Guwahati, Monday, October 3, 2016
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Fewer hands to give clay the divine touch

 GUWAHATI, Oct 2 - It is that time of the year when the idol-makers reap dividends of the labour put in over the last few months. But, the artisans in Guwahati do not have much to cheer about.

There are fewer hands available today to craft mud and straw into the idols that are central to Goddess Durga’s homecoming every autumn. Shortage of craftsmen, leading to rising labour costs, has hit the cashboxes of the idol-makers, besides surging material costs.

Almost all the idol-makers in Guwahati bring in master craftsmen from West Bengal. These craftsmen stay here for four to six months and then return.

“It is very difficult to find craftsmen nowadays. This has led to rise in labour costs. I have brought four from Siliguri and Cooch Behar this time. I have to pay them Rs 20,000 to Rs 25,000 every month, besides bearing their food and lodging expenses. But, those from Kolkata charge more,” says Niranjan Pal, who has his workshop at Panbazar.

“There is a dearth of talented artisans here. Puja committees, while placing their orders for idols, often inquire about the craftsmen. Sometimes they demand that we make the idol through craftsmen from Kolkata,” adds Pal, who has been making idols for 45 years now.

Idol-maker Nirmal Pal of Bishnupur in Kalapahar, too, is battling a similar problem. “I have brought a master craftsman from Kolkata. I have to pay him a daily wage of Rs 1,800 to Rs 2,000,” he says.

Aware of the dwindling number of artisans, the Bengal craftsmen now insist on bi-monthly contracts with their employers here.

“In the initial months (April, May, June, July), they charge less, say Rs 1,200 to Rs 1,500 daily. When the workload increases by August, we have to renew their contracts at higher wages. There is no other option, as the artisans here lack the expertise,” says Nirmal, who too has been in the trade for four decades now.

However, Nirmal feels rural youths in Assam are eager to take up the work. “I think if we can train them properly, we can do without hired craftsmen after some years,” he added.

Besides surging labour costs, rise in material costs has also hit the idol-makers.

“We have to shell out too much on materials nowadays. You need so many things to make an idol. A truckload of clay now costs around Rs 14,000-Rs 15,000. Prices of paint have also increased by around 30 per cent over the past year. You have to put in a lot of effort. Around Rs 45,000 is spent to make an average idol. If you include my personal labour cost, we don’t get equal dividends,” says Nirmal, who himself puts in 12 to 14 hours per day to meet the deadlines.

The idol-makers are also facing hiccups in the form of “harsh” forest laws, due to which clay and timber are not easily available. “These two materials, which are vital for us, are difficult to get nowadays. A lot of paper work is needed. Of course, there are agents who supply us these materials, but even then you have to encounter many hassles,” Pal adds.

There are over 100 idol-makers in the city.

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