KOLKATA: Kumartuli, the famed hub of claymodellers in the city, is facing a double whammy - the lockdown trigerred by COVID-19 pandemic and the Cyclone Amphan, but are nonetheless hopeful of a turnaround and are getting busy ahead of Duga Puja.
The clay modellers, known world-wide for their signature lifelike Durga idols, are hopeful that the autumn festival will augur well for them.
Kanchi Paul, a well-known woman modeller, told PTI that her studio was whiplashed by the extremely severe cylcone when it ferociously struck the city and its neighbourhood on Wednesday.
But there is a ring of confidence in her voice.
"We have seen Cyclone Aila (in May 2009) and floods in the past. We had picked ourselves to make idols again. This time too we have left the memories (of Amphan) behind," Paul says with confidence in her voice.
"Corona, lockdown, Amphan can never put Kumartuli down," she said.
Her ramshackle studio in the north Kolkata artisans' hub is strewn with half-finished clay idols of Goddess Kali, Sitala and Lakshmi.
These were soaked by the rainwater which had gushed in through the corrugated roof and the door on the fateful night when the cyclone battered the city.
The artisans work on idols of goddesses Lakshmi and Kali this time of the year in order to be ready when the festivals for them are held soon after Durga Puja.
Before the lockdown, many such idols were left unfinished in her workshop as most of the labourers returned to their homes.
"Our business had suffered as the completed idols of Goddess Annapurna, puja for which was due to be held during the lockdown, were left unsold," she said on Sunday.
Asked about her work for the September Durga Puja festival, Paul said she has plans to start work on five idols.
She had received the orders from puja organisers a few days ago.
"Not only me, other artisans too got orders for the idols during the lockdown. We are hoping to get more bookings on Rathyatra day, which is considered an auspicious day for Durga Puja organisers to book the idols. There are signs of things looking up as a big idol of Shitala (worshipped in Bengal to prevent pox infection) will be delivered after May 31," she said.
Kartik Paul of Kumartuli Mritshilpi Samity, said the 700 clay modellers who live and work in the area are hopeful that their studios will be abuzz with visitors and customers before the pujas.
He said that 95 per cent of the labourers who are associated with various aspects of idol making are stuck in their villages in the districts due to the lockdown.
"But whatever damages Cyclone Amphan has caused to the idols we had made will be set right if we get orders from the puja committees as in other years."
Kartik Paul said he has been assured of bookings for idols by 15-16 Durga puja organisers, who had said they will go ahead with the celebrations albeit on a smaller scale.
"Almost all clay modellers have received inquiries from their old customers - puja committees and household pujas who have evinced interest to buy idols for the festival which will be held on a smaller scale this year".
He said one big puja organiser from Srirampore/Konnagar in neighbouring Hooghly district had even contacted a clay modeller after Cyclone Amphan and confirmed booking for a smaller idol.
"I think we (clay modellers of Kumartuli) will get at least 80 per cent of the bookings made last year by small and medium puja organisers and household pujas," he said.
However, he was not hopeful about idols being ordered from Amphan-ravaged Sunderbans in areas like Kakdwip, which is among the places which relies on Kumartuli for the images of the deities.
"In places where the cyclone devastated the local economy, organising Durga puja would be the last thing in the minds of the people. When things recover they will source the idol locally," Paul said.