And finally, he completed my eyes. I slowly opened it but I knew that everything would not be the same as it was in the previous years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A young sculptor of the workshop has just started painting me. I was disappointed to see that he was not wearing his face mask.
Then I looked around and felt the unusual atmosphere. I noticed there are two types of people, one who are taking the pandemic seriously and the second, who are acting exactly the vice-versa.
There are very few sculptors working in the workshop as there is not enough work for them this year. The ones remaining are maintaining a distance from each other. Everything seems to be very quiet and sad. No radio, no humming of old songs, no gossips, no mini-cigarette breaks, no evening snack party seems to be happening.
I, Ganesha, remover of obstacles, am heavy-hearted to see that the person who creates me as an idol doesn’t look a believer any more.
I have been seeing Jagadish Pal, the owner of this artistic idol workshop “Vishwakarma Shilpalaya” since 1973. Most of his sculptors are from Kolkata. He creates idols every year for his permanent as well as for new customers but, this year the story is a bit different.
Forget new ones, the permanent customers are also refusing to receive their idols this year. Government and citizens are taking extreme precautions for COVID-19 even as the awareness about the spread of the virus is still lacking.
The plight of the sculptors is not a secret anymore and now, this pandemic has added as a cherry on the top. There are several incomplete idols lying around which tells the exact story of the market crisis. Jagadish was sadly expressing his thought to one of his fellow sculptors working there saying, "In the past, I had taken a good decision by not letting my only son get into this business. If he had entered sculpturing like me, his fate would also be like mine. Now that he is pursuing an MBA, I am sure he will do better in life than what I am now and will not make his family struggle for the basic needs in life.” Right now, I have to digest this as it’s a harsh reality. Like a few other professionals, sculptors are also underpaid and this pandemic has made their life more miserable.
The sculptors are well aware of the fact that social distancing and hygiene are mandatory to stop the spread of COVID-19. But, I see them living in a matchbox-sized room that can make anyone claustrophobic. One morning, I saw them all use one public toilet, shaving and taking bath simultaneously in the same open space.
Another day, I saw them completing their daily chores and dozing off in their temporary bunkers. Also, most of the time I see no masks on their faces. Their masks either stay lowered or hanging by one of their ears.
To me, it seems like masks make them uncomfortable while working, and thus they keep it down. It is despairing to witness that with the little amount of money that these sculptors earn, they can either afford themselves better living and working conditions or can send it home to their families.
This was the story of my creators. I am just the start, Ganesh puja will be followed by Durga puja, Laxmi puja and Kali puja. I am afraid, they too will have the same fate as mine. But, nevertheless, seeing the sculptors still making us with aspirations in their eyes gives us hopes too. I wish that people will not lose their faith in us, even though in this pandemic year, my idols remain unsold.