Thirty-five-year-old Ramlal Prasad has made the Kalasagar Arts Ganpati idol workshop at Parel his temporary home for the last four months.
Prasad, and 55 others like him, have come to Mumbai from Singhara village in Bihar to make idols. “We are not trained in this but over the years we have learnt the art,” says Prasad.
The political tirade against “outsiders” may be a threat but that does not deter artisans from Bihar from coming to Mumbai to make idols of the city’s favourite deity.
At least 80 per cent of the artisans in idol-making workshops in the city are from north India.
In the workshop of Kalasagar Arts, more than 65 artisans from Bihar work in groups—the workshop owners jokingly refer to them as the ‘Bihar Sena’ — as a tape recorder playing popular Bhojpuri songs keeps them company. The workshop has less than ten Maharashtrain artisans.
“These people [from the north] are quick learners and have very few or no demands. They are almost prefect in their work,” says Rajan Khatu one of the three founders of Kalasagar Arts.
Idol makers say they employ migrants because locals do not want to do menial jobs for a paltry sum of Rs 500. “Ten years ago, most artisans and helpers were Marathi-speaking,” says Ramesh Rawle, who owns a workshop near Ganesh Talkies at Chinchpokli and employs 35 north Indian artisans.
His shop, set up in 1920, is one of the oldest in the city. “What can we do if our [Marathi] youth prefer to remain unemployed rather than work?”
Subhash Rane another idol maker from Girgaum adds that migrant workers are dedicated and are not fussy. “People working in government offices wait for the clock to strike 5. They don’t wait one minute longer even if work is pending,” Rane says. “But these artisans work till 8 in the night and don’t even demand overtime wages.”
Shyam Yadav (21) has come to Mumbai for the first time to work as a helper in the painting section of Rawle’s workshop. “In Bihar there is no work around this time so we come here for four months every year,” Yadav says. “The workshop owners give us a place to stay and food to eat besides the daily wages.”
On Sundays, the workers go sightseeing with their local colleagues as guides. Yadav claims he has picked up a few words in Marathi. “Ikde ye (come here), jevlas ka? (have you eaten?),” he asks in Marathi laced with a north Indian accent.