Fiction pick: The girl who learnt to sculpt goddesses, and then disappeared

An excerpt from a novel about an ethnographer’s search for people who have been forgotten.

When she closes her eyes, the fettler reappears. He holds a brush and a small knife. His fingers are the colour of clay. The face of a Durga idol lies on a stone slab. Next to the fettler there is a row of medium-sized headless straw models pushing against each other. The models are kicking one another for space. With the back of the brush the fettler draws the hairline of the model at hand and keeps brushing along that line until the curve is distinct. No excess clay remains. He dips his thumb in a bowl of water and repeats the gesture along the hairline with his thumb.

All the while the model stares at him, its eyes without eyeballs. The back of the model’s face is dark and hollow. The fettler lifts his head to catch a glimpse of the fast graying sky. Drains will swell with the straw that the rain shears off the models and splatters of clay will chart the edges of the narrow street. Cover the models with tarpaulin, fast. A spray of water cools the fettler’s forehead. The model’s eyes glare as the droplets infuse them with sight. The black mole on the fettler’s nose glistens. His face turns toward her. His face turns into her face.

The enlivened Durga pratima continues to haunt her. She can conjure that face a million times without its brilliance diminishing; and the blue veins that swelled on the fettler’s wrist when he carved the deeper recesses around the idol’s forehead! But after school, these days, all she does is tutor the neighbourhood children. She teaches math and history, subjects she does not care for but knows just about enough to help the class five students. How will she get through the difficult board examinations?

She envies her brother who Baba let drop out of school because during the peak idol-making season, which comes right in the middle of the academic year, family members need to oversee the work in their workshop. Baba asks, what good is education doing to the young boys in this city? They have not only made their own lives difficult but also augmented trouble for others. Schools and colleges remain closed for days at a stretch because of them. Their strikes will shut down factories.

Consider how the police came up to his house even as his son had nothing to do with those rebels.

The selfishness of those boys who put his wife’s and daughter’s lives at risk to save their own irks Baba. The perpetual fear of mob massacre has not done any good to his business. Baba hopes that his son will learn something more constructive through his apprenticeship at the workshop.

If you think you can run this business without knowing how to mould the idol with your own hands, then you are mistaken. It is god’s work, the work of love. You ought to love this gift you have inherited. You cannot run the workshop from the bamboo benches of the nearest tea stall. Do you really expect your labourers to take care of everything while you comfortably sit there and sip your tea? For them it is ultimately about their daily wage. You are the one in charge of the bigger picture, accountable for it.

Besides, you will eventually need to train new boys and your own sons. Boys, who are on Baba’s payroll for years, whom he trains with plenty of love and care, abandon him when they spot greener pastures. That’s the way of the world and you need to brace yourself for it.

When she was younger, Baba did not mind her playing with clay. She could roll little clay balls between her warm palms. She could press those uneven wet orbs with her fingers to fashion swan’s beaks. And, elephants, crows, or pairs of grooms and brides. The latter was somewhat exasperating. The task of crafting the bride’s and the groom’s bodies does not present many problems. But their faces! You should be able to tell the bride and the groom apart from their faces. That is the fundamental rule. Yet how do you go about it?

Both the dolls have spherical heads – not any larger than her favorite coconut laddoos. A problem of this magnitude warrants consultation with Baba. He, at the very least, has the benefit of experience. Baba is happy to share the secrets with her. What is more, with his nimble fingers Baba gives a demonstration – creates strands of hair for the bride and a squarish head, a side-parted hair as well as a moustache for the groom. She watched his fingers move with keen eyes, replicating it proximately with her astute hands.

But now she needs a good reason to enter the workshop. Sometimes she goes on the pretext of delivering lunches or conveying some message from Ma. Nobody would mind if she touched any of the models – technically it all belonged to her family and to her, but a tacit agreement prompts her to stay away from the clay models.

Torsa Ghosal
Torsa Ghosal

A couple of years ago, when she was about to climb a stool to stick sweets between the lips of the Durga idol on the final day of the puja, Ma had stopped her.

Gods will have nothing to do with leaky and messy girls like her. She had to wait another full year before she could greet the goddess. Entering Baba’s workshop is like reliving that time of the month. What if an untimely drop of blood climbs down her thighs to soil the Durga pratima’s neat saree or Ganesha’s loincloth?

While delivering lunch, she overhears two men debate the roundness desirable of an idol’s belly. The hips of the idol ought to be motherly. But not so round to seem as though she has just devoured a full meal of hilsa and a heap of rice so high that a cat can barely leap over it. Ganesha can be chubbier. He is the beloved younger son of Durga. But the contours of the childbearing waistlines of the ladies, Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kali ought to be watched.

