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Missing Puja at home, for Durga’s sake

Mumbai, Sept. 21: Nimai Pal hasn’t been home for the Pujas for the past 32 years. But he is not complaining. The 60-year-old artisan is happy that he can bring a piece of Bengal to Mumbai every year.

Pal’s handmade deities adorn most well-known pandals in the city during Durga Puja. “Whenever I see people coming to the pandals with their families, I feel very sad. I feel nostalgic about the times I spent Puja with my family. But that was a long time back. It gives me a lot of satisfaction to bring so much happiness to the people of this city,” he says.

But the going got tough this year as the Brihanmumbai Corporation pulled down his workshops three times in two months. His idols are yet to be finished and his workers have to put in extra hours to make up for the lost time.

Pal’s team of 20 men from different districts of Bengal comes to Mumbai two months before the Pujas every year. They bring with them soil from the bed of the Ganga, which is used to make the idols.

“Our deities are very popular because they are not made from Plaster of Paris. Everything is original — from the deity’s hair to her ornaments. We get her jewellery from Calcutta. My idols go to Kandivli, Lokhandwala, Santa Cruz, Juhu and now also to Powai and other places,” Pal says.

The pride, however, is not a good enough balm for the pinch the artisan feels in his pockets. “My initial investment is quite a bit — each sack (carrying the soil) costs Rs 2, the loading costs me another Rs 2 and the soil itself is Rs 3.70 a kg. Together with transport and the taxes involved, I end up spending as much as Rs 18,000 on the soil alone!,” says Pal, some of whose idols are sold for a measly Rs 500. The costliest is Rs 75,000.

Pal’s clientele list, however, has a wealth of celebrities — from singer Abhijeet to actors Biswajit and Rani Mukherjee.

The actress is a clear favourite. “I have seen Rani since she was a small girl. I go to their house for meetings. The best part of their Puja is that all their decisions are made at home and they are very nice. I have been making their idol with a lot of affection for the past 31 years,” Pal grins.

Despite a financial crunch, the artisan says he doesn’t compromise on quality. But the competition is getting stiffer. “So many players have entered the market. They offer low prices, but bad quality. Because of all this, we cannot raise the price of our idols…. I don’t get my hard work’s worth. But there is respect for my work here,” he says.

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