Harry Potter and the Order of the Court

After remaining invincible through his seven years of scholarship (the seven ages of manhood?) at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry Potter finally found his nemesis in Goddess Durga. A 394-page case of copyright violation brought in by creator J K Rowling and filmmaker Warner Brothers against a Durga Puja organiser was summarily dismissed by the Delhi High Court. The point of contention was a pandal being built to celebrate the four-day event in Calcutta was modelled after Hogwarts Castle.

For the uninitiated, Durga Puja is the biggest annual festival for Bengalis, when Devi Durga is believed to return to earth for four days accompanied by her children Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesh and Kartik. Their arrival and departure are marked by festivities which have long transcended religious boundaries and entered the realm of popular culture. The most common manifestation of this carnival-like celebration is the construction of themed pandals, or temporary tents of bamboo, wood and canvas, in every neighbourhood. Idols of Durga, in the pose of vanquishing a demon, are housed there for the duration of the Puja and are visited by local residents, as well as visitors from different parts of the country.

Despite the winds of commercialism blowing fast and furious, some aspects of this traditional festival have remained faithful to the style popularised by the earliest sarbojonin (meaning "involving all") or barowari (literally, "twelve friends") pujas-- there is no entrance fee, funds are raised by door-to-door subscriptions and corporate donations, and people from all backgrounds are welcomed into the pandals, provided they have the patience to brave the queues! It is estimated that over ten thousand such pandals are erected in Calcutta alone, and normal traffic is brought to a standstill because of road closures (most pandal-hoppers use the underground Metro railway for transportation). Since the mid-1980s, prizes have been announced for different facets of the puja celebrations, including the most innovative pandal design. Once the exclusive prerogative of the Asian Paints Company, today there are as many awards as there are companies that wish to derive PR and profits by association with the gods.

It is in this competitive vein that a Durga Puja organisation committee concluded they would have a sure-shot chance of winning a prize by moulding their pandal along the lines of Harry Potter's school. As the wood and papier mache replica started coming up, it generated enormous local interest, vindicating the organiser's original hypothesis. However, in today's global village, a butterfly flapping its wings in India can trigger off a tornado of sorts in another hemisphere-- in this case, the news of Hogwarts spread quickly from one excited child to another until it reached the ears of a secretive species always on the lookout to make a fast buck, also known as lawyers. Immersed in their own ideas of immortality, the concept of creating a transient structure for a four-day free-for-all celebration eluded them, and they slapped a twenty lakh rupee lawsuit against the organisers for building a theme park without permission. The Court was right in rejecting the lawyers' arguments, given that there is no commercial interest involved in a public purpose such as a puja, and Devi Durga emerged victorious in yet another epic battle against evil.

Colourful ants are running around,
Most moving slowly with friends they have found,
Pause for a breather
Then follow the leader
The whole air is filled with wet sound.

All around you is a riot of paints,
The ant before you suddenly faints,
That stops the motion,
Starts the commotion,
Don’t know for whom the abuse is meant.

You’re trying to swim in an ocean of ants,
Swaying to the tune of the performing bands,
The beautiful breeze
Rocks the protruding trees,
You start to move again towards the land.

Reach the new world after three days,
The Goddess’s face is hidden in haze,
Pray for two seconds,
Another ant beckons,
Now find your way out of the maze.
Ritabrata Roy (17), Of Ants and Paints

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