Had it been a non-pandemic Durga Puja year, Madan Paul’s shop would have been bustling with preparations from April itself. After reeling under COVID-19 for more than a year, the orders for making protimas started pouring in only from September, a month ahead of the festival.
“There was confusion if Durga Puja would be celebrated this year. But around a month ago, we were told that it would be celebrated. Though low-key, our customers have told us that they would celebrate Puja. In one month, we took around 15 orders. There were more orders, but we had to deny them as there was no time,” said Madan.
Before the pandemic, Madan and his co-workers used to make around 50-60 idols, some as high as 14 feet. This time, apart from the idols being small (somewhere around 6-9 feet) and Madan somehow pulling it through the limited time in his hands, he is earning just enough to survive.
Dhak is another integral part of the Durga Puja celebrations. No aarti in any pandal commences until the drummers fill the air with their beats. But for Ravi, a dhaki from the Kalapahar area in Guwahati, this year is no different than last year. With less than a week for one of the biggest festivals in the city, Ravi has received less than 10 bookings.
“Business was good before COVID. We used to get around 20-30 bookings. The pay was Rs 12,000 for a dhaki before COVID. The rate has gone down to Rs 7,000-8,000 now,” he said.
The puja committees are busy conceptualising plans for the grand festival, keeping in mind the pandemic and COVID-19 SOP issued by the Assam Government. With a small budget, the committees are trying hard to keep the spirits high.
“Certain protocols are difficult to follow, but we will try to follow them. There is a protocol that every person entering the pandal should be double vaccinated. We will provide hand sanitisers and masks. But to check if someone is double vaccinated will be difficult,” said Debashish Das, General Secretary of Bishnupur Sarbajanin Puja, Guwahati.
The Durga Puja preparations in Guwahati this year is nowhere close to the years before the pandemic. For idol makers, the cost of raw material has seen a steep rise, and for the dhakis, the bookings and payments have gone down to less than half; And for the puja committees, the number of sponsors has gone down considerably.
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