BALICHAK: The bespectacled unkempt sexagenarian artist swiftly shifts his place from his workshop to the Balichak-Jamna road where, tractors and lorries are lined up to carry Durga idols.
With Durga Puja to start a day later, 64-year-old Kushaddhaj Bera, one of the major idol-maker in western West Bengal, has no time to even take bath, which explains his unkemptness. He is spending his days dealing with impatient customers and asking young boys to be
careful while carrying the idols and his boys to work faster to complete the orders.
Based in Hariharpur village tucked off the state highway connecting Balichak to Egra in Purba Medinipur, Kushaddhaj, who is in the profession since more than 50 years, makes some 70 large (more than 12 foot) Durga idols for destinations as far as Asansol and Jamshedpur but also the metropolis of Kolkata.
“Earlier I had only 10-15 orders but now have more than 70 orders every year from big clubs like Mohammad Ali Park in Kolkata, Malkhan Singh’s puja in Adityapur of Jamshedpur, Rambabu’s puja in Kharagpur, apart from small towns all over Paschim and Purba Medinipur districts,” he said, taking sip from a cup of tea beside an artisan mixing clay with his foot for idol making.
Despite being one of the large rural workshops in the western part of the state, advance money from customers is sought to complete their idols.
“I would give some concession but need a major amount as advance as no bank gives me loan. Once I had taken a loan of Rs 3 lakh to work for the Durga idol of former CPM strongman of Haldia Lakshman Seth but was thrashed badly there. I could not immediately repay the loan and became late to repay it. Since then the banks don’t give me loans, for which I take advance from customers,” he said.
The customers who came to buy the idols confirmed this. “It’s all based on trust. Even I have paid Rs 45,000 for an idol of Rs 50,000,” said Raghunath Das of Deulti Sporting Club in Howrah district, some 50 km from here. “I paid 80% of the amount of our idol as advance,” said Rajesh Banerjee from Ghatal.
The idols range from as less as Rs 40,000 to as high as Rs 30 lakh.
Some 45-50 artisans work for three months to make the idols. “Some 25 are permanent, rest work for three months before the Durga Puja. We have to give food and shelter to them,” said Bera.