Kumartuli has a 300 year old tradition that is unparalleled. This past Sunday 09/19 started out as a wet morning and rain threatened to mar the puja shopping spree (and my intended trip to Kumartuli). Monsoons have picked up late here in Kolkata and dark clouds were looming large this past weekend. However the rain gods were merciful and a wet morning gave way to clearer skies in the early afternoon hours and the trip was on !
Being only somewhat familiar with the dingy alleys of ShovaBazar in North Kolkata which houses Kumartuli and it's prized artisans, I decided to give the car a miss and hop on to the rickshaws and auto rickshaws. From where I live in Salt Lake, I had to change two auto-rickshaws which run shuttle services from point A to point B here, in this part of the world. Having never been to Kumartuli previously I only had a vague idea as of where to get off and had to ask my way through. Once the auto rickshaw reached it's final destination; almost embarrassingly so, I asked the driver of the auto-rickshaw for the best way to go to Kumartuli. In reply he turned around, looked at me bewildered, and asked me কোন শিল্পীর কাছে যাবেন বললে ভালো হয়, তাহলে ঠিক বলতে পারব কথাযে নামলে শুভিধে হয় (It will help if you could tell me which artisan are you going to ? So I can tell you what is the most convenient place to get off).
This time I confessed to the driver of my chariot that I have never been to Kumartuli before and I am just going there for the experience and do not have a specific artisan to name. This conversation was getting similar to the sermon served by Lord Krishna to Arjuna. My chariot's pilot obliged and drove me into the narrow lanes from the main ShovaBazar road, and finally dropped me only a block away from Kumartuli. He very politely, added that this was beyond his normal driving range and he would charge me Rs. 2 extra above the normal fare of Rs. 8, if it were ok with me. The man's honesty and integrity struck me. This was above and beyond the call of duty, I rewarded him with an additional tip of Rs. 2, which he hesitatingly accepted. Now folks, you tell me for all the flak this city gets, in which other corner of the world will an extra Rs. 2 buy you an additional mile and a gentle nod of appreciation. I say, the buck stops here !
I gingerly walked around and nervously took out my camera, not knowing how people in this sleepy neighborhood would react to a strange looking bald man clicking pictures. But I was to be proved wrong later in the day. I was certainly not going to be the only "shooter" in town.
Just around the bend, where the 'God' workshops are lined on either side of the road, I found a charming old house with Ramkrishna and Sarada Maa perched by the side of it.
I peeped inside the workshop and found a man sitting on a workbench, did not seem very keen to see me walking in. I tried to strike a conversation with him; he introduced himself as ভোম্বল (Bhombol) a common nick name in North Kolkata. Bhombol claimed to be a finisher - he was not a sculptor but a finishing artist, responsible for dolling up the idols and getting them ready for their sojourn.
Bhombol was one among 20 or so employees who works at this patriarchal workshop. He has been working here for about 12 years. He also provided me with a trivia before going on his lunch break - there are a total of about 265 small and big God-makers in this town.
Mahadeb da said he was 40 years of age and came to work here nearly 20 years back. He added এখানে ই আমার হাতে খড়ি(this is where I learnt work).
As you can see in the picture Mahadeb was busy giving shape up to the সিংহ(Lion).
I wanted to know how long does it take to finish an idol from start to finish. He added that it really depends on the size and the design but generally something like the one he was working on could take up to 10 days to finish. Multiple sculptors may be put to work on one idol, given their availability.
Despite all my questions Mahadeb seemed completely absorbed in his work and not risking his wrath, I let him be. I thanked him and moved on ...
Following are some pictures I clicked at Rakhal Pal's workshop.
Moving from one Pal to another. It was now Nepal Pal and Gourango Pal's turn.
This work shop seemed some what more elaborate than the previous one, it was one long dark alley lined with idols on each side. With artisan perched on ladders and work benches and hard at work even on a Sunday afternoon. I clicked some more pictures as I entered into the labyrinth ...
Artisan - কি দাদা কথাযে থেকে আশা হয়েছে ? ছবি তুলবেন ? কার্ড করিয়েছেন ? (Where are you from ? So you want to click pictures ? Have you gotten a membership card ?).
Faced with a barrage of questions, I did not have to feign ignorance, I was ignorant.
I pulled up some courage and answered back - আমি অয়ী লিখি-তিখি, কোনো খবর কাগজ, পত্রিকা না, এমনি লিখি. কিসের কার্ড বলুন তো ? (I am a small time independent writer, and what card are you referring to ?)
Artisan - ছবি তুলতে গেলে সমিতি থেকে কার্ড করাতে হয়ে, টাকা দিয়ে. যাক যখন কুরান নী, বাদ দীন, আমাদের কিছু চা খাবার পয়সা দেবেন, আপনি প্রান ভরে ছবি তুলুন (You need a card from the artisan's guild to take pictures here. Well since you haven't done it, go ahead and shoot to your heart's content. However please remember to tip us for some tea for all of us here !)
To which I replied - নিশ্চয়ই নিশ্চয়ই
Now with the promise of a handsome tip, I was given special access to the restricted access areas - the back storage rooms of what was an unfinished two-storeyed house, with sort of an attic to store a large inventory of gods. Have a look at the pictures below :
Durga puja idol making is not just about Debi, Mohishashur, Kartik and Gonesh. It is also about other leading lights of the land. An old erudite artist was hard at work giving shape to a Ramkrishna bust, as seen in the pictures below.
Finally, I walked along to capture other styles of idols, a departure from the traditional.
|Paint job ...|
It was an afternoon well spent in the company of Gods. Below are some pics of the narrow vibrant alleys of Kumartuli.
Enough said, enough shot. Signing off now. More Pujo coverage coming up ...