Do Baba and her brother think of the women they know – Ma and her – when they sculpt the goddesses? She remembers her younger, flat-chested body, stripped off clothes on the banks of the Hooghly, standing in her panties, watching the steamer packed with busy office-goers leave the jetty, before diving into the river – nakedness without guilt and the commonplace wonder of having the brown water, in which goddesses are routinely immersed, touch her skin while a crow gets to rest on her clothes dangling from the steps of the ghat.

Baba says the divinity of Kumartuli’s idols result from their unlikeness to the real bodies and the real faces of women. If they let real women constrain their imagination, then wouldn’t the Durga pratima end up looking like a bedecked doll? Her brother strides in, removing wax from his ear with a bunch of keys.

What is she doing here?

She has brought lunch.

Put it on the desk and go home.

Can’t she stay?

No, Baba will be annoyed. Already the workshop lacks space. Today a worker tripped into a bucket of paint while climbing down a ladder that reached up to the goddess’s shoulders. Even the idol seemed off balance for a few seconds, giving everyone a good scare. She will only add to the clutter.

But her brother can always tell Baba, whenever he returns, that she hasn’t been around for very long.

Fine but what will she do here? Her brother has to get work done.

She will quietly watch.

She asks one of the workers if she can help knead the clay. He laughs.

Excerpted with permission from Open Couplets, Torsa Ghosal, Yoda Pres.

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Top picks, best deals and all that you need to know for the Amazon Great Indian Festival

We’ve done the hard work so you can get right to what you want amongst the 40,000+ offers across 4 days.

The Great Indian Festival (21st-24th September) by Amazon is back and it’s more tempting than ever. This edition will cater to everyone, with offers on a range of products from electronics, home appliances, apparel for men and women, personal care, toys, pet products, gourmet foods, gardening accessories and more. With such overwhelming choice of products and a dozen types of offers, it’s not the easiest to find the best deals in time to buy before your find gets sold out. You need a strategy to make sure you avail the best deals. Here’s your guide on how to make the most out of the Great Indian Festival:

Make use of the Amazon trio – Amazon Prime, Amazon Pay and Amazon app

Though the festival officially starts on 21st, Amazon Prime members will have early access starting at 12 noon on 20th September itself, enabling them to grab the best deals first. Sign up for an Amazon Prime account to not miss out on exclusive deals and products. Throughout the festival, Prime members will 30-minute early access to top deals before non-Prime members. At Rs 499/- a year, the Prime membership also brings unlimited Amazon Prime video streaming and quick delivery benefits.

Load your Amazon pay wallet; there’s assured 10% cashback (up to Rs 500). Amazon will also offer incremental cashbacks over and above bank cashbacks on select brands as a part of its Amazon Pay Offers. Shopping from the app would bring to you a whole world of benefits not available to non-app shoppers. App-only deals include flat Rs 1,250 off on hotels on shopping for more than Rs 500, and flat Rs 1,000 off on flights on a roundtrip booking of Rs 5,000 booking from Yatra. Ten lucky shoppers can also win one year of free travel worth Rs 1.5 lakhs.

Plan your shopping

The Great Indian Sale has a wide range of products, offers, flash sales and lightning deals. To make sure you don’t miss out on the best deals, or lose your mind, plan first. Make a list of things you really need or have been putting off buying. If you plan to buy electronics or appliances, do your research on the specs and shortlist the models or features you prefer. Even better, add them to your wishlist so you’re better able to track your preferred products.

Track the deals

There will be lightning deals and golden hour deals throughout the festival period. Keep track to avail the best of them. Golden-hour deals will be active on the Amazon app from 9.00pm-12.00am, while Prime users will have access to exclusive lightning deals. For example, Prime-only flash sales for Redmi 4 will start at 2.00pm and Redmi 4A at 6.00pm on 20th, while Nokia 6 will be available at Rs 1,000 off. There will be BOGO Offers (Buy One Get One free) and Bundle Offers (helping customers convert their TVs to Smart TVs at a fraction of the cost by using Fire TV Stick). Expect exclusive product launches from brands like Xiaomi (Mi Band 2 HRX 32 GB), HP (HP Sprocket Printer) and other launches from Samsung and Apple. The Half-Price Electronics Store (minimum 50% off) and stores offering minimum Rs 15,000 off will allow deal seekers to discover the top discounts.

Big discounts and top picks

The Great Indian Festival is especially a bonanza for those looking to buy electronics and home appliances. Consumers can enjoy a minimum of 25% off on washing machines, 20% off on refrigerators and 20% off on microwaves, besides deals on other appliances. Expect up to 40% off on TVs, along with No-Cost EMI and up to Rs 20,000 off on exchange.

Home Appliances

Our top picks for washing machines are Haier 5.8 Kg Fully Automatic Top Loading at 32% off, and Bosch Fully Automatic Front Loading 6 Kg and 7 Kg, both available at 27% discount. Morphy Richards 20 L Microwave Oven will be available at a discount of 38%.

Our favorite pick on refrigerators is the large-sized Samsung 545 L at 26% off so you can save Rs 22,710.

There are big savings to be made on UV water purifiers as well (up to 35% off), while several 5-star ACs from big brands will be available at greater than 30% discount. Our top pick is the Carrier 1.5 Ton 5-star split AC at 32% off.

Also those looking to upgrade their TV to a smart one can get Rs. 20,000 off by exchanging it for the Sony Bravia 108cm Android TV.

Personal Electronics

There’s good news for Apple fans. The Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch Laptop 2017 will be available at Rs 55,990, while the iPad will be available at 20% off. Laptops from Lenovo, Dell and HP will be available in the discount range of 20% to 26%. Top deals are Lenovo Tab3 and Yoga Tab at 41% to 38% off. Apple fans wishing to upgrade to the latest in wearable technology can enjoy Rs 8,000 off on the Apple Watch series 2 smartwatch.

If you’re looking for mobile phones, our top deal pick is the LG V20 at Rs 24,999, more than Rs 5000 off from its pre-sale price.

Power banks always come in handy. Check out the Lenovo 13000 mAh power bank at 30% off.

Home printers are a good investment for frequent flyers and those with kids at home. The discounted prices of home printers at the festival means you will never worry about boarding passes and ID documents again. The HP Deskjet basic printer will be available for Rs 1,579 at 40% off and multi-function (printer/ scanner/ Wi-Fi enabled) printers from HP Deskjet and Canon will also available at 33% off.

The sale is a great time to buy Amazon’s native products. Kindle E-readers and Fire TV Stick will be on sale with offers worth Rs 5,000 and Rs 1,000 respectively.

The Amazon Fire Stick
The Amazon Fire Stick

For those of you who have a bottomless collection of movies, music and photos, there is up to 60% off on hard drives and other storage devices. Our top picks are Rs 15,000 and Rs 12,000 off on Seagate Slim 5TB and 4TB hard drives respectively, available from 8.00am to 4.00pm on 21st September.

The sale will see great discounts of up to 60% off on headphones and speakers from the top brands. The 40% off on Bose QC 25 Headphones is our favourite. Top deals are on Logitech speakers with Logitech Z506 Surround Sound 5.1 multimedia Speakers at 60% off and the super compact JBL Go Portable Speaker at 56% off!

Other noteworthy deals

Cameras (up to 55% off) and camera accessories such as tripods, flash lights etc. are available at a good discount. Home surveillance cameras too will be cheaper. These include bullet cameras, dome cameras, simulated cameras, spy cameras and trail and game cameras.

For home medical supplies and equipment, keep an eye on the grooming and personal care section. Weighing scales, blood pressure monitors, glucometers, body fat monitors etc. will be available at a cheaper price.

The sale is also a good time to invest in home and kitchen supplies. Mixer-grinders and juicers could see lightning deals. Don’t ignore essentials like floor mops with wheels, rotating mop replacements, utensils, crockery etc. Tupperware sets, for example, will be more affordable. There are attractive discounts on bags, especially laptop bags, backpacks, diaper bags and luggage carriers.

Interesting finds

While Amazon is extremely convenient for need-based shopping and daily essentials, it is also full of hidden treasures. During the festival, you can find deals on telescopes, polaroid cameras, smoothie makers, gym equipment, gaming consoles and more. So you’ll be able to allow yourself some indulgences!

Small shopping

If you have children, the festival is good time to stock up on gifts for Diwali, Christmas, return gifts etc. On offer are gaming gadgets such as Xbox, dough sets, Touching Tom Cat, Barbies, classic board games such as Life and more. There are also some products that you don’t really need, but kind of do too, such as smartphone and tablet holders, magnetic car mounts for smartphones and mobile charging station wall stands. If you’re looking for enhanced functionality in daily life, do take a look at the Amazon Basics page. On it you’ll find USB cables, kitchen shears, HDMI cables, notebooks, travel cases and other useful things you don’t realise you need.

Check-out process and payment options

Amazon is also offering an entire ecosystem to make shopping more convenient and hassle-free. For the festival duration, Amazon is offering No-Cost EMIs (zero interest EMIs) on consumer durables, appliances and smartphones, plus exchange schemes and easy installation services in 65 cities. HDFC card holders can avail additional 10% cashback on HDFC credit and debit cards. Customers will also get to “Buy Now and Pay in 2018” with HDFC Credit Cards, as the bank offers a 3 Month EMI Holiday during the days of the sale. Use Amazon Pay balance for fast and easy checkouts, quicker refunds and a secured shopping experience.

Sales are fun and with The Great Indian Festival offering big deals on big brands, it definitely calls for at least window shopping. There’s so much more than the above categories, like minimum 50% off on American Tourister luggage! To start the treasure hunt, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of and not by the Scroll editorial team.