Braving intermittent rain, hordes of people were seen flocking big-ticket Durga puja pandals in the city on Monday morning with little or no regard for social distancing norms. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had last week announced that revellers can go pandal hopping from 'Tritiya' - three days before the rituals begin — to avoid crowding on the last four days of the annual extravaganza.
At some of the popular marquees in the city, such as Ekdalia Evergreen, Singhi Park, Sribhumi Sporting and Badamtala Asar Sangha, people were not allowed to step inside without masks. Crowd management, however, remained a challenge as swarms of revellers gathered outside the pandals, despite repeated warnings by the puja committees.
At Sribhumi Sporting, in the northern part of the city, many were seen huddling at different corners to click photographs of the deity, bedecked in gold jewellery. Subham Das, a pandal-hopper from Dumdum, said outside the Sribhumi pandal, "This pujo is a must-see for me, COVID or no COVID. What is the point if I can't stay back a little after coming all way from my place, which is some 8km away?" Partha Ghosh, an office-bearer of Shivmandir Durga Puja in south Kolkata, said volunteers at the exit and the entry points are ensuring that people do not take off masks or push and shove one another.
Thousands of people also thronged the city's shopping hubs for last-minute purchases. Rita Debnath, when asked why she wasn't covering her nose, hit back saying she was finding it difficult to breathe with the mask on.
"Why just me, there are so many others who are not following protocols. This is the only time of the year I shop for my children and grandchildren…I can't break that tradition, the woman, in her mid-60s, said outside a shop in Gariahat. The COVID-19 death toll in West Bengal went past the 6,000-mark on Sunday with 64 more fatalities, even as a record number of 3,983 fresh cases pushed the tally to 3,21,036.