Art of idol-making goes on for generations but not for Ashok Pal who is physically handicapped.
Ashok, in his late 50s, says that though nowadays women pursue this career but he would not let his only daughter suffer as he had done all his life. Pal was born with a defect in his limbs. His father had taught him how to carve the eyes of Durga intricately, how different curves should be used while making idols of different deities, how to differentiate between the idol of Durga from Saraswati and Lakshmi. Though he has hired four labourers to work for him like binding the hay, as it needs strength, he still makes the eyes, nose and lips of the idols even with his limped hands.
Now when he is old, his daughter doesn’t allow him to risk his health and work but while supervising and when his daughter is not there, Ashok tries to mould the clay, smoothen the texture on the limbs off the idol. “There is a secret joy in doing the work that is now in my blood. This is something that my forefathers used to do and I can never get away from it,” he confesses.
Ashok took charge of the work after his father died 35 years ago. “The profit margin for the artisans has come down greatly. The prices of all the materials have increased and so have the labour charges. It has become very difficult for the artisans to live on idol-making alone,” he said. Nobody wants his or her sons or daughter to be in this profession as the life is very tough, he added. Ashok earns for his family during the off-season by making small idols of Kali and Sitala.
Though everybody in the locality knows him by his appearance, with crippled hands and legs, people say that he works with such expertise that nobody can figure out that he is handicapped. Ashok has got orders to make 14 Durga idols this year.
Narugopal Pal (37), another physically handicapped artisan, had learnt the art from his elder brothers. His father used to make jewellery boxes and after he died his mother got all her sons into idol-making. “I can eat stomach-full daily as I am still single. Had I been married, my life would have been as difficult as the other artisans,” he said. Narugopal was crippled after he suffered an attack of typhoid when he was only six-months-old. His room in the temporary rehabilitation camp for the Kumartuli artisans is full with idols of various sizes. “It is difficult for me to sit and work in the workshop. So I do all my work in my room,” he said. He could not learn the art of carving eyes from his elder brothers as the typhoid had also affected his hands. So, he hires labourers to do that for him.