Artisans living in cluster of ‘jhuggis’ on roadside wait for devotees to pick up their Durga idols and help them earn their bread and butter.
“At least these days we have work and food to eat. Once the festive season is over, we only keep limited idols. There are hardly any customers after that. We have to often live by rag-picking,” says Dariha, an artisan who lives in a makeshift home on the road from the city bus stand to Maharana Pratap Chowk.
Dariha says her family’s name is registered as residents of Sukhrali here, yet they are forced to move from one area to another, which damages their belongings.
Another artisan, Mohan Lal Solanki says earlier policemen often used to ask them to move their ‘jhuggi’ but now policemen ‘pester’ them a little less. Chanda, also an artisan says but even if policemen ask them to move, they never touch their belongings or behave harshly as “people fear God and avoid tampering with idols.” As Dariha kneads the flour to make chapattis, her eyes gleams to see an autorickshaw halt near her hut. Pooja Singh, who hails from Rae Bareli in UP, had come with her father to buy an idol for Durga Puja at their society in Mohammadpur.
Recalling Durga Puja celebrations in her hometown, Singh says that the village head used to make grand arrangements for the festival and ever since she moved to Gurgaon a year back, her family decided to recreate that festivity here as well. While Pooja says she was excited to take the Goddess home, Dariha thanked God for earning Rs 1,400 after six months of crafting the idols.
Chanda, whose hut is a metre away from Dariha’s, says, “We originally belong to Pali in Rajasthan but have stayed in Kolkata, Ahmedabad and now in Gurgaon. Likewise all our family members have stayed in various cities and crafted idols of god and goddesses.” Chanda says till the time her family is able to earn bread and butter by carving idols, they will continue their stay in that city. “To keep ourselves alive we have to eat at least something. Where ever we are able to get work, we go to that place. Once we are unable to fill our stomachs anymore, we move to another place,” says Chanda. However, unlike Dariha, Chanda works at temples or for special pujas once the festive season ends.
“Sometimes priests call us to temples to restructure their existing idols or we get orders for fresh idols as well. Some people organize special pujas in which different idols are sent at their homes for seven days. So then also we earn well. And in case nothing works, we move out of the city,” says Chanda. Talking about the prices of the idols, Mohan Lal Solanki says that it starts from Rs 400 and goes up to Rs 12,000, depending on the size.Some people demand idols of almost eight to ten feet tall. For this they have to give orders two months in advance and it costs around Rs 20,000, says Solanki. These artisans get their raw materials from different places in Delhi and carve their idols out of plaster of Paris. Dariha says that after Durga Puja, devotees either keep these idols under a Peepal tree or immerse it into water.
“I have heard that plaster of Paris is not good to immerse but we are helpless with our economic condition. Instead devotees should try to bring out alternative eco-friendly ways to immerse idols,”