Strips of bamboo are being measured, twisted and bent to make Ravana effigies ahead of Dussehra in corners of West Delhi’s Titarpur, but the makers, harried by Covid-related restrictions on celebrations and gatherings, are anticipating another year of poor sales.
At Micheal Ekka’s roadside stall near the Tagore Garden Metro station, two workers were handcrafting the bamboo frames that make the basic structure of the effigies on Friday afternoon. “We used to get orders for large effigies that are 40-ft high when assembled. Since Ramlila events are unlikely to happen this year also, we have scaled down the size of the effigies to between 5 ft and 15 ft. There were barely any sales last year and the fear of another lockdown has prevented some of us from hiring more workers,” he said.
The painstaking work of making the bamboo frames — one frame for each part of the body — followed by painting and decoration usually begins at Titarpur about a month before Dussehra but Micheal’s stall is the only one on the pavement for now.
Requests for customised Ravanas that have