KOLKATA: Working on bamboo, clay, hay and colours from the wee hours to late night hands race against time to create the Devi from behind iron bars, high walls and sepoys watching round the clock.
For the past 13 years, Chandan Chandra has not seen a Durga Puja in the open, a life convict for murder and now inside Alipore central jail. Yet now he has no time to rest.
He and his handful of helpers are most sought after with Durga Puja round the corner. Be it theme-based idol or traditional, he is now a hit with organisers. This time Chandra (41) has been given the responsibility of making three Durga idols from behind bars, one for the jail itself and two others for Puja organisers outside.
“He is most sought after. This year he is making three idols from inside the jail. He has got permission from the authorities and is now very busy. His artwork is so nice that organisers from outside approach us with orders for making idols. Chandra is working for free and says that in this way he can reach out to the divinity, even being inside jail,” said a senior officer of state jail department.
Chandra, a murder convict, is a natural artist who has honed his skills from regular art workshops behind bars initiated years back as a prison reform programme. A resident of Danton, West Midnapore, convicted in a murder case he has already spent 13 years behind bars.
Chandra is being helped by Najim Sheikh (convicted for abduction), murder convicts like Wasim Sarkar, Ashok Naskar and Sanjay Sardar.
“The inmates are working for free. Raw materials like hay, clay, bamboo, dress and colours are being brought from Kumartuli. The organisers are paying us the money and we are buying the raw materials. Each idol will cost around Rs 14,000 to Rs 20,000 depending on size. This is much lower than the market price of an idol outside. Durga is accompanied by her children and will be in full attire and with weapons. We are even providing for the ornaments. The extra money we are making will go towards prisoners’ welfare fund,” said an officer from Alipore central jail.
The inmates who are making idols are kept in a separate ward. They wake up around 6 am and start working from 7 am. The work continues throughout the evening, even after lock down (sundown when all inmates are locked inside cells or wards after headcount). With short breaks for lunch and dinner work is continuing till 2 am.
This year the jail Durga Idol is of a dual theme, with two ‘Asuras’, one who is being killed by Durga and another who with hands folded repents for his misdeeds.
“The idol for Netaji Sabuj Sangha Club in Joynagar, South 24-Parganas is about 12 feet high and is of traditional form with ‘Daker Saaj’. The Joynagar organisers have a budget of Rs 20,000. The idol for jail staff recreational club is also of traditional type and costs around Rs 18,000. The idol for inmates inside the jail will cost around Rs 14,000,” said a jail officer.
Chandra earlier made idols for Alipore central jail as well as a few clubs outside. However, this time he has got orders for making three.
Chandra and other inmates in August 23, 2009 met with the then president Pratibha Patil and handed over an art work named ‘Pakhi Maa’. Chandra has also participated in numerous art workshops behind bars and his paintings have been sold in art galleries outside including state-run Nazrul Tirtha in Town Town.