Festival crowds in flu time is M'rashtra's new problem

People wait for H1N1 virus test at Kasturba hospital, in Mumbai on Monday. PTI

The Janmashtami festival falls on Friday, Independence Day is the day after, the Parsi New Year is on Aug 19, Ramzan begins Aug 21, the widely popular 10-day Ganeshotsav begins Aug 23, Navratri begins Sep 19, then in October come the state assembly elections and Diwali.

Chief Minister Ashok Chavan and Mumbai Mayor Shubha Raul have appealed to people not to join the festive crowds this year.

"Since swine flu spreads quickly in crowded public places, we appeal to the people and organisers to keep Janmashtami simple, austere, without pomp and huge crowds," Chavan said Monday afternoon after a meeting with the festival organisers of the city.

Mayor Raul, a medico herself, has issued safety guidelines for the public with do's and don'ts to be followed to avoid getting infected.

Independence Day on Saturday will be marked by parades, marchpasts, public flag hoisting ceremonies in schools, colleges, government offices, housing complexes and social organisations. However, the authorities have not made any appeal with regard to Independence Day celebrations Aug 15.

The Parsi New Year Aug 19 is celebrated by the Parsi community which has a significant presence in Mumbai, Pune and south Gujarat. Last week, the J.B. Vachha School in Matunga, a hub of the Parsi community, was ordered shut for a week after a student was detected influenza A (H1N1) positive.

Two days after the Parsi New Year, the Muslim holy month of fasting Ramzan begins Aug 21, which would see huge crowds gathering for prayers in mosques all over the city. It will be followed a month later by Eid with ceremonial namaaz that is attended by hundreds of thousands of Muslims - nearly 18 percent of Mumbai's 13 million population.

Meanwhile, the 10-day Ganeshotsav, the most popular festival in Maharashtra to worship Lord Ganesha, will start Aug 23, the main centres of celebrations being Mumbai and Pune.

The chief minister also appealed to the Ganeshotsav organising committees to avoid crowds outside the hundreds of venues where the festival is held.

Pune has a historic tradition of celebrating the 10-day festival dedicated to the elephant-headed god, and the most important celebration is Dagdu Sheth's Ganeshotsav there.
Even as Ramzan ends, the nine nights of Navratri starts Sep 19. It is again a mega celebration in Mumbai and Gujarat, with thousands of non-resident Indians joining the festivities.

Mumbai and major cities of Gujarat like Ahmedabad and Vadodara have huge marquees in which over 50,000 people can dance at a time to live music and dazzling lights, said Milan Thakar, a Mumbai astrologer who hops between the two Gujarat cities each year to savour the festival's best.

Barely a fortnight later, the Diwali week starts Oct 17 that will again witness huge crowds trooping to Mumbai from across the country - going out for shopping, parties or visiting relatives and friends.

Public and private functions are also organized across the city on Mahatma Gandhi's birth anniversary Oct 2.

Maharashtra assembly elections are due by September-end or early October as the term of the ruling Congress-Nationalist Congress Party's Democratic Front alliance ends in October.

The polls is the time for major political rallies, processions, public meetings and door-to-door campaigns as political leaders woo the electorate.

All these occasions offer a potentially fertile period for the H1N1 virus to further tighten its stranglehold on the state which has now recorded four swine flu deaths.

Punctuating the general and public festivals are the various college festivals which bloom during this time and attract huge crowds of students from the city and elsewhere.

Anticipating a massive turnout for its traditional monsoon festival 'Malhaar' organised Aug 14-16, the management of St. Xavier's College here has decided to bar students from outside Mumbai from attending it.

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