Want to see Saddam go up in smoke' Take a ‘straw’ Ganesh, yank off the trunk, brushstroke the battle fatigue and set it ablaze.
Want to watch Bush burn' Take a ‘straw’ Kartik, make sure he is ‘suited-booted’, tie him to the stake and strike the match.
Body basics. That’s what binds the elephant god with Saddam Hussein; the bachelor god with George W. Bush.
Ask the effigy-maker battling to keep pace with the anti-war rally-a-day roster, and he will explain how the portly frame of Ganesh (fished out from the Hooghly, post puja immersion) lends itself to the Iraqi President’s figure. And how the American President’s borrowed robes sit easy on the lean frame of Durga’s other son.
Sitting amid a heap of straw and cane in Rambagan, the effigy ‘capital’ of north Calcutta, the city’s “number one effigy-maker”, Mantu Patra, says: “I have done about half-a-dozen Bushes and three-four Blairs.”
The 65-year-old artist finds Atal Bihari Vajpayee the easiest to portray (“the crooked lines can be passed off as wrinkles”).
The first step to Bush burning is to get hold of a picture, says Patra, whipping out a magazine centre-spread with a full figure of Bush. Next, second-hand coat and trousers are picked up from the Rambagan haat. The tie (“too sophisticated for our haat”) is painted on paper, cut out and pinned to the straw frame. The face is a watercolour job, on “paper or ply (wood)”.
The production time is 48 hours or less. But payment from parties is paltry. “We deserve Rs 1,000, but are paid half of that,” is the common complaint on the streets of Rambagan where a giant demon lies askance.
In puja-time this is Shiva, the destroyer of evil. In peacetime, the dark god doubles as a symbol of all things evil, from the government’s ‘anti-people policies’ to global terrorism. But now, against the backdrop of the Iraq war, he is an object of hate in hay, the burning symbol of American imperialism.
From ‘warriors’ to the weapons of war. The wanted list for the protest brigade includes all things American.
Trinamul leader Paresh Pal’s April 5 rally had a Patton tank, a missile and an anti-aircraft gun. “The demand for sophisticated items is rising. But the parties hardly give us time,” complains Patra.
In the effigy stakes, Madan Mitra, also a Trinamul leader, boasts of the big bang — the 20m Bofors canon, costing Rs 10,000, during Kargil. For Baghdad, Mitra and his men have added fuel to the Bushfire. “Earlier, the party boys used to paint posters to be burnt. Now, well-crafted, larger-than-life effigies are a must,” says Mitra.