Molly, Camphor, Liza and Dinky dutifully sat near the pedestal of the deity’s statue at the Durga Puja pandal (marquee) put up by the Bidhan Sarani Atlas Club opposite the Shyambazar tram terminus in Kolkata.
They were invited on Monday as “chief guests” in what was called a “special appearance” for the inauguration of West Bengal’s first pet-friendly Puja pandal.
But before you mistake the four for some ‘VIPs’ or ‘celebrities’, Molly and Camphor (Labradors), and Liza and Dinky (German shepherds) are members of the Kolkata Police’s dog squad.
The city police later tweeted, “Paw stars! Yesterday, 4 members of our dog squad — Labradors Molly & Camphor, German Shepherds Liza and Dinky made a very special appearance as chief guests at the inauguration of Kolkata’s first pet-friendly Durga Puja, courtesy Bidhan Sarani Atlas Club (sic).”
This unusual initiative received appreciation from one and all. The club even received an appreciation letter from the city police. The main theme of the marquee is “responsible behaviour on the road” by avoiding things such as drunk driving and speeding. The Durga statue at the venue holds no weapon and there is no ‘asura’ (demon) lying near its feet. The ‘asura’ has been placed opposite the statue in a way that it faces the deity. Not surprisingly, the statue with two dogs at the pedestal symbolises a safe shelter for pets. “On behalf of animal lovers and the Kolkata Police’s dog squad, we appreciate the initiative taken by Bidhan Sarani Atlas club to start a pet-friendly puja (pandal) from this year and invite all pet parents with their pets during the Durga Puja days. It is first-of-its-kind initiative and has been appreciated by all,” read the appreciation certificate.
Biswajit Ghosh, an office-bearer of the Bidhan Sarani Atlas Club, said, “There are some demons on the road who drive in such a manner that their vehicles crush stray dogs and cats etc. Those who are cruel to innocent animals are the real demons. So instead of a conventional ‘asura’, we placed a burly man riding a two-wheeler with stray dogs underneath. We wish to awaken human consciousness through this picture of asura.”
Amita Raj Mitra, a dog owner who visited the pandal with her pet, a Labrador, said, “ I stay nearby and this is my second visit to the venue here. I came to know that the organisers till the third day of the Puja were allowing only those with pets inside. They have helpline numbers for the visitors with pets. Also, they have dog handlers here. In fact, pets are the VIPs here.”
Alokananda Guha, another visitor, said, “I didn’t expect that dogs will be brought to the platform where the goddess’ statue has been kept. I have two dogs and I always wanted to take them out for Puja. At last, we have a place where we can not only bring them along but they can also meet fellow pets here. Durga Puja in Bengal is not just a religious ritual but it is about enjoying the festival, mood and the vibe.”
The club, which is running into its 39th year, has been marking theme-based Puja since 2016.
And placing dogs at the pedestal of the goddess’ statue was not an easy call to take. “We were sure about the message we wanted to send but some people were apprehensive about the theme and how some sections were going to respond to it. But we knew that either it will be big flop or it will be a huge hit making everyone talk about it,” added Ghosh.