At Khanwadi, an urban ghetto in Ramol of Ahmedabad, a house with the inscription “Ya Allah, Ya Mohammed” looks deserted, its gates locked. A few goats are tied to the main gate of the white single storey house, while inside the bounday wall, layers of dust have enveloped discarded furniture and an old motorcycle is gathering rust.
Usually this time of the year, Khanwadi, a small settlement with 1,000 households, brims with colourful effigies of Ravana and other Hindu mythological demons, often 10 to 12 feet in height. The effigies are then stuffed with fire-crackers and burnt on Dussehra at different public venues in Ahmedabad and other cities of Gujarat.
Neighbours, resting on their charpoys under the afternoon sun, lament that their mood has been dampened ahead of the festive season as the “Ravan waley”, have not come this year. “Ravan waley”, as the owners of this house are popularly known, is a family of effigy-makers from Agra of Uttar Pradesh who comes to Ahmedabad every year for four months during Dussehra. The family that has been into this profession for three generations is touted as the biggest effigy-makers in Gujarat. However, breaking a tradition of 35 years, this year, the family is not coming to Ahmedabad.
Speaking to The Indian Express over the phone, 45-year-old Sharafat Ali, the patriarch of effigy-making family from Kiraoli in Agra of Uttar Pradesh, says that he will not do any business this year. Every year during August, Ali with his two sons-Mohsin and Tohsin, wife and mother arrive at his house in Khanwadi. They also bring along 35-40 workers from their village to assist them in effigy-making.
“I made several calls to my clients in Gujarat and some of them were willing to give me contract this year but the state government did not give permission. My family has been into the profession of effigy-making for three generations. My late father, Haji Ashraf Ali, came to Gujarat for the first time in 1985. For 35 years, we have made been making effigies for events at Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara, Jamnagar, Bhavnagar, Gandhinagar, Dahod and even Kutch… every season, we build at least 50-60 effigies. However, this is for the first time that I will not be able to visit my house in Khanwadi,” said Ali.
At Khanwadi, Shakir Pathan (50), one of the neighbours, shows the house of Ali that has been closed for a year. He removes the dust off the main door and a phone number shows up, with “Ravan waley” inscribed on wood.
“Whenever Ravan Waley come, I ensure that they get all the essential items to start their household again. At times, we also assist the workers in making effigies. The entire Khanwadi enjoys the festive season as the area is decked with effigies and we also accompany the team to public venues where effigies are burnt. Last year, I had the opportunity to visit the famous Rajpath Club of Ahmedabad,” said Pathan, showing pictures of effigies made by the artisans that he had shot on his cellphone.
Men in Khanwadi are mostly employed in factories while women work as domestic helps. The festive season and the presence of Ravan waley brings the neighbourhod closer every year. “During October-November, I usually help the Ravan Waley by transporting the effigy items in my autorickshaw. I have also driven trucks to carry the effigies to different cities,” said Barkat Ali Pathan (38), an autorickshaw driver who lives in Khanwadi.
“Several people came to Khanwadi looking for the family and returned disappointed that Ravan Waley won’t come this year,” said Pathan.
The coronavirus pandemic has hit the Agra-based family hard this year, as Ali puts it. “The salary for 35-40 workers itself runs into Rs 5-6 lakh during the festive season. I used to charge Rs 1,500-2,000 per foot for the effigy. This profession was started by my grandfather Nawab Ali who used to make effigies in Old Delhi area during Dussehra. Then my father continued this profession in Gujarat for work… around 10 years ago, he died. Since then, I have been handling his contacts in Gujarat but this is for the first time in 35 years that we have not earned a single penny.”
The family is hopeful that by next year they will be in Ahmedabad. “My two sons are pursuing college education in UP and they come with me every year to assist me. However, I would like them to continue the family profession and we will soon visit our house in Khanwadi.”
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