Guwahati: The deft hands of 67-year-old artisan, Tapas Pal, move with ease as he moulds the clay to give shape to divine forms at his workshop in Pandu area here but budget cuts, after two years of COVID-19 crisis, are leaving the idol-maker and his ilk dispirited.
Pal is worried that this year, too, business may see no revival amid rising prices of raw materials and shortage of labourers, with several organisers having curtailed their spending.
“We faced immense difficulties in the last two years due to the pandemic-induced lockdown. Last year, the administration’s directive to mark the occasion with small-sized Durga idols had adversely affected our earnings,” Pal told PTI.
“Prices of raw materials — clay, hay, wood and even costumes and jewellery — have skyrocketed post pandemic but organising committees are not prepared to pay more,” he lamented.
Artisans in the potters’ colony in the western part of the city are still burning the midnight oil to ensure that idols of Goddess Durga and her entourage are crafted on time and sent to various pandals.
Some of the organisers placed orders really late and “we had to make last-minute purchases, which also decreased our profit margins”, Pal’s 37-year-old son Kanchan said.
The father-son duo received 19 orders this year and engaged fewer ‘karigars’ than they usually did during the pre-pandemic days.
“How are we supposed to pay workers their wages when we are not sure about the earnings ourselves? After covering the cost of raw materials and paying the wages, we will be left with almost nothing,” the 67-year-old idol-maker said.
Earlier, some exclusive idols would fetch as much as Rs 1 lakh each, but this year “we will be lucky if we get something in the range of Rs 50,000”, the senior Pal said.
Sporadic rainfall last month had added to our woes, he added.
Weather plays a vital role in the idol-making process as artisans can apply paint on the figurines only when the clay turns completely dry.
In an adjacent workshop, 32-year-old Dipika Pal, the only woman idol-maker in the city, was seen busy sculpting the hands of the goddess and keeping a watchful eye on four labourers who were working on other figurines.
“Traditionally, women members of the family are not engaged in idol-making but after my father died, I had to take it up to support my mother and sisters,” she said.
Dipika was not trained in the art by her father but learnt it from other artists, including husband Dilip Das, with whom she manages a workshop.
“I faced no opposition from my family but had to endure snide remarks from neighbours. I did not pay much heed to them as I knew this was the only way to earn a living,” she said.
The last two years “almost broke the backbone of the community” and this year, too, the orders are fewer in number, she said.
During the lockdown, there was no work and many karigars’ (artisans) had to find alternative sources of income with some even taking to vegetable selling,” Dipika added.
At the big-ticket Rest Camp Kalibari Puja, which is in its 74th year, artisans were busy giving finishing touches to the idols.
“Our budget is low this year as we intend to have grand celebrations next year on the occasion of the 75th anniversary,” organising committee member Tapas Naha said.
Santipur Puja Committee, however, is making an exception as it seeks to “uplift the mood of people” after the prolonged COVID lull with gala celebrations.
The committee has brought artists from Bengal to set up the pandal.
“We wanted to make Goddess Durga’s annual sojourn to her earthly abode a grand affair this time. We have hired top artists from Bengal to craft the idols and build the pandal,” added committee member Kamal Das.
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