Kumartuli does not look like it usually does three weeks to Pujas.
But in the past fortnight a kind of transformation has happened.
Artisans who had a handful of bookings now have their hands full. Puja organisers who had almost given up hope of holding a Puja this time have begun to trickle in. They want smaller idols but an idol nonetheless.
Till a few weeks back, Prasanta Pal was not sure if half of his 20-odd Durga idols would find takers. Last year several of them had remained unsold, forcing Prasanta to scale down from 40 idols of varying sizes to half with most of them being smaller in size and of the ekchala variety.
On Thursday, Prasanta was a relieved man. Only two of his small idols have remained unsold till now and two Puja organisers have coaxed him to build big ekchala idols complete with grand decorations — like in the past.
“Orders have started picking up over the last two weeks. It’s not the Kumartuli of old days but there is suddenly some work which was missing for all these months,” said Prasanta, whose Durga idols would make their way beyond Bengal’s borders to Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra.
“Je duto aachey oi gulo o bikri hoye jaabey jani (The remaining two idols would get sold off I know),” he said.
With barely three weeks to Durga Puja, around 360 artists working in 120-odd studios in Kumartuli wouldn’t usually wonder about idols lying unsold.
This would be the time when painting the clay structures with white, blue and yellow colours would begin. Next would be putting the clothes, including sarees, and finally the ornaments.
The first wave last year had hit way too hard leaving several artisans struggling to repay their loans, as idols remained unsold.
This time, most artisans have opted for smaller idols ranging between eight and 12 feet against the customary 12-14 feet to fit into the budgets of Puja organisers.
Even those didn’t seem to have takers.
“Organisers who would earlier come looking for idols in the range between Rs 50,000 and Rs 80,000 said they could afford Rs 18,000 and Rs 20,000 this time,” said Babu Pal, an artisan and the secretary of the Kumartuli Mritshilpi Sanskritik Samity.
As artisans sat clueless, labourers queuing up outside their studios from parts of Nadia, Murshidabad and the two 24-Parganas (north and south) failed to find contracts. With hardly enough bookings for idols, bamboo structures — on which idols would be mounted — continued to gather dust and bundles of ropes remained stacked on racks.
All that gloom is gradually disappearing. Most artisans now have their hands full.
With more orders pouring in and deadlines just around, skilled labourers have started demanding anything between Rs 2,000 and Rs 2,500 per day for the remaining few weeks that they would have work to complete.
Earlier, this rate would have varied between Rs 1,100 and Rs 1,200 per day for at least two months.
“With idols getting booked, most of us have been forced to hire labourers at a much higher rate than what it would have been two months back,” said Mintu Pal, an artisan. “We asked some of the Puja organisers where they were all these weeks? Most of them said they were struggling to collect funds before visiting Kumartuli.”