DRESSED IN a light green-and-white kurta pyjama, with a cap over his head, 51-year-old Tejinder Chauhan emerges from a small tent pitched on the Shalimar grounds in Sector 5 and calls out to a worker. “Iska mukut taiyar ho jana chahiye aaj aaj mein. Zyada din nahi rahe ab. Dussehra to aa gaya (The crown should be ready today. Not many days are left. Dussehra is around),” Chauhan tells him.
It’s not for nothing that Chauhan wants all his workers to speed up. At stake is not just any other effigy, but what Chauhan claims to be “the tallest” Ravana anywhere this Dussehra season. The 10-headed effigy is 210 feet tall, and has to be displayed a full five days ahead of Dussehra at the Sector 5 ground before it goes up in smoke in five minutes on D-day.
The effigy cost Rs 30 lakh to make. Chauhan, a state-level kabbadi player in his youth, has funded it entirely. Over the last 18 years, he has sold 12.5 acres of his land to finance his Ravana-making. For Chauhan, this is not a waste of money. He thinks of it as redemption for “letting my father down”.
A resident of Barara in Ambala, Chauhan, in his own words, “became a village goon” when he should have been at school. His father, a headmaster at a government school, wanted him to shine in studies. “I used to get beaten up a lot because I was not studying, and I began to hate studies and developed a hatred for my father too,” Chauhan says, as he puts together boxes of staple pins to be used by the workers making the effigy.
“After my Class X exams got over, I threw all the books at him and said, ‘You do whatever you want to now. I won’t touch any book.’ I wish I could have seen dad’s intention behind beating me to study. I wouldn’t have been just a matriculate then. The only thing I became after Class X,” Chauhan says, “was a goon of the village, going around thrashing people. Bahut izzat kamayi thi father saab ne… lekin meri harkaton ki wajah se sab khatam ho chuka tha”.
One day in September 1987, Chauhan returned from a kabaddi tournament to find his father crying. “My dad was a strong man. He never cried but I saw him weeping badly and looking up at the sky asking why I was born. I never saw dad like this and I decided to shun everything for him. I went up to him and said, give me some work with which I can bring back your happiness,” Chauhan is in tears as he recalls this.
His father asked him to revive the Ramleela in their village. Not only did Chauhan do that, he also made his first Ravana effigy that year. That was just 20 ft high. He began a Ramleela club too.
“That happiness which I could see on my father’s face can’t be expressed. I too started drawing immense satisfaction from getting the Ramleela staged and from making the effigy. But the most important were the smiles not just on people’s faces but also on my dad’s face. Since then, every year, when I do this, I do it for my dad’s happiness even if he is no more with us,” he says, adding that his father died in 2005.
Since 2014, Chauhan has aimed at the skies for his Ravan, as if trying to reach out to his father. Until 2017, his effigies were erected at his Barara village. This is the first time it has come to Panchkula because Barara had no place for a Ravana this size. “I am sure dad must be filled with joy, looking at me from heaven,” he says.
It is 1.30 pm and 30 workers are crawling all over the effigy placed horizontally on the ground. The scene is straight out of Liliput. The effigy is so large that Ravana’s shoes and face were home to 35 workers who slept inside these parts for over three months. Six workers are putting the crown together. It’s 30 ft high and weighs 300 kg. The fibre glass face, from chin to forehead, weighs 400 kilograms and is 25 ft long.
“The face alone cost us Rs 3.5 lakh even after using the flex from last year’s display and hoardings in Ambala. I have painted the moustache and skin with black and orange paint myself,” the artist says. The other materials in the effigy are 3,000 metres of cloth, 2,000 kilograms of bamboo, 200 kilogram of gum and 40 quintals of iron frame. The cloth came from an Ambala shop, and cost Rs 1.50 lakh.
As Chauhan unwinds the wiring that he has to use for connecting the remote control with which the effigy will be set to flames, he says, “The body alone is 85 feet high. We have used stapler pins as well to tuck the cloth. It is not the normal stapler you are thinking, it is the gun tracker stapler. We require almost 200 boxes only of the stapler pins. Now you see these wires for remote connection; we are using 20 bundles of it.”
The entire structure weighs 6,200 kilograms. From knee to shoes, the length is 40 feet high. One shoe weighs 100 kilograms and is 30 feet long. “All this is waterproof. To give base to the effigy, we have used iron frames weighing 40 quintals,” he adds.
No wonder then that this is one Dassehra that will have to do without Kumbhakaran and Meghnad. So much effort and money has gone into one effigy that there is nothing left to make two more of proportional size. “Making two more effigies that are just 60 ft tall would not look right,” says Chauhan.
The workers are paid Rs 8,000 a month and by the time the effigy goes up in flames, it would have taken a full five months. Two of them cook meals for all the 41, including Chauhan, inside a small enclosure in a makeshift workshop. So what next after this Dussehra is over? Chauhan springs a surprise: This is his last effigy. “I don’t get any financial help. I just have 2 acres left with me and my wife suggests we should keep it for our survival as we are getting old. All my land has gone in burning effigies every year,” he says, adding that although his daughter is married, he has to provide for his son. Chauhan is unemployed.
As it starts getting dark around 6 pm, it is time for a tea break for the workers and Chauhan. “We carry on till 10.30 pm and then sleep. We have to guard the effigy too since any one can play mischief,” he adds. The workers are yet to fix in the crackers. Eco-friendly crackers costing Rs 5 lakh have been bought from Tamil Nadu to fit inside the effigy. “I hope everything goes well,” says Chauhan.