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Rediff.com  » News » EXCLUSIVE! How the Prez is celebrating Durga Puja

EXCLUSIVE! How the Prez is celebrating Durga Puja

Last updated on: October 20, 2012 22:53 IST

EXCLUSIVE! How the Prez is celebrating Durga Puja

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Indrani Roy in Miriti, West bengal

Rediff.com's Indrani Roy visits Pranab Mukherjee's ancestral home in Miriti, Birbhum district. India's President arrived here on Saturday to perform Durga Puja

Miriti, an obscure village in Birbhum district of Bengal, came to occupy a prominent place in the global map ever since media started focusing on the Durga Puja celebrated there at the ancestral home of President Pranab Mukherjee.

And with Mukherjee donning a priest's garb added a special dimension to the Puja. This year, all eyes are on the village as Miriti's son of the soil is now adorning the post of President of India.

Rediff.com has been a regular at the Durga Puja celebrated at Mukherjee Bhavan. And getting an entry into the tradition structure was a cakewalk even when Mukherjee was a Cabinet minister.

But this year is an exception.

An elaborate security arrangement has been made in Miriti because of the President's visit. Mukherjee's ancestral home has been cordoned off by the West Bengal police.

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Image: Mukherjee in a priest's garb in this September 2009 photograph
Photographs: Rediff archives

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Miriti has been turned into a fortress

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The President arrived in Kolkata in a special Air Force aircraft on Saturday afternoon along with his 60-member team from Rashtrapati Bhavan. He paid a visit to his sister at Kirnahar and thereafter left for his Miriti home in a helicopter.

Mukherjee is expected to be in Miriti until Navami (October 23), the third day of Durga Puja. According to police sources, about 1,500 policemen have been deployed in and around the President's home.

Almost all the local hotels and guest houses in the area have been reserved for the members of the President's team.

Mukherjee's grandfather, late Jangaleswar Mukherjee, started the Mukherjee Bhavan Durga Puja, which is almost 100 years old. Mukherjee's father, Kamadakinkar, continued the tradition and now the onus is on the President to keep the practice alive.

His son Abhijit Mukherjee, a Lok Sabha member of Parliament from Jangipur, supervises the entire Puja proceedings for all four days.

"Abhijit has taken up substantial responsibility of the Puja at present", the President told the media on Saturday.

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Image: Security personnel at the Mukherjee Bhavan
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty

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'These khaki-clad people are a bit too much'

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As we arrived in Miriti, about 300 km from Kolkata, on Saturday, it looked like a fortress. There were police and security people in every corner.

Villagers of the area were awestruck -- they had never witnessed so many khaki-clad figures in their lives. Unlike every year, this time they are being frisked before entering the Mukherjee Bhavan which is why many decided to sit on the stairs of a small grocery shop across the road.

One of them was Bapi Maniya, a shy teenager, who was keeping a strict 'vigil'. When we asked if those policemen scared him, he said, "Haan didi, these khaki-clad people are a bit too much".

A silly question 'do you know if he knew why there were so many police officers in Miriti this time' got us an angry bark, "Arre, he is the President! You have to put up with such security excess!"

However, Bapi did admit that he missed the good old days when he would enter the house at will and would stand by the dhakis (drummers) beating up the festival tune.

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Image: Bapi Maniya
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty

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'He is the Rashtrapati, we are simple village folk'

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Bapi's tone of nostalgia was reverberated in the voice of Nandita Mondal, a housewife.

"I was pretty close to Pranabbabu's mother (Rajlakshmi Mukherjee). We would often play snakes and ladders in the evenings and the afternoons.

"Those days are gone. This year, I am afraid, I won't be able to attend Pranabbabu's Puja. I just don't like the policewallas.

"Wish things were the same as before. We are simple village folk. And he is the Rashtrapati, there is an insurmountable gap," said Mondal.

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Image: Nandita Mondal
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty

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'There is nothing called jet lag in his dictionary'

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However, both the President and his private secretary Pradeep Gupta claimed that there has been very little alteration to the Puja module at Mukherjee Bhavan this time.

"Rites and rituals of the Puja will be the same. But the only difference is that the media won't be allowed to photograph me in the costume of a priest," the President told the media on Saturday evening during a brief interaction.

"However, I will do the Chondipath on all three days of the Puja."

Taking a cue from Mukherjee, Gupta told rediff.com, "We have got strict instruction from the President not to bar anyone from visiting the Puja pandal".

"The visitors won't be allowed to carry a camera or a mobile phone inside the house but they are most welcome to participate in the Puja. It's a special occasion and the Honourable President wants one and all to be a part of it," he added.

Talking about his indefatigable boss, Gupta said, "His untiring spirit is an inspiration for all of us. I have seen him flying straight from New York to this Puja.

"He is never exhausted, there is nothing called jet lag in his dictionary. His dedication is simply amazing," said Gupta.

"To the boss, this Durga Puja is a part of his soul. He just can't part with it."


Image: Pradeep Gupta, the President's private secretary
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty

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