Uma Chattopadhyay: A Tale of Autumn
The autumn sun is playing a charming hide-and-seek with whimsical rain clouds. Durga Puja is still a couple of weeks off.
Ananda has his hands full with assignments. His two nimble fingers are working out patterns from thermocol sheets cut into designed shapes.
Years back, his forefathers left their native village and settled in this Rudrapur town in Hooghly district as professional craftsmen of thermocol. Young Ananda has been carrying on with the tradition. Long before the festive season starts, he takes orders from different local clubs that organize Durga Puja in this town.
But there is a noticeable change. These days, the clubs first decide on a ‘theme’ for the season and then get the craftsmen make design schemes to execute that. From plastic to plasticine, wax, fabric, light metals, paper pulp – every sort of material is used for the intended effect.
Ananda has adapted himself to the changing situations. His work is no more confined to adornments of the Goddess. He also decorates the stage with sundry materials.
Two of the local clubs, Eureka and Star, are arch rivals – they are resolved to beat each other in the size of the puja crowd they draw. They both want Ananda for decorations. ‘Think something out of the box! We’re going to be the winners,’ they tell him by turns. A local artisan gets appointed for the clay idols.
There is another unwritten commitment. Since long, their family has been associated with the Durga Puja organized by the local Town Club as artists.
The club organizers generally give him plenty of creative freedom. ‘You may try different materials as you like,’ they convince him. Local businessmen subscribe a large sum of money for Durga Puja.
Ananda takes clues about the respective ‘themes’ of the three clubs and comes home. Father often points out, ‘Look, once you get an order, just grab it and come back. It’s not nice to bargain over money matters… and two-to-three orders can be enough, or you may make a mess!’
Sudev, a young art student of the town, often drops by. He also fetches a few artistic materials for Ananda from the city.
Last year, Ananda’s decorative art works fetched prestigious awards for the clubs.
All this is gratifying for an artist. But what has made things even better this time is an offer that came last January.
‘Hello, this is Amit,’ Ananda was addressed by a decent-looking young man. ‘Sudev is in touch with me and he has brought me here to have a word with you,’ he added with a smile.
‘I have been in Colorado for the last five years. This time we have decided to organize Durga Puja in our place over there. The clay idols are already commissioned. We want you to do suitable thermocol decorations,’ he summed up.
‘We insist on thermocol because it’s a dying art of Bengal. Let our children understand the traditions we are part of. We are tracing our roots, you can say.’
‘Budget is no big deal,’ he gently added. Sudev negotiated for the deadline and money matters.
‘Ananda, it’s going to be a big new exposure for you,’ Sudev was explaining a few days later.
Ananda looked absorbed in thoughts. With a new professional commitment this time, he had to turn down offers of work from Rajenbabu, the Town Club Secretary, and made him upset.
Works for Eureka and Star Club are in progress. Eureka has demanded something special for celebrating their seventh season. Ananda has designed seven pillars to be placed on the stage to hold up the Mother Goddess with a dominating presence! The grand effect can be visualized!
The Star Club has insisted on an effective execution of their ‘theme’ this time: ‘No War, Peace only.’ Ananda has devised a suitable design scheme – one grand-looking cannon will be installed with an enraged avatar of the Mother Goddess placed upon it!
The interplay between the autumn sun and scattered showers continues. Ananda’s works proceed. Most of the pillars for Eureka have been complete; work for Star Cub is almost ready.
He gives considerable time to the thermocol decorations now. ‘How about the progress? You will let me know once it is done.’ Sudev is often curious. ‘You will impress a whole new crowd!’
‘What? Order from abroad? That’s good, son.’ Ananda’s father is apparently happy watching his son engaged in their traditional craft again. ‘But you really had to say ‘no’ to the Town Club? They have had a long connection with us, after all.’ There are streaks of sorrow on the old withered face.
‘Ananda, you should be busy working?’ Rajenbabu has peeped in. He is on his way back from the morning market.
‘This time we miss you badly, my son! The club members have roped in a novice for decoration! He has no sense of art,’ he says ruefully. ‘It’s going to be a disaster this time!’
Ananda keeps working silently. He knows he had no choice.
Structures for the two clubs have been stacked up for a while. Ananda attends solely to his thermocol designs. White pieces pasted with coloured sequins join into floral patterns.
He has engaged two little boys who delightfully give him small helps after their school is over. ‘To which distant land is your work going this season? ’ They would often ask the artist.
It is early afternoon. The autumn sun is still giving a glow. Gaily dressed people are going out for puja shopping.
‘I’ve got a word with you,’ Sudev has just called up. Ananda is a little surprised. It is still a week before the deadline.
Sudev shows up. He does not show his usual energy.
‘Ananda… how to say,’ he falters. Ananda stops his nimbly moving hands. ‘Actually Amit has let me know they have cancelled the idea of organizing Durga Puja this time… as he himself has to come down to India soon to sort out some long-pending family matters. Their Secretary too is occupied elsewhere. So they have given up… they are sorry.’
‘But they have refused to take back the amount of advance payment,’ he adds. ‘Never mind… there will be more such chances.’ Sudev presses his feet on the pedals of his bicycle.
Ananda looks out through the window. White fluffy kash flowers emerge in the view.
The two boys show up smiling. Ananda gets them pack up the disjointed bits scattered on the floor and keep them aside.
He takes out his bicycle. Father stands at the doorstep. ‘Where to, son?’
‘Let me drop in on Rajenbabu for a while, Father?’ Ananda says with a gentle smile.