Super cyclone Amphan digs a watery grave for Kumartuli artisans

Kumartuli of Kolkata faces the wrath of Amphan, which has wreaked havoc in the potters colony. With most of the almost ready idols of Durga being destroyed by the logged water, helpless artisans are wondering how to bear the loses incurred by the cyclone and lockdown

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Kolkata: Super cyclone Amphan wreaked havoc in Kolkata, flattening thousands of trees and flooding roads and lanes. Kumartuli, the place of famous Durga Puja idol makers too suffered extensive damage due to waterlogging. Many of the idols, which were in various stages of completion were thrown apart by the strong winds. The poor artisans did take measures to safeguard the idols but alas, they weren’t adequate enough!

The artists did not anticipate the fury of the cyclone and could just manage to cover the structures with canvas and plastic. In the aftermath of the destruction, the artists are left counting their losses. As it is they were saddled with lockdown issues and now the natural disaster seems like a death knell for them.

Mintoo Pal, an aged artisan, living in the area, rued, “This year is full of destruction. We are stressed. It is a bad omen that idols are getting immersed on their own even before they could be completed. I haven’t seen such a destruction before. We have a few studios near the banks of the Ganges. Despite taking adequate measures, several semi-completed idols were thrown into the river by the cyclone. This is not just a monetary loss but also an indication of tough days ahead.”

Fellow artisans Sanjay Pal concurred. “Our condition is precarious. We haven’t got as many orders as expected because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many organisers have lowered their Puja budget. Cyclone Amphan has damaged many of our almost-complete idols. Some of them got immersed while many got smashed under the bamboo structures. During monsoon, we take adequate measures to safeguard the idols. But, due to the cyclone our paints and straws and even the wooden structures have been destroyed. Many of the idols will have to be redone. We have resigned to our fate. We will not get the appropriate remuneration for the hard work that we put in.”

Prior to the cyclone, the artisans were already complaining about their business suffering due to the lockdown. Many of their regular clients were calling them up and expressing their helplessness in paying the amount which they forked out last year. The artisans were already staring at a bleak future when the cyclone-induced damage delivered the second blow to them.

For artist Bipul Krishna Pal, the lockdown meant cancellation of 70% of the orders from abroad, which are mainly miniature idols. “This year, we have mostly received single-frame idols (one-frame structures). Few of the idols, reserved for export, are expensive and we may not find many takers for them in India. Puja organisers are not ready to shell out even a penny more than their shoestring budgets. Nobody seems to be bothered about us meeting our cost price when we sell our work cheap,” said Bipul Krishna.

He added that Kumartuli Sarbajanin Durgotsav Committee and Ahiritola Durga Puja Committee, known for their famous theme pujas have cancelled big frame idol orders and instead, have opted for single-frame ones. “Many of our single-frame idols have been damaged and we have to rebuild them. The single-frame idols and miniatures take more time to complete. But rebuilding them would be a tough task as matching the previous cut of the faces of the idols is next to impossible. By this time of the year, we generally finish 80 percent of our work. The only pending work for us to provide the finishing touches to the idols, after the monsoon gets over. We cannot start reworking on the models till the water recedes.”

Apart from the set of Durga idols, Radha-Krishna, Jagannath, Laxmi and Kali idols have also been damaged. The artisans are already short staffed as most of them have gone back to their villages.

But for artisan Pradip Rudra Pal, the cyclone could not do much damage as he had secured the idols in his godown. The senior artist wonders how his fellow artists will make up for the loss. It will take lot of time. But, he is confident that artists can complete their work if they get adequate time. “Completing the work on time is not a problem. If the need be more men can be engaged. But, many of the artisans have not yet started working,” he said.

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