The Durga Puja was nearing. The idol-makers at the Kumartuli were too busy to eat their square meals. All their perspiration and efforts were devoted only to the shaping the idols of the goddess and her children from the soil of the bed of the Ganges. The members of the Puja committees thronged at Kumartuli now and then to keep an eye on the final progress of the making of the idol. Yet all including the aged idol-makers and the Puja committee members always wanted to see a glimpse of Raj’s unborn brain-child.
Raj was one of the most famous idol-maker at the century old Kumartuli. He always said that Ma Durga was his little daughter. Every year he toiled hard for three long months in his little workplace that remained cut off from the rest of the world by dirty polythene sheets. Giving the least attention to the destructive nature of the frequent rains during the monsoons, that often told upon his journey towards creating his own child, Raj remained dedicated to his creation. His fellow mates often said that Raj’s dedication resembled a saint meditating to get in touch with the divine power to become an enlightened soul.
But do you know what made Raj stand out of the crowd of average idol-makers? It was his immense love for the Goddess turned into extreme dedication while procreating the idol. Who said that only the union of the sperm and egg gave birth to a progeny? For Raj, the perfect union of his twig-like bony fingers and some lumps of soil were needed to bring the goddess in our earth. Many people asked him, how could he make such a gigantic idol every year with so much perfection without even seeing it. Raj smiled every time when he faced this question except once.
On one morning, just on the day prior to the Mahalaya, Raj’s cousin, Kashi came to meet him with his five-year-old daughter, Maya. Her bubbly nature and childish innocence won Raj’s heart in no time. Raj wanted to gift her a little chocolate but little Maya was a prankster. She started to play hide-and-seek with him. The jingling sound of her anklet hinted Raj where she hid and the moment he was about to catch her, Maya would disappear. As Maya ran every time, seeking a new place for her hiding, she happened to enter the inner sanctum of Raj’s small one-storeyed house – it was nothing but his workplace. Maya entered, thinking to win the game but she stood in awe: Goddess Durga was standing in front of her! She was too astounded seeing the dazzling beauty of the Raj’s creation that she forgot her hide-and-seek game. One minute later, Maya was gently trapped in Raj’s feeble arms.
“Uncle, who made this?” Maya asked, pointing towards the idol.
“She is your uncle’s daughter.”
“How did you make Ma Durga?”
“With my hands, Maya.”
“But you can’t see.”
“Who said that? I have the eyes of my soul.”
“Eyes of the soul?”
“Yeah, when you want to see something with your full will power, your soul can help you to see. You don’t need those earthly eyes.”
“Ahhh… but how can you make the idol so perfect?”
“My hands can feel all the imperfections and also the perfections, my child.”
“But how? I can only feel if my food is hot or cold.”
Raj burst into big laughter for their conversation was turning to something like innocence and philosophy was sitting face-to-face.
“That was a long story. I was a kid then who played for the whole day with his elder sister. Maya, you know my sister was so beautiful. I could touch her face and say that. To me, she was more of a mother who fed me every meal, took my care like her own son. But one day, she was gone – gone forever.” Raj sobbed.
“The fever took her away.” Raj’s lifeless eyes were filled with tears.
“Ahh… don’t cry like a baby, uncle. Tell me how you make the idol of Ma Durga.” Maya said and rubbed off the tears from his eyes.
“When I start to make the idol, I feel an intense urge to bring back my sister as my own daughter. Only my hands know how she was and they give birth to my beautiful daughter, just like you, Maya. The clay soil is all I have to give birth to my daughter. My soul can visualize how she is, can find out the unwanted imperfections and remove them easily. I can see the beauty of my creation just by my soul. I know you won’t understand.”
Maya was listening to her uncle patiently. She could not completely comprehend all the underlying depth of his words for this was a new outlook to her. All through her little life span, she had come across uneducated men and women who only knew how to work from day to dusk. For the first time, she was meeting a true craftsman. No doubt, Raj’s words mesmerized her to the core.
“Who said I can’t understand? Don’t you see I have grown up?” Maya’s innocence spoke again.
Raj again laughed and continued:
“You know Maya when you have a lump of soil, you have two options: either you make Shiva or a monkey. The choice is yours. But when you are on the path of making Shiva, listen to your soul and work hard until you attain the Lord.”
Maya was silent again. She was enjoying the pleasure of listening to his words. Amidst the harsh swearing by the people she remained generally surrounded with, these soft words somewhere touched her little heart. And Raj too let his heart out to this little girl; he went unheard for years and today someone had lent her ears to him.
“How many friends do you have?”
“Many. But Rama and Suman are my best friends. Every afternoon, we play together and at school, we share our food, tell stories and make fun of each other.”
“So, you have a nice time at school! But I hardly had friends when I was your age. The boys never used to play with me. People used to call me invalid and a useless burden. So, I made friends with the clay soil. Every afternoon, I used to sit on the river bank and tried to make little toys with the clay. That was the only game I played. On one such afternoon, the old idol-maker of our village called me to help him with his work. He became the first and only teacher of mine…”
Before Raj could say more, Kashi called out for his little girl:
“Maya, Maya, where are you?”
Maya hurriedly came down from Raj’s shoulders and ran to her father. Raj too came out from his workplace.
“We’ll leave now. Goodbye, brother. Do come back to the village during the Pujas.” Kashi said.
“Yes, you should come, uncle,” Maya added.
“Goodbye, Maya. This year I’ll surely go back to the soil where I belonged.” Raj said with a smile, lingering at the corner of his dry lips.
— via the Daily Prompt: Soil