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With a week to go for 'Bangla Nabobarsho' (Bengali New Year), the air is gloomy in Kumartuli, the potter's hub in the northern part of the city, which is reeling under mounting losses due to cancellation of idol bookings triggered by lockdown and COVID-19 pandemic.
While hundreds of Basanti and Annapurna idols could not be delivered to households and clubs as the celebrations had to be cancelled at the last minute, thousands of small Ganesha idols, which are worshipped on Bengali New Year (April 14), also remain half-finished.
Jaba Pal, a clay modeller told PTI, "I have got at least 50 phone calls from commercial establishments informing me that they won't buy Ganesha idol this year."
He said, "now if you take 10 more artisans like me in this area, the number of such cancellations will be 500 on an average."
Prodyot Pal, who also makes Durga idols for abroad, said, "this is going to be a dismal 'Poila Boisakh' for Kumartuli. While thousands of small Ganesha idols, made by artistes will remain unsold this year, we are also worried about the slump in sales for Durga puja idols work for which will start shortly afterwards."
Pal said even as 10-12 orders for Basanti and Annapurna idols had been cancelled at the last minute in March 25-26, with 7-8 idols almost nearing completion, two-three big time Durga Puja organisers in city have now informed they will opt for "wait and watch" policy to see if the situation improves, as the biggest festival in Bengal is still several months away.
"One of the big time organisers had made primary agreement with our studio for a big idol just before the Janata Curfew and said they will confirm the deal after 15 days, but now they want more time to assess the economic situation and may even go for a much smaller idol. We are keeping our fingers crossed," he said.
A big idol costs Rs 2.5-3 lakh and a smaller one can be anywhere between Rs 60,000 to 90,000 in Kumartuli.
Paul said order for three idols for the US, one of the worst corona-affected countries, have been cancelled leading to huge losses on his part.
Idol maker Nabin Paul said "corona has struck the death knell for Kumartuli as we are bracing for a gloomy Bengali new year."
"From Basanti-Annapurna puja, which heralds the beginning of festive season, to Nababarsha all our orders have been cancelled. Now if the impact continues even in the run-up to Durga Puja, the over 300 families of artisans and helping hands working in studios in Kumartuli will face death by starvation," he said.
Paul has been assured by four Durga puja committees, his regular clients, that they are hopeful of holding the festival and book idols even if on a scaled down way.
"But I am having sleepless nights as the lockdown continues," he said.