It’s raining cats and dogs and Pawan Ruia’s impatience is visibly pushing the assembled officers in the Ruia Group Headquarters on the edge. Hurried phone calls to the Met Office are not able to provide any respite and the organisers of the puja he is supposed to inaugurate have summoned all hands on deck to cover the makeshift stage where the locality will honour their star guest with tarpaulin. Known in industry circles for maintaining his cool, even on the face of insurmountable odds, Pawan Ruia is not his unfazed self – repeatedly looking at his watch, he is like a million other Bengalis, asking all and sundry, “will the rains play spoilsport this Puja”?
Finally, after an hour and half from the scheduled time his convoy rolls out. The destination being the community Puja of 25 Palli in Khidderpore: one of the oldest localities of the city. The Khidderpore docks, the headquarters of the Bengal Nagpur Railways (later christened the South Eastern Railway), the Meteorological Office, the Bodyguard Lines of the West Bengal Police, The Zoological Gardens – with the British setting up one institution after the other in the vicinity, the area had attracted the first settlers, the predominantly Bengali babu’s working thereat. It is their descendants who organise the Puja, in its 69th year and the excitement is palpable among the assembled organisers and the locality women dressed in their choicest finery as Ruia arrives with wife Sarita, daughter Sakchi, accompanied by select functionaries of his HR and Corporate Communications team.
Conch Shells are blown in traditional welcome and the Dhaki’s rant the air with their beats – suddenly the rain takes backstage as the pelting flowers of celebration push even the showers back and Ruia does the honors – cutting the red tape to formally unveil the Puja. A quick tour of the pandal follows and joined by his family, Ruia lights the ceremonial lamp before the Devi. It is not another case of your vainglorious “celebrity” flashing smiles at the cameras who approach such events as a mere PR exercise, but one of humble submission before the Mother Goddess by a believer – barefooted in the park, arms securely folded, with an almost childish wanderlust of reverence in the eyes.
The honorary Uttorios and mementos are conferred and the locality elders formally welcome the industrialist who have made this annual visit a must in his globe-trotting schedule. The assembled ladies sing hymns in praise and Ruia is given the mike, with a request to share a few words. The otherwise shy and affable Ruia immediately transforms into his charismatic self – not only interpreting the “theme” in his inimitable way, but also stating how he prayed to Goddess to empower women to fight against the crimes which has seen spurt so that we may all make our nation a better, safer haven for our daughters. The drizzle was doing its bit by washing away the carefully administered make-up, yet the assembled ladies were unperturbed as they related to every word Ruia was saying, wide eyed and nodding in approval.
But why Ruia? Is it only to tap into the largesse of an industrial house? Surely, Brazilian Footballers and Tollywood starlets have more glamour with politicians yielding more clout and larger coffers? The President of 25 Palli Robin Sarkar is shocked at my question. “Pawan Ruia is not just a celebrity to us. What he has done for the state has no parallels. His social work, especially with children in need is unparalleled and even Ma Durga would have christened him the “Chosen One” among her sons if she were to make the pick. You heard him speak – he was saying things that reflect our concerns, our thoughts, our worries – making him one of us, despite his stature, his position, his preoccupations. That is why we will continue to invite him to do the honours like we have been doing for close to a decade now.”
There is a conference call with European associates waiting in the office as are pressing engagements as Pawan Ruia stands in front of the idol, oblivious of the cacophony around him … a few private moments with the Mother in a very public place. “This one day gives me sustenance for the other 364” he says after faithfully bowing his head in reverence.
“Poverty, failure, difficulty, bereavements … Durga Puja is a triumph of the spirit. Just look around and see the light in the eyes of the people, they know that their Mother is here and that she will help them fight, to overcome all the odds, to take the fight to the enemy camp. It is this spirit of Bengal that gives me the power to focus on my dreams to move ahead. That is why, whatever engagements I may have, I make it a point to visit the four pujas that I inaugurate in the four corners of the city” says Ruia, even as he greets the elders of the locality with the warmth of a relative, inquiring about them and their families.
“In Bengal, the Durga puja is much more than a mere religious festival it’s a socio-cultural phenomenon. It is about homecoming, about the refurbishing of bonds about the strengthening of relations. How can I stay away”?
As the barriers break and the locality embrace Pawan Ruia, literally and otherwise, the warmth of homecoming is palpable, Ma Durga smiles in the background, her happiness infectious even as I see a glint of a tear of happiness forming in the corner of Ruia’s eyes.
Like we say in Bengal, “Aschhe bochhor abaar hobe”
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