The monsoon had started. The entire neighbour was busy with idol making. Idol prices have raised now. It earns a good amount of money to the young potters and artists. Kanu was in a state of confusion. His wife was detected with gall bladder stone and she needed an operation. But the operation in the local municipality hospital costs around 20,000. Kanu did not have that much savings to continue with the operation. He could not see his wife in pain. But the offer he got today was worth thinking.
Kanu Pal lived in Kumortoli, North of Kolkata. He was a born idol maker. His ancestors were famous in the area for their traditional “dhaker saaj” (a decoration type) idols. Kanu was of 65 years old now. For 40 years he had provided the city with beautiful Durga idols during this time of the year. But for the past 10 years he had left this work. His left eye is almost blind with glaucoma. And these days he has spotted a cataract in his right eye. With a poor vision it becomes difficult for him to provide the minute specifications in the idol. He and his wife Malati had a son Raghav who had deserted them and stays in a small house near Garia (South Kolkata) where he works as a clerk in some Goverment office. Life was difficult to sustain for Kanu. So he decided to work as a hawker. He goes to the neighbouring houses and trades for the used newspapers and magazines. He earns less than his fellow neighbours in Kumortoli, but it is sufficient to meet their needs. But these days, especially after Malati’s illness, Kanu was finding it difficult to manage both ends. He thought of borrowing some money from Kishore but he wondered whether he could ever repay him back. Thoughts strolled around as he looked outside the window. It was raining outside. The water was slowly leaking the roof shed and flowing through the iron bars of the window he was holding.
Jewels Assosiation Club had a low budget this year. They were spending more on the pandal decoration. So they required a cheap idol for this year’s Durga Puja. Two of the Puja committee members came down to Kumortoli to fix a deal on the idol. They met Kishore, their regular idol maker. Kishore, on the other hand had too many deliveries to give this year. He had no option but to refuse. Jewels Club was now in trouble. They were late this year in contacting Kishore, but they desperately needed an idol for their club. Kishore knew Kanu’s need for money. So he suggested his name.
“You can try Kanu Pal. He has no commitment this year. Rest all of the idol makers will be full by now”, said Kishore.
Kanu was summoned eventually. Jewels Club proposed for an idol in return of 15 thousand to Kanu. Kanu was helpless. He looked at Kishore. He knew his poor vision would be a big hindrance. But Kishore showed him some hope.
“See Kanu da, this might be the best option. You have the art in you, you can do it. With the money you can admit boudi (sister-in-law) in the hospital. I think you should not refuse.”
Kanu thought and thought and realised this might be his final chance, his last attempt. He decided to start with the idol making once again.
Days passed by. Kanu Pal was busy doing what he knew the best. Goddess Durga was almost ready. The straw and clay cladded idol was in the making. His vision was a problem and Kanu knew the problem would be more once he starts painting the idol. Kanu thought of providing a different view of the idol this time. He wanted all the gods to take part in aiding Goddess Durga in the battle with the Mahishasura. So, he created three deadly and dangerous looking asuras. The centre one was the Mahishasura, rest were his accomplices. While, Goddess Durga’s spear was deep inside the centre one’s heart, Kartik and Ganesha were busy fighting the other two. The lion had grabbed the right asura’s leg, while Ganesha was about to realease his disc or chakra towards him. On the other hand, Kartik had released an arrow which killed the left asura. Laxmi and Saraswati were looking at the entire scene and blessing the devotees. His description of the entire battle was different than the rest of the idol makers. The idols so far looked decent. Even after 10 years, Kanu knew he did not lose his talent that he inherited from his ancestors.
Rains had stopped. The festive season was in the air. Kanu had finished with the idol making. Now he needed to paint them, his greatest nightmare. He went to Camac street, College street, Esplanade in search of the right colour and right texture for his idol. It was evening by the time he came. Most of the idol makers were busy with the final touch. Kanu had to finish the idol making in another 3 days. He ate his dinner early, adjusted his 3 high power bulbs and began colouring the idols. For the next two days, he painted the idols. The body colour, the blood marks, the lion everything was coloured. Kanu had to colour the minute things now. He needed to paint the eyes. The bulb did light up the entire area, but still, it strained Kanu’s eyes.
It was 2 in the morning of the day of the delivery. Kanu had to colour the eyes. So far, everything was manageable. Kanu’s hands were shivering. 10 years had passed since his last idol creation. He recalled that his father would take an entire day while painting the eyes. As a kid, Kanu would sit beside his father the entire day and he would say, “Kanu, the power of goddess Durga is reflected in her eyes. The entire idol might look different if the eyes aren’t well positioned and painted!”
His father’s words ringed an alarm. It made him even more nervous. The high power bulb made him sweat. His eyes were paining. Kanu took the brush, and dipped in the colour. He skilfully painted the eyes.
“The position is perfect”, he wondered. He felt like a little boy with a sudden rush of joy. He still had the touch. He was amazed.
The next morning, Kishore woke up Kanu.
“Kanu da, the club members have come. Is the idol ready?”Asked Kishore.
Kanu hurriedly got up and took them towards the idol. When they reached the idol, Kanu opened the polyethylene cover from the faces. He was awaiting applause.
“What is this? Is this a joke? Do you expect us to take this?” shouted one of them.
“Don’t worry sir, this can be mended. Calm down”, Kishore tried to pacify him.
“And what about the squint?” he shouted.
Kanu was shocked. “What are they talking about?” Kanu thought.
He adjusted his specs and looked towards his creation in broad daylight. The Goddess indeed appeared to be squint. The positions were bad. And the biggest blunder was that what he thought to be black colour last night was actually a darker shade of purple. He realised his mistake. He mistook the purple as black in the night. He looked helplessly.
“Whatever it is Kishore, We do not want this. Since you have led us into this, you have to find us another idol” demanded the club members.
Kishore had no other choice. He took them to other artists for any spare Idol.
Kanu was shattered. He slowly sat down. He had already wasted 5 thousand on the colours from his savings. His world was breaking down. He looked at the Idol. He wondered whether God existed. For 40 years he had brought smiles to devotees all across the country. For 40 years he had brought Goddess Durga on earth, and this is the reward he gets? His wife is suffering in front of him. Their only son left them at this age. Is this the reward?
Kanu took his cycle and went off. He wandered across the city. It was Mahalaya. The entire city was getting dressed up for Durga Puja. Mother Durga was ready to come down to earth to offer her blessings to everyone except him. His mind was full of disgust. He went to some houses; traded some old newspapers but his mind constantly cursed him for taking the work.
He reached home in the evening. Ranjan informed him that his wife’s condition had worsened and had to be taken to the hospital. Lady luck seemed to have turned her face completely towards Kanu. He rushed to the hospital. His wife was in the ICU. Doctor said he needed to arrange the money for the operation in another 4 days or else it would be difficult for them to save his wife. Kanu’s despair seemed to be never-ending now. He was clueless. What can he do in 4 days? He thought of selling the house. But then where will they stay after the operation? His mind was turmoiled by his thoughts. He sat outside the hospital blaming God for his situation. The entire excitement, enthusiasm and euphoria among people about the Durga Puja seemed to be a complete waste to him. Goddess Durga never came on Earth. She never existed.
That night there was a sudden rain soaking the entire city. The lights and the drizzle made the city look even more beautiful. Kolkata and the entire world were gearing to welcome Goddess Durga on Earth.
The next day, Kanu went out early, he had to earn as much as possible. He thought of asking his son to help. But he did not know where he lived. The entire day the old body worked. He travelled from one part of the city to another. The entire day’s hard work fetched him only a mere 700 rupees. He was tired. He looked at the day’s collection and could not hold back his tears. The sudden thought of losing his wife forever chilled his body. He thought of asking Kishore’s help.
When he reached home, it was almost 10 at night. Kishore was near the common tube well smoking his “bidi”. When he saw Kanu he ran towards him.
“Where were you Kanu da?”Asked Kishore.
“I went to work. Doctors have given 4 days time. Kishore I needed a help” said Kanu helplessly.
“Kanu da, don’t worry. You won’t believe what happened. Come with me.” said Kishore
He took him to his house and offered him food.
Kanu was tired after the entire day’s work. He did not refuse. He ate whatever Kishore had to offer. Kishore then went inside and took out a bundle of 500 rupees note.
“Take Kanuda, 25 thousand.” Said Kishore handing him the money.
“No Kishore, I just needed 20 thousand” said Kanu, refusing the extra money.
“This is your money Kanu da. Your idol was sold for 25 thousand today. This is your reward. “Said Kishore
“What? Puja starts in 3 days. Who will buy it now in spite of the defects?” kanu asked. He could not believe him.
Last night, retired High Court Judge Narendra Biswas dreamt of Goddess Durga. She came in his dream and asked him to worship him as she was angry. Today morning, Mr Biswas decided to carry out Durga Puja in his house this time. So Mr. Biswas and his son Ravi came to Kumortoli this morning for an idol. But none of the idol makers had any Durga idol left. The only idol left unsold in Kumortoli was Kanu’s rejected one. Kishore showed them the idol. He carried out the necessary changes, coloured the eyes black and sold it off for a lump sum 25 thousand.
Kanu stood still with the money in his hand. He could not believe it. He thanked Kishore for his help and went to the hospital. Malati’s operation was successfully completed the next day. Kanu could sense the touch of happiness in his life. 5 days later, Malati was discharged. It was Dashami (Dusshera), the last day of Durga Puja. Kanu brought her home and quickly left for Babughat( bank of river Hooghly), where all the idols would be immersed.
It was evening. The entire Babughat was crowded. Everyone was dancing to the beats of the “Dhak” (drums). The entire sky echoed with shouts, “aasche bocchor aabar hobe!!”(“next year we will celebrate again!”). Kanu stood at one corner staring at the idol. Four five men shouted, “Durga Ma ki jai!(Hail goddess durga!)” as they took the idol and slowly immersed it in the river. Kanu felt a shiver down his spine. He realised, Goddess Durga did exist. She came down to earth to help him. His hands folded out of stimulus. Tears rolled down his eyes as he bid farewell to mother Durga.
The hard work of all the idol makers had been washed away. Goddess Durga had left earth to go back to heaven, where she belonged. Kanu’s last attempt to save his family was blessed by her. Kanu lived again. He realised, the power of the Goddess was not in her eyes. It was everywhere, it was omnipresent.
The idol slowly sank in. He looked at the last remains and cheerfully joined the others as he shouted, “Durga Ma ki jai !”