What happens when the warm heart of a gorgeous city, proud of its history and heritages, turns dead cold to something that could potentially have been one of its proudest moments of historical glory?
Living in a voracious hub of religious and community festivals and breathing the air of celebration all the year round, it’s almost a sin for an inhabitant of ‘the city of joy’, Kolkata, not to know about Kumartuli- the place where all the festive joys of religious Bengalees and Kolkatans begin, with the skilled and busy hands of clay artists laying the final touch on idols. An emblem of traditional North Kolkata, Kumartuli and its surrounding areas were home to many respected and eminent Bengalees in the pre-independent era, and one of them was Durgacharan Bandhopadhyay, whose adobe was a frequent visiting place for the daredevil patriot Subhas Chandra Basu, better known as ‘Netaji’.
It was the year 1938- a time of unrest and upheavals, and amidst all these one day a group of youngsters came to Durgacharan’s house with the request of making their beloved leader Subhas, the chairperson of their ‘Kumartuli Surbojonin Durga Puja’. It is heard that Subhas was at first reluctant as he clearly stated that there were many henchmen of the British involved in the Puja. Some veterans of the area also opposed the desire of these young patriots, but going against all the odds and amid all the confusions and controversies, that year the whole of Kumartuli celebrated Durga Puja, not only one but two, and Subhas was the chairperson of one of those. Patriotic zeal was the motto. History was made.
But that’s just a fragment of the ‘History’, because on the day before the first day of the four-day Puja celebrations something terrible happened – somehow the idols caught fire and were incinerated, and with that the burning enthusiasm of the young brigade was also about to come to the point of a severe traumatic break-down, but that didn’t happen. One man didn’t let it happen. The man, Gopeshwar Pal, an artist-sculptor living in the area, took matters in his own hands. Armed with Videshi aesthetics of art and artistic techniques but Swadeshi at heart, this Messiah single-handedly sculpted five divinely beautiful and elegant idols of Maa Durga, Laxmi, Saraswati, Ganesha, and Kartik in a single night and saved the day, pride, and patriotism of the Bengalees and Kolkatans.
NO!…This event didn’t find a place in the history books. Time sent it to an everlasting exile, reducing it to the status of a oral history
among the locals.
But one can still find the studio of Gopeshwar Pal in the area, standing neglected, a studio which was built with a lot of care and father like affection by this man, modeled after the foreign studios, rarely found in Kolkata. Once inside, one can still find innumerable statues and sculptures including life-like statues of great literary geniuses like Sarat Chandra Chattapadhyay.
Now-a-days, the studio is privately maintained by Bomkesh Pal, one of the heirs of Gopeshwar Pal. It could have been a great heritage that could add to the pride of not only modern Kolkata, but also modern India. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. This great and busy city forgot it. Forgot a ‘History’.
Now the question remains – ‘WAS IT FAIR?’
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