| A tarp-covered idol at Kumartuli on Monday. (Sanat Kr Sinha)
Nemai Pal of Kumartuli has hardly slept in the past three days and can’t afford even forty winks for the next four days as he keeps one eye on the gloomy sky and the other on the unfinished idols.
Like him, most idol makers have been racing against the clock as idols the refuse to dry up or lie damaged in the pre-Puja rain onslaught. The artisans have been forced to adopt a pinch-hitting approach because delivery must begin from Mahalaya (October 4).
“I have been working 12-hour shifts and probably have to do 15 hours now to make up for the lost time,” Nemai said.
Calcutta received 76.2mm of rain between Friday and Monday because of a cyclonic circulation in the Bay.
The Kumartuli artisans have been burning the midnight oil — drying soggy clay idols with kerosene-fuelled pressure burners and touching up rain-damaged “noses” and “ears”. They said the uncooperating weather has sharply pushed up costs since they have become solely dependent on kerosene lamps and electric fans to dry the idols. Extra labour had to be hired and “overtime” paid to the regular staff to finish the work.
An idol can be dried with a flame in 10 to 12 hours but the process guzzles about 25litres of kerosene. “Till last year, all 335 registered artisans were entitled to 20litres of subsidised kerosene. This year, when we need it the most, it is down to 5litres per person,” said China Pal.
A cheaper alternative is large pedestal fans, which come at Rs 100 a day. “I have ordered two fans to speed up the drying process,” said Nemai whose workshop is in the temporary government shed along Rabindra Sarani.
“The rains have hit us hard during a crucial period. Just as we had put the idols out to dry in the sun after a second coat of clay, the rains indefinitely delayed our work,” said Babu Pal, the former secretary of the Kumartuli Mritshilpi Sanskritik Samity.
“Three of my idols were damaged after water leaked through the tarpaulin sheets and melted the wet clay,” he added.
The idol makers said they have informed the Puja organisers and customers about possible delays in the delivery.
An idol usually requires two layers of clay followed by a coat of paint.
It takes about three to five days for each coat to dry out.
The artisans are forced to keep the idols out in the open in crammed Kumartuli, always running the risk of rain damage. “I had spent more than Rs 1,000 on tarpaulin covers to keep my idols dry. Still water seeps in and damages an arm or an ear or a nose (of the idols),” China said.
The last — but plausible — plan is to take the unfinished idols to the pandals. Some of them said halogen lights in pandals can be switched on to speed up the drying of the paint.