Many workshops in Kumartuli are abuzz with the whir of hired pedestal fans. Others have charcoal chulas burning through the night.
Persistent rain over the past few days has left artisans in the north Kolkata idol hub worried about meeting their deadline and driven them to desperate measures to dry the clay so the deities are ready in time for the Puja, which is just 20 days away.
Most artisans have asked their workforce to slog through the day and night.
“We need clear sunshine for days at a stretch for the first layer of clay to dry thoroughly. Only after the first layer is completely dry can we put the second layer. If the clay remains wet, the colours refuse to hold,” said Sujit Paul, an artisan in Kumartuli.
“We don’t depend on machines. Every step requires human involvement and there is a limit to what we can achieve in these wet and humid conditions. Clay refuses to dry up in such weather.”
With less than three weeks before Durga Puja, idols by this time should have had two layers of clay, collected from the banks of the Ganga.
But this year is different.
The bulk of the orders came barely weeks ago and across the lanes and bylanes of Kumartuli, most artisans have just completed stringing strands of straw to give shape to the structures of the idols.
Over the past few days they have been putting clay on the straws, fixing fingers of idols and putting finishing touches on the clay of lions and buffaloes.
Artisans said this was the time when the clay needed to be completely dry and ready for a coat of white paint.
But rain has come in the way.
“We are already running behind time. Most of us have been forced to hire pedestal fans at Rs 100 per day. Labourers are demanding overtime,” said Mintu Pal, who has orders from more than 35 organisers, including Santosh Mitra Square, Vivekananda Sporting Club and Salt Lake FD Block.
Artisans who are working on big idols and had to shift the structures outside the workshops have wrapped them in plastic sheets.
“The persistent rain has forced us to work throughout night and day. We are paying overtime to our helping hands,” said Babu Pal, secretary of the Kumartuli Mritshilpi Sanskritik Samity.
For most artisans this means spending more on idols, in a year most organisers have negotiated a steep discount because of the pandemic-induced funds crunch.
“Rain has always come in the way of our work but never like this time. Most of us have been forced to spend more so that we can meet the deadline and that is not a happy feeling,” said Subhas Pal, a senior artisan.