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Home for a goddess, created by a woman

- Glass ceiling breaks in puja pandal bastion

Sarasi Das Roy has a tough choice to make on Mahalaya: stay home for daughter Arushi’s 10th birthday or supervise work at Beleghata’s Nabamilan pandal, just as she has been doing almost all her waking hours for two months.

“There will be guests at home. My daughter wants me to stay but with less than a week left, every hour is crucial,” said the artist, an eye on the nylon strings being hung from the ceiling to symbolise rain.

The stakes are high for Sarasi, who has had to beat gender bias to become the first woman artist to take charge of a city pandal. Nabamilan, an 81-year-old community puja, chose the postgraduate from Government College of Art & Craft after being impressed with the quality of her work as a support artist.

News of Sarasi breaking the glass ceiling is now the talk of the puja fraternity. “I have heard that a lady is doing a pandal,” Partho Ghosh of the Forum for Durgotsab, the umbrella body of puja organisers, told Metro.

“Taking charge of a pandal involves time and man management as well as a lot of running around. Women are on a par with men in artistic acumen but nobody was brave enough to take on the responsibility.”

Soft-spoken Sarasi isn’t taking the attention too seriously. “Many visitors are surprised on seeing a woman in charge,” is all she would say, flashing a smile.

She had been testing the waters for two years. “An acquaintance sought my help in 2010 for the colour scheme at United Club in Ultadanga, close to where I stay. I loved the experience,” Sarasi recalled.

The next year, she was asked to sketch the idol and give ideas for another puja. She later worked with a team assigned to do a Kali Puja pandal in Keshtopur.

When the call from Nabamilan came, it didn’t surprise her. “But I did seek time to consult my husband and in-laws. We stay in a joint family of 11 and I could not have gone ahead with the job without their backing,” she said.

The Nabamilan theme is water harvesting and the organisers are apparently delighted with the execution.

Nabamilan’s Sujoy Mondal, who had approached Sarasi, said: “Over the years, we have had theme-makers of the stature of Bandan Raha, Rano Banerjee and Gaurango Kuilya helm our pandals. I saw (Sarasi) Didi’s work last year and though her name was not highlighted, I wanted to try her out.”

The all-woman puja committee that has taken charge at Nabamilan for the first time didn’t need much convincing.

For the past two months, Sarasi’s routine has been to see her daughter and nephew off to school before grabbing a bite and heading for the pandal. “I am lucky that my sister-in-law supervises everything. On most days, I am not back before 10.30pm. My husband, who is a web designer, gives me feedback on my work,” Sarasi said.

If anything is making her nervous ahead of the inauguration (Thursday), it’s the rain.

As for her reward, she has already received it. It’s the look on the organisers’ faces that says they took the right decision.

Do you know someone like Sarasi Das Roy? Tell ttmetro@abpmail.com