Kumartuli goes tech-savvy

The world wide web may soon have a potters’ hub in it. Kumartuli artisans have now decided to launch a website that will not only help them connect with probasi Bengalis (those living abroad) but also ward off middlemen who pocket a major share of the artisans’ hard earned money.
Hundreds of Bengali associations that organise Durga Puja every year in countries, including USA, UK, Australia, and Russia, get their idols from Kumartuli.
Instead of the usual clay idols, these clients prefer idols made of fibreglass, papier mache or shola as these are light, unbreakable and reusable. The same idols are often used for five to seven years because of the high cost of procurement (The cost of such idols is anything between Rs 80,000 to Rs 1 lakh) and the difficulties of immersion in foreign waters. After the Puja is over, the idols are put on display at galleries.
Earlier, a middleman would get the orders for such idols from the overseas client or a representative of the Bengali association who would come to Kolkata to book an idol. For an idol worth Rs 80,000, the middlemen charged Rs 30,000. “If the original price of a fibreglass idol is Rs 80,000, he would make us prepare a bill of Rs 1 Lakh. He pocketed Rs 20,000 and also asked for another Rs 10,000 for getting us the order,” said Mr Bablu Pal, an idol-maker at Kumartuli.
“We had no other option than to pay him whatever he asked for, as the artisans had no other way to contact the customers directly,” he added. Artisans vie for orders from overseas as fibreglass idols are sold at a much higher price than clay idols, thereby increasing their profit margin.
The chain of customers, middlemen and artisans was first broken in 2004 by renowned artiste Mr Amarnath Ghosh after he designed a website in his name and procured orders to make 22 fibreglass idols this year alone. Amarnath’s son, Kaushik, had first insisted on having a website for all the artisans. Another artisan to break off the chain is Debabrata Pal, who bagged seven orders this year.
Posting profiles and catalogues of idols on the Internet has not only freed them of the middlemen, but has also helped them find fresh markets. Last year, they found a client in the Fiji islands.
Mr Babu Pal, secretary of the Kumartuli Mritshilpi Sanskritik Samiti, said: “Since not all of the artisans can afford to maintain a website, we have decided to design a website that will have a catalogue of idols. Once the idols are booked Online, the order would be distributed among the artisans.” The work of the website would start soon.

Soma Basu

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