rarefied air

FLOATING DUST SETTLED ON THE WAYSIDE LAUNCH,READY TO EMBARK ON A VOYAGE BEGONE,MOULDED FROM A CLASSIC NOVELLA OF THE RUE DE LABOURDANNA, DRINKING FROM A PORT INTO AMAZON WITH BOHEMIAN ROUGE APPLIED ON A TEMPLATE SPIRITED WITH DUSKY COMPLEXI0ON OF THE TAVERN...I PROCEED...

Thursday, February 22, 2007

IDOL MAKING IN KUMARTULI

Just beyond the busy thoroughfare of Bada Bazaar, one of the busiest markets of Kolkata, if you take a casual left turn into a side lane and continue walking, you would reach Kumartuli. But it is also very much possible that you would pass it by and not realise it. The entrance to kumartuli ( if it can be called an entrance), is an extremely narrow lane in between two old houses. Once you enter the lane, you expect it to broaden into at least a road, but it never happens.

Kumartuli is a thriving idol makers’ village where there is more space for the idols to rest than the men living in it. On both sides of the narrow lane, there are idols in various stages of completion. Durga, Kali, Saraswati, Ganesh. They are all there. They are straw, clay, paint and then garments. They are omnipresent. So are the smells dominating the limited space, smells of sweat, clay, open drains, paint and the river. The air nfrom the nearby Ganga hangs loose in the air, nourishing your senses. You suddenly feel awed. You are in God’s kingdom where he is created and he is staring down at you, in different forms and shapes.
There are idols of different Gods, but the most revered and beloved is that of Durga. The craftsman’s experienced fingers move expertly to give shape to her many forms. He will always carry his own clay from the ‘ghat’ (the bank of the river Ganga), water it, knead it and then plaster it onto the human form of ‘Maa Durga’(mother goddess). As he waits for it to dry, sometimes for two whole days, there are rains and there are storms. He fights all to protect ‘Maa’ from harm. He covers her room (an 8 by 8 feet area) with huge plastic materials, while his own hut gets flooded with water. He takes his own fan to her room and continuously breezes her, so that she would dry faster. When it happens, he is ecstatic. He paints her in vivid colours, but leaves the eyes blank. They are painted last and it’s momentous. With single brush strokes , he replicates the features of expression.

The craftsman knows that the time to bid farewell to Durga has come and he dresses her up in the most elegant finery. He leads her out of Kumartuli to be put onboard a truck with a heavy heart. But he is proud, his creation will now be displayed in the city pandals ( big tents set up across the city during Durga Puja). He is ready to wait patiently for a year, before his Durga comes back to be reborn. He does it year after year, making the same idols and yet the period of waiting is too much for him. Making idols is a passion as well as a livelihood for him. Kumartuli is where he eats, sleeps as well as works. There are no fixed timings. He works tirelessly so that his family can get two meals a day. Beside Durga in the tent room, he has two small framed certificates in English and a framed photograph of himself in The Gaurdian. He has twice been awarded for his skill by respective London and German cultural communities . but his world is Kumartuli. Its his home, his art, his life.

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