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Goddess Ma Durga as a Migrant Mother – Depicting the lockdown reality

Goddess-Ma-Durga-as-a-Migrant-Mother-–-Depicting-the-lockdown-reality

Amid the spike in Covid-19 cases coupled with total lockdown during the months of March to June in India, India witnessed the untold suffering and misery of migrant workers, a claim which the Union Government completely ignore. Some got inspired by the indomitable spirit of women workers hit by lockdown, a neighborhood in Calcutta, trying to remind the government through their innovative way by bringing Goddess Durga as a migrant mother.

In what can be said as a befitting tribute to the thousands of migrant workers for their untold hardships and misery during the Covid induced lockdown, a neighborhood in Calcutta came up with an innovative idea by replacing the traditional Durga with a migrant mother. A sculpted idol of a mother in a pale sari, waling with a shirtless toddler in her arms, will be worshipped as the goddess this year. In the back of the mother will be her two daughters- one with a baby owl in the crook of her arm and the other caressing a duck. The fourth sibling, pot-bellied and with the head of an elephant, give them company.

Goddess-Ma-Durga-as-a-Migrant-Mother-–-Depicting-the-lockdown-reality-2

Together, the mother and her four children are walking towards a small, more traditional image of the goddess with 10 hands inside a halo looking for relief. She is seeking relief for her children. She turns back when someone calls her. And the caller realizes the migrant woman is the goddess herself and hails her. The idol worshipped at Barisha Club in North Kolkata will be the migrant mother with a child in her arms and three children trailing her. All this and more, it aims to depict the true depth of human suffering and to connect it to our everyday lives. Indeed, the art expresses a variety of positive emotions, truly serves its purpose when depicting the lowest depths of our lives.

The fine art is a way for the artist and consumer to process all of their emotions, be they positive or negative. Life is a series of positive events strung together by pain, or maybe it’s the other way around? Regardless, I think that when we focus on our suffering we can learn things that we would never otherwise. Our ability to communicate our feelings is what differentiates us from the other animals that inhabit this planet. The art is there so that we can relate to one another, and no experience is more universal than that of pain.

Certainly, happiness is great and all, but we are at our most human while dealing with pain and suffering. Suffering is the one true equalizer; when we are at our lowest, we are all alike, while when we are all at our highest points, our differences become glaring. We feel sympathy and empathy when others are happy, sure, but that way of relating to others is orders of magnitude away from how most normal, well-adjusted humans can relate to pain and suffering. After all, they transcend language, culture, age, race, and gender. The ultimate goal of this gallery is to show true suffering, so that we may all understand.

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The Club which is organizing this year’s puja is in its 32nd year. The theme for this year’s puja is Tran (Relief). Speaking to Hello Vizag, artist Rintu Das, said “Goddess Ma Durga is the woman who braved the scorching sun and hunger and penury along with her children. Mother is looking for food, water, and some relief for her children”. The subject idol encapsulates what millions of Indians had seen from the comforts of their drawing rooms — millions of migrant workers walking hundreds of miles to return home in the wake of the country-wide lockdown announced suddenly by the Narendra Modi government.

A graduate from the Government College of Art and Craft, Das, has been working with big pujas of Calcutta for several years now. Of course, it is the third consecutive year with Barisha Club. On an emotional note, Rintu Das said amid Covid-19 induced lockdown, all I remember seeing on TV and reading in newspapers was migrant workers returning home on foot, some of them dying on the road”. I got all the vivid details of my close friends what they saw on the roads during their journey from Delhi and other parts of Northern India. Added to that, the indomitable spirit of the women walking home with children overwhelmed me. For me, they embodied the goddess,” said Das.

Bengal’s biggest carnival is Durga Puja, which is beyond a religious event. It marks the homecoming of the daughter and is a celebration of womanhood and motherhood. Here the Durga idol is not having weapons. In one arm, she has baby Kartick and an empty bag in the other. There is no weapon and no asura (Demon). The Ma Durga’s face is kind and her eyes are sad but protective.

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The sudden announcement of the lockdown compelled millions of migrant workers to return to their home states from their workplaces. The unplanned lockdown, absence of an adequate financial cushion, and denial of transport spawned a human tragedy not seen in India since the Partition. Many migrant workers died en route. A research group called the Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN) said in September that 972 deaths had been counted among migrant workers till July 4 during the course of the lockdown. On September 14, asked in Parliament if any compensation was given to the families of migrant workers who had died, the Centre replied that the question did not arise because no data of people dying on the way were kept.

But for Das, the opportunity to give a medium to his thoughts came when puja organizers of the club approached him with a problem. Due to the economic slump meant a dearth of advertisers and corporate sponsors, leading to a severe budget constraint. The last year’s budget was over Rs 60,00,000 but this year, getting even a fifth of that amount looked very difficult, said, organizers. Das told the organizers that he was ready to go ahead, whatever the budget was.

With Das’s innovative directions, the finishing touches of the goddess and her children are being given by an idol maker called Pallab Bhaumik. Bambo poles and jute sacks are the two main components of the pandal. Sacks were used during a series of donation drives that the club undertook during the lockdown to give rice, pulses, and other dry rations to poor and destitute families, like countless other similar campaigns in and around the city. Now the pandal is ready with all the elements of a relief distribution camp, said Das. Along with this, there will be audio clips saying: “Please wear a mask…. Please maintain social distance… No mask, no relief.”

The preparations were started in the third week of September. Till the start of September, the organizers were mulling to organize a “ghot pujo” inside a small club room. The subject is such that it calls for frugality, not splendor. Nowhere else in India, can fully capture the plight of workers during the lockdown but we can at least show some empathy,” said Debaprosad Bose, a founder-member of the club and one of the organizers.

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