| WATERWORTHY: ‘Boatman’ Prakash Sha in one of his vessels. Picture by Amit Datta
He is Bengal’s boatman. His boats can be spotted on the Dal Lake and in the Bay of Bengal. The buyers of his boats include the Border Security Force (BSF) and the Ramakrishna Mission, state tourism departments and Nicco Park,
And now, Prakash Kumar Sha of Kidderpore is busy with two projects — one for Calcutta and the other for a Calcuttan. The first is the fulfilment of a dream to build two luxury boats and start a ferry service from Calcutta to Mayapur.
“With a capacity to carry 20 passengers each, these air-conditioned vehicles, with twin diesel-powered engines, will take about six months and Rs 75 lakh to make,” says Sha, who has already managed funding from an American ‘Iskcon’ friend. “Once the service to the Iskcon centre proves successful, I’ll start working on a Calcutta-Haldia project,” announces Sha, adding that the catamaran service to the satellite town was “good”, but failed due to a lack of funds.
The ex-student of La Martiniere, with a monopoly of sorts on these vehicles of the waterways, is clearly out to play the field. This apart, he is engrossed in the creation of a 42-foot-long fibreglass boat, “at a no-profit basis”, for octogenarian professor Devi Mitra’s ‘round-the-world trip’, scheduled to set sail this March.
“It’s a Trimaran, and to the best of my knowledge, it is the first of its kind to be built in India. I hope to complete it by the end of January, so that he can take it on a trial run. The naval architect I work with helped design this and it is coming along quite well,” says Sha.
Clearly, for this commerce graduate from Bhawanipur College, creating his brand of Cleghorn boats is more than just a profession; it’s a passion.
Little wonder then that his ‘babies’ can be found in Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh, in Uttar Pradesh and the Andamans, in the district magistrate’s offices of North and South 24-Parganas, Nadia and Darjeeling…
The Cleghorn speciality is fibreglass boats, and this brand name is the largest manufacturer of this breed in the eastern region. Sha has been managing the family business — that his father bought from the Cleghorns in 1963 — since 1979.
Cleghorn now sets afloat about 350 boats and barges, of aluminium, steel and fibreglass, every year. Sha also builds paddleboats for tourist resorts, like Nicco Park, Nalban and Holiday Inn; country boats, steel vessels and barges to carry goods for companies like Voltas; speedboats for the police and rowboats for the Calcutta Rowing Cub, Bengal Rowing Club and Lake Club.
“I just delivered a consignment of 17 boats to the Ramakrishna Mission, for a Japan-funded flood-relief project,” smiles Sha. One of them he gave free, a gesture that is a rule rather than an exception for this affable man who breathes boats.
For Sha, it’s 22 employees and hundreds of boats, at his Kidderpore workshop, next to Tolly’s Nullah, above which he lives with his wife and two children. “We have 30 dies (the mould design for the base of the boat), which are our speciality, and the ability to build about 500 boats a year. In the case of fibreglass, of course, we excel. The raw materials come from Goa and are also available locally. We do the moulding here. All our boats are custom-made. The best one we have produced is for the BSF at Hasnabad,” he adds.
Some other products that bear the Cleghorn label, proudly, include wind-surfers, water skis and life jackets. The last-mentioned is supplied by Sha to the BSF and the Indian Army.
Seeing his creations sail far and wide is one kind of satisfaction. But setting sail himself is what Sha loves to do, travelling as far upcountry as Namkhana and Farakka, sometimes on his own and other times with his family. “It’s absolutely beautiful scenery. Most people don’t have the chance to do it, but I have seen some of the most gorgeous sights,” smiles Sha.