Kolkata: The second wave of coronavirus has made the artisans of Kumartuli, the famed colony of clay modellers in north Kolkata, anxious if they are facing the same scenario of last year when Dura Puja organisers ordered smaller, less priced idols to suit their reduced budget induced by the pandemic.
Kumartuli supplies idols of gods and goddesses to various parts of the country and abroad and the artisans earn the most during the Durga Puja, the largest festival of West Bengal.
The modellers said they are also worried that the already dwindling number of their workers may further go down as the apprehension of a total lockdown from mid-May is gaining ground in the neighbourhood where many people have been affected by COVID-19.
”Most of the well-known artists of Kumartuli have got a few orders (of Durga idol) before the sudden rise in cases and various restrictions were imposed,” Sujit Pal, one of the leading clay modellers in the potter’s colony, told PTI.
The West Bengal government has ordered the closure of shopping complexes, cinema halls, restaurants, bars, sports complexes, and allowed shops and markets to operate for reduced hours to check the spread of the infection.
Pal received two bookings for Durga idols one from a community puja organiser which is celebrating its golden jubilee this year and the other from a family in late March when the COVID situation was not so alarming in the state.
He said that they do not want to press the panic button yet as less than 10 per cent of total orders are booked during the Bengali months of Chaitra and Baisakh from mid- March to mid-May.
”But the sudden spike in COVID-19 cases and the intensity of the second wave are causing anxiety among us. How long will this last? Will there be a third wave as predicted? Pal said.
The Durga Puja festival will be held in October this year.
He said that a number of cases of infection were reported in the neighbouring pockets of Kumartuli, though the colony was not much affected as yet.
The apprehension of a total lockdown after May 15 has made the 100-odd workers currently employed in the workshops scared ”and they are planning to leave for their homes in districts”, the artist said.
Even this workforce is very less as Kumartuli employs at least six-seven times more people in this time of the year when idols of other goddesses are made.
”Work on all these idols will come to a halt if we don’t have labourers,” Pal said.
Each modeller received orders for one or two idols of goddess Shitala and Raksha Kali, the pujas of whom are held in summer, instead of four-five in other years.
The artists of Kumartuli wait for the Rathyatra days in July when booking for Durga idols starts frenetically.
However, in 2020 when the Covid-19 and the lockdown triggered a decline in the booking of Durga idols till September, many organisers settled for smaller idols of 6-7 feet height instead of the average 12-13 feet because they were less priced, Pal said.
The budget of big-ticket Durga Pujas took a hard knock due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 outbreak last year as sponsorship by corporate advertisers was reduced, leading to scaling down of the grandeur.
”They (organisers) had also opted for low-height traditional ekchala idols which cost less. However, as the situation eased after the Durga Puja, the order for Kali or Jagaddhatri idols went up,” he said.
Artisan Chaina Pal, one of the prominent women involved in the trade in Kumartuli, said that the situation was very encouraging before the Saraswati puja in February this year ”as people thought coronavirus has gone will not return”.
However, she is keeping her fingers crossed. ”I am sure orders (for Durga idols) will start pouring in from July and we can see a spurt in demand from September.” Chaina Pal has received bookings for three Durga idols, all household pujas, and the number is not less in comparison to the corresponding period of 2019.
”My workers are at my studio and the initial work of creating the idols has completed,” she said.
Another modeller Prodyut Pal said there has been no booking, not even from overseas, and work has stopped in many studios including his.
”The money at the hands of us, from the earnings last year, has kept us going till now. We don’t know what lies in future,” he said.