When the temple bells ring, the villagers of Natungram are reminded to worship Swami Prajnadas, Kathiababa. They do sincerely and for Rasheshori it’s every day kneeling at the house’s shrine. He is the reason they are there, in their own homes. He has nourished their pride. He came to this poor and lonely place as a young monk and settled quietly in a desserte room. He died still young of a car accident in 2014 (stat: 160,000 road death a year) leaving in heritage to the village cooperative land for the artisans to call home, 3 schools, the library, electricity. He gave all it takes for a village to rise. The villager of Natungram have a profound gratitude to the one who has given them the possibility to hope better for their children and allow them to settle on a land of their own.
During the era of kingdoms, landlords owned most of the land. The villager’s and Bijoy’s grandfathers, a carpenter of the cast of the same name (Sutradhar) came from the north to find work and survive. Traditionally, artisans, of the carpenter caste were part of the untouchable and did not have right to land. Today, they are learning what it takes to prosper in their skills and art so that their craft can assure not only tradition, beliefs and colors but also improve the conditions of living. This is happening. Natungram is known for its wooden doll carving artisans and is a cultural hub of West Bengal.
6:30 Waking up slowly to the new day Jayant brings his daughter along and both wash before breakfast and tea. He then gets his helmet in his motorbike’s case, places the lunch his mother prepared for him and saddles for the 30 minutes ride to the government high school where he teaches. He is “of service”. The dream of many, to one day, become a government employee. Jayanta’s salary has made an important difference in the life of his family. It brings a stability few have in the village. (few in the country %?= research )
The first mechanize item to enter the house was the food mixer. Mixing the spices to cook the dal* has saved much of his mother’s time. Then came the first refrigerator to the village. Beside the milk there is not much in it. Jayanta gets the food fresh from the farmers on his way back from school. There is no need to keep any food for a long time.
For Bijoy Sutradha, the stress of survival is over and, he hopes, for all his successors. His son, Jayanta, will assure starting with 2 year-old Amuska, a little girl every one loves. A little girl that will be in no danger because of her gender.
Bijoy is a good carpenter and has learned to expand his craft and the dolls’ features to other fields. He is now making chairs that Kolkata’s city folks want in their garden.
Bijoy is a good carpenter and has learned to expand his art to other fields. He is now making chairs that Kolkata’s city folks want in their garden, leaving more and more the doll making to the members of his family and the other artisans.
As a leading craft person Bijoy now gives time and collaborates to make the artisan’s art and life better by being the treasurer of the village’s artisan cooperative named after the revered Swami Jankidas. He is a busy man and the phone rings regularly. This morning it’s all about business however as he is coordinating the sale of land between a city land owner and 3 farmers who will share the cost of buying one acre of land. The transaction is to be signed tomorrow. Bijoy is preparing the 70 kilometers train trip to accompany the farmers who are not use to travel and formal dealing. He now has experience in these matters and he is trusted by everyone. A quality in great demand.
Today Bijoy is a leading crafts person in his communicaty and is treasurer of the collective the artist have formed and given the name of the Swami Janakidas.
When Jayanta decided he was ready to get married, he said so to his friends and all started looking for a girl that would fit well with him. One day he got a call on his cell phone. A friend thought he had found the right girl. Jayanta went to see and was satisfied when meeting with Reema. He talked about it with his parents, who also after meeting Reema and her family agreed and started the discussions towards the wedding. We both did not want to get into a relationship we did not agree on.
As for the dowry Jayanta says. “It is against the law now and my generation who is educated agrees to that but for our parents, tradition is so anchored in their ways and mind that a small dowry was agreed upon.“ Jayanta believes strongly in education to bring changes. He wants an educated wife and child.
Reema had not finished her college education when they married and Amuska came a little too quickly in their plans. Jayanta will pay for his wife to pursue her education. That will be next year, the baby will be easier to manage then.
“Know about your baby’s health not about its gender” Exams to know the sex of the baby before birth had to be abolished to save girls’ lives. However, reminders are still necessary.
Amuska will be the only child as the couple, as many in the country do, (research-India – 65% of women get operated) believe that this is the only way life parents can hope to give them better education and that life will change in the future. Amuska will not be alone says her father. “She has her cousins, the other children of the village”. Jayanta who loves his daughter and is so loved by her that having no boy-child is of no importance. Like many of his generation, he cannot understand the people of his country who treat with so much indifference their daughters. Amuska is a little girl who will join the growing number of educated women of India.
His mother hands him his lunch that he places in the back (?) of his motorcycle when grapping his helmet. Off to school.
Children will have to be fed, food cooked… before the women can sit and paint he dolls their husband or sons have sculpted. (The artist and the artisans). They are now producing dolls for the next fair in just a few days.