Narrow lanes, hand-pulled rickshaws, tram lines and red-brick houses with louvre windows – yes … I am talking about a typical North Kolkata neighborhood.
It’s that time of the year again, with Durga puja round the corner, we (Deblina and I) planned to explore Kumartuli, one of the cultural precincts of Kolkata. It was a Friday morning that we headed towards Kumartuli. From Shobhabazar-Sutanati metro station we took a rickshaw to Kumartuli, where clay sculptors were busy in making idols. Bright sunshine on my shoulders and the deep blue sky above were telling that autumn is on the threshold and with only one month left for the Pujas idol making would be in full swing.
It was my long cherished desire to visit Kumartuli, the alley of the potters, where gods and goddesses are born (read created) in the skilled hands of mud sculptors who are in the profession of clay idol making for several generations.
Well, coming back to where we started our journey. We had to take a hand-pulled rickshaw. As soon as I boarded the rickshaw childhood memories thronged my mind. Such rickshaws were aplenty on the roads of Kolkata those days. We used to ride rickshaws often, especially in the evenings while returning home after a shopping or a visit to some relative’s place. The rickshaw puller is almost running pulling the rickshaw, and the sound of the bells hanging in his hand … ting ling ting ling (this bell worked like horns) and a small lantern hanging at the back of the rickshaw, just like the rear light of a car – the images are still so vivid in my mind!
However, with the comfort and ease I am trying to sketch the picture of hand-pulled rickshaws, right now, it was no that easy during the ride. I sat stiff and terrified, thinking all the time, what if the rickshaw puller loosens his grip and we’ll land up up-side down (LOL!). Finally, we reached our destination and I was relieved to get down from the rickshaw. 🙂
As we moved on down the lanes the brick walls and structures were like closing in on us. I have never seen such narrow lanes and by-lanes in my life. Much to my astonishment, artisans live in there, with their families and have set up their studios for pottery and idol making! Well… studio, not in its literal sense.
Their studios are far from what we think or have seen… with scarcity of space, no AC, no fans and small windows refusing the daylight to enter, artisans keep working all day and night during this season. As for equipment and materials, they have clay, straw, ropes (made from coconut fiber), bamboo sticks and two hands – two skillful hands that can transform the shapeless mound of clay into a beautiful and awe inspiring idol of goddess Durga.
Hats off to those artists whose talent will never be recognized… who will never get the chance to bathe in the light of success and recognition.
As we made our way down the alley I was amazed to see half-done idols with a variety of size and features … large, small, medium; with traditional wide-eyed face revealing anger, or with a soft compassionate look more like a simple, native Bengali beauty; posing like warrior against the demons or blessing like mother.
We had only a few hours in hand with so much to see. We could only explore a part of the entire area in one hour. Since it was a working day we had pending jobs to do at the office. We set out from Kumartuli, reluctantly. Just as we were walking along the street we saw a tram approaching, much to our delight and we instantly got on it. Sitting inside the tram I felt nostalgic. It has been a long time since I last enjoyed a tram ride.
Trams are rare to see on the roads of Kolkata nowadays. The thought that Kolkata will be losing its heritage one day pains a lot. The metro has transformed a lot with a number of lavish shopping plazas, bustling multiplexes, flyovers and BMW, Skoda and Chevrolet plying the city roads.
Slowly the tram reached the terminal at Bagbazar. From there we caught the bus to Kalikapur, where our office is located. As the bus was passing through Shyambazar crossing I caught a glimpse of the statue of ‘Netaji’,
basking in the sun, amidst a number of enormous hoardings and signboards trying to cover up the skyline, the bamboo structures for pandals on the roadside, posters of political rallies and the same zeal and enthusiasm for the Pujas reminded me, ‘Kolkata ache Kolkatatei” (The spirit of Kolkata still remains the same)!