On countless Sashthis, idol-maker Sankar Pal has welcomed the goddess home. On Wednesday, it would have been Durga’s turn to say “Happy homecoming”.
Pal, the 43-year-old master craftsman, has himself returned to the land of his birth this Puja — after 20 long years.
The son of an idol-maker had left Bikrampur village, 35km from Dhaka, for Calcutta to learn more about the art. He married in Calcutta and had children but never found the time or opportunity to visit Bangladesh before this year.
Then came an offer from one of this country’s most popular idol-making companies, asking him to lend them his expertise, and Pal couldn’t refuse.
“This Puja, I am here and have met my mother and two brothers. All these years, I had only spoken to them over the phone,” the clay artist said. His father died while he was away in Calcutta.
This is the first time in years that Pal will be spending the Puja away from his two children, aged 11 and seven.
“It’s been difficult to leave them behind, but in my heart there is only happiness when I see the development that has taken place in Bangladesh since I left,” he said.
“My village looks more beautiful than the image I had retained in my mind. The country has blossomed. A part of me doesn’t want to go back.”
Pal was flown in by the company three months ago and visited Bikrampur before starting work on 12 idols that were to be shipped to different parts of Bangladesh. He is now staying in Dhaka with his colleagues and will be in the country till Kali Puja.
He was working on a Durga idol at Kalabagan in central Dhaka when this correspondent met him this week.
Pal seemed a little self-conscious giving what he said was his first media interview. As he fumbled over his words, his colleagues instructed him on how to pose for the camera and pulled his leg over his newfound “stardom”.
Babul, a colleague, said: “He has been a great help. He comes from a different place and works differently, but we have never had any problems. We work together, eat together and stay together. It’s lovely to see that he has learnt so much in India, and we are glad to have his expertise. I’ll miss him a lot when he goes back.”
Company owner Gokul Pal said he had offered Pal more money than he would have been earning in Calcutta to get him here.
“He is special. His expertise is in design. He has done all the backdrops for the idols. We are happy to have him and might call him again next year,” Gokul said, adding he was surprised at the speed at which his offer was accepted.
However, Pal, who is earning about takas 2,500 (Rs 1,588) per day, said the money wasn’t the chief attraction.
“I shall come anytime they give me a call. When I lived here, the Puja wasn’t so big in Bangladesh. Now there’s a more relaxed atmosphere and I am just loving it,” he said.
Pal’s reaction isn’t surprising, said Swapan Kumar Ghosh, a member of the Dhanmondi puja committee that has been holding the puja at the Kalabagan grounds for the past four years.
“This time, 26,000 pujas are being held in the country. Times are more peaceful now. How well the Pujas are celebrated depends on the government in power,” Ghosh said.
“The Awami League has been very supportive of the Pujas, so we don’t expect any trouble. Of course, the pandals here don’t draw crowds as large as in Calcutta, but we still have to limit attendance when the local stars perform.”
It was Ghosh who had introduced Pal to this correspondent, saying: “Meet the artist from your hometown.”
Pal, however, cannot be coaxed into calling either Bikrampur or Calcutta his hometown. “I love being here,” is all he said.