Far from Home, Artisans from Kolkata Work Tirelessly to Make Durga Puja a Success in Delhi
All that kept the artisans going was the excitement of returning home to their beloved families and their city at its best
September 28, 2017
As we enter the first day of the much awaited Durga Puja festivities, artisans from Kolkata yearn to return home to celebrate with their families. These artisans, mostly from Nadia district of Kolkata, have been in Delhi for the past 2-3 months working day and night, building idols for puja pandals all over the city.
“I was the first in my family to get into this line of work. We do everything, from collecting and sieving the mud, to making the clay and then using that very clay to create these idols” said Shankar Haldar, 77. Like Shankar, there are several others who come to Delhi every year in search of work. “Finding work in Delhi is difficult, but we just work for whoever is willing to pay us the most. Of course, sometimes there are problems, like when we fall ill and are not able to work, the maalik gets angry. We have to finish our quota of work no matter what the circumstances. As long as we do that, we get paid.”
The contracts for creating idols and other décor items for the pandals are usually taken up by local contractors who then get the workers and raw materials to come in from Kolkata. These artisans work under immense pressure for months to fulfill the demands of local contractors. With every passing day the pressure intensifies. “We haven’t had the time to sit down and have a proper meal since yesterday. With shoshti (the sixth day of puja) just a day away, we can’t spare even a minute to sit down and talk”. This was a common response from most artisans when asked to speak about their experience of working here.
While there were some who shied away from talking because of the lack of time, many seemed apprehensive about speaking without consulting their contractors, who seemed to evoke a feeling of fear among the workers. “I don’t know what I can and cannot say. You and I know that we’re just having a conversation about this work, but the maalik will not like it if I say anything” said Montu as he stayed on a constant lookout to make sure no one saw him talk to me.
Most of the people who come here seasonally for work are people who’re in dire need for an income to sustain their families. “No one wants to be away from home during Pujo but we don’t have an option, we need to earn. You go to Kolkata and see pujo there. I guarantee that you would never want to come back to Delhi.” said Montu reminiscing about the festivities back home. “The income from this seasonal work helps us get through the year, there is no surplus. I take this money back and the first thing I do is repay all earlier debts. After that whatever little is left is used up over the months to run the house. Once the festive season is over the demand for this work fades. So on top of that I also make ceramic commodes for the rest of the year to keep a steady income.” said Shankar as he continued to vigorously shave a piece of wood to be added to the sculpture.
Tensions were high as the last day of preparations was about to come to a close. To add to the pressure from the maalik and the committee, the uncertainty of the weather made all the artisans anxious about getting things done on time. Hungry, sleepless, tired and frustrated; all that kept them going was the excitement of returning home to their beloved families and their city at its best.
First published in Newsclick.Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the writer's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Indian Writers' Forum.
Donate to the Indian Writers' Forum, a public trust that belongs to all of us.