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Durga Puja 2022

Idol-maker China Pal shaped a new life for herself

The Kumartuli artist Pal broke shackles and overcame challenges to make a name for herself

Jaismita Alexander | Published 20.09.22, 06:19 PM
China Pal at her Kumartuli studio

China Pal at her Kumartuli studio

Amit Datta/My Kolkata

Durga Puja, the festival, celebrates the power of the woman but the making of the goddess has long been a male bastion. China Pal is among the few women idol-makers who have made a place for themselves in the man’s world.

China Pal took to idol-making, compelled by circumstances when her father fell ill just before the Puja in 1994. She took charge and completed the orders. There has been no looking back since then.

My Kolkata met the pioneer among women idol-makers at her studio in Kumartuli. Snatches from the conversation in her words…

Preparations this year

Kumartuli has witnessed bumper business this year after a pandemic lull and preparations are at a peak. We have had several anxious moments during the past two years. Clients would place orders and later cancel it when the idol was nearly ready. It was so heart-wrenching. That fear is gone this year. It really feels great to have the usual workflow.

Special projects this year

My idols are usually ekchala. This year, I have sent one idol each to Bhopal and Kashmir. One has gone to Odisha, too. Apart from our usual clients, we are also getting new orders. This year, one of my idols will be used for a shoot. Even if business has gone back to the pre-COVID days, the cost of raw materials has shot up hugely. Post pandemic, the price of wood has doubled. For a competitive and affordable market, we have had to make some adjustments. All of a sudden, we cannot increase the rates of idols and put pressure on buyers.

Your inspiration

Circumstances forced me into idol-making. So, when I started, I couldn’t afford to think of fame. I didn’t even think about the male-female discrimination prevalent in those days. I was racing against time and had to complete the orders and deliver the idols.

I realised the odds when people started saying ‘This is not a woman’s job. You are not good enough. A woman cannot run this business…etc’. But I didn’t pay much heed. As a child, my father didn’t allow me to enter his workshop, but I would sneak in and watch the artisans at work. That’s how I picked up most of it. I was reprimanded for this but I didn’t care.

When I took over the business, my brother opposed it. The male idol-makers also said all sorts of things. Even after my efforts were recognised by the media and I received accolades, critics tried to pull me down. However, I focused on my job. My journey was not scripted or planned. It was destined. It all happened by the grace of Maa Durga. It was not easy but if you are determined, success is bound to follow. Also, there’s no such thing as a woman’s job or a man’s job. A job is a job and it can be done by anyone if one knows how to do it.

China’s China experience

I went to Kunming China-South/Southeast Asian Art Week in 2018. They showed keen interest in my work. I had showcased my ekchala idol. I remember they were very fascinated by my name too! Overall, it was an honour for me. The love I received and the recognition that followed still resonate. I was always afraid of stepping out of my home state. This was a huge leap for me back then. Unknown people, unknown language, new culture, unknown food! But I knew I had to step out of my comfort zone. I had turned down many such opportunities earlier but that year, I decided to take a chance. Thankfully, I did.

Changes and challenges

I am still doing household chores and working as an artist simultaneously. But yes, I have started getting more orders. After my return from China, many organisations honoured me during Puja. I gave several interviews to the media. And yes, I saw people around me change. Many who did not appreciate my work, now admit that they are proud. People now don’t say anything on my face but I don’t know what they say behind me (grins).

Your Durga Puja celebration

I live with my mother and we spend most of the Puja at home. I am still in my workshop working on Lakshmi idols as there's a huge rush for them. Lakshmi Puja is right after Durga Puja. Since both Kumartuli Sarbojanin and Kumartuli Park are nearby, I watch the mammoth crowd from my studio. It is a wonderful sight to watch the revellers. I also talk to many people in the crowd. We cook special dishes at home. On Ashtami, I wear a new sari and offer pushpanjali at Kumartuli Sarbojanin. This year, I have been invited to two pujas. That’s about it. I keep it simple.

Last updated on 20.09.22, 06:19 PM

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