time can say if these changes are for the good or the bad. With the strong footing of economic liberalisation, financial condition of the average man has changed a lot. Every other middle class person owns a car, everyone has a LCD TV set and everyone sends their children to a posh school and eats at branded restaurants. And again you see obese children everywhere, youngsters smoking weed and rashly riding motorbikes and meeting their end. Hardly will you see a young boy sitting on the benches of the riverside park with his dad. You will find him at a famous restaurant selling fried chicken or may be at a place specialised in pizzas.
The city still has an immensely huge working class population for whom every penny comes with a lot of pain. But side by side, as a by-product of liberalisation, corruption, and various other easy ways of income, a section has come up, especially a young generation which doesn’t understand the value or to say the purpose of human life with any rational justification or moral and ethical implications. From where the money comes and where it goes has no value for anyone. Common people’s money, messed up in cycles of corruption lands up in the hands of all the wrong people who use it unjustly for all the wrong reasons. Students passing out from government colleges work for MNCs. Doctors and diagnostic centres are busy with their own commission tie-ups while the patient parties empty their pockets. Politicians never even care to understand the importance of hard earned money which is laundered in their hands.
Perhaps all the development we see, is one sided. Perhaps to satisfy the greed of a handful of the people, we are living in this make-believe world of ads and commercials. Perhaps with money comes up an unjust psychology. And perhaps that’s why as Guwahati’s face changes, you see large number of beggars looking at you with haunting eyes and demanding something as you walk on the streets.