Subrata Banerjee (left) works on the model for the Shibmandir pandal assisted by one of the participants. (Sudeshna Banerjee)
A big-ticket puja and a central government institute have joined hands to train youngsters to become interior designers.
Adjacent to the pandal of Shibmandir, in the courtyard of the temple from which the south Calcutta puja draws its name, from Thursday 24 boys and girls are being trained in the nuances of decorating — be it a pandal or a shopping mall or wedding hall. At the end of four weeks, they will walk out with a certificate towards a future of self-reliance.
The initiative has been taken by the puja organisers after watching the enthusiasm with which the unemployed boys of the neighbourhood slums who helped with the pandal last year kept seeking more such jobs.
“Most of these boys study in the senior classes of the evening school we run, called Shibmandir Siksha Niketan. Being part of the pandal-making process and getting paid for it gave them a huge impetus. So we thought of giving them a chance to learn the craft formally,” says Partho Ghosh, general secretary of Shibmandir Sarbojanin Durgotsab Samiti.
The puja has tied up with the BT Road-based MSME-Development Institute under the ministry of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) which is holding the entrepreneurship and skill development programme on interior design. The course fee of Rs 200 for boys and Rs 100 for girls is being borne by the puja committee, which was adjudged CESC The Telegraph True Spirit Model Puja in 2003.
“We hold such training programmes round the year in rural areas. During Pujas, so many craftsmen come to Calcutta to work on pandal decoration. They consider themselves to be daily labourers. The idea of this programme is to improve their skills on one hand and plant the seeds of entrepreneurship in their heads on the other,” says Ajoy Bandopadhyaya, deputy director of the institute.
Subrata Banerjee, the theme-maker in charge of the Shibmandir puja, who is also working on the big-ticket Suruchi Sangha, has taken it upon himself to helm the programme. He is himself an employee of the institute.
“There are 50 to 100 untrained hands working at every big puja. Every year, with a change in the pandal’s theme, they learn to work with new materials. If they get the guidance they can get into handicraft manufacturing or interior decoration,” Banerjee says.
The course would involve theoretical training in the role of the institute, its schemes, roles of banks and how self-help groups can apply for credit, writing project reports, the basics of accounting and tax formalities. The practical side would include planning for space and colour, techniques of lighting, elements of decorative materials, canvas and oil painting, interior furnishing, landscape design etc.
Much of the practical training will take place in Banerjee’s workshop where work for the Pujas is on in full swing.
Bengal, Banerjee points out, holds pole position in theme-oriented decoration. “Our artistes get invited to other states to helm projects. So there is a ready market at home and abroad,” explains the artiste, who is self-taught. “My only formal training was the work education classes in school. I had to struggle hard.”
That is why he lays emphasis on the certificate that the participants would earn at the end of the course. “It would stand them on solid footing when they seek work or apply for bank loans.”
Once the programme is over, the institute, the deputy director says, would keep track of the youths, helping them in financing their business ventures. “We have a credit guarantee fund scheme for micro and small industries in which we stand guarantor for bank loans they apply for.”
“We are thrilled to get this chance. We have been working for Subratada the last three years during the Pujas. We want to stand on our own feet,” chorused Picnic Garden boys Manik Haldar and Rahul Das.
If more people show interest, the institute and the puja promise to hold another workshop after the Pujas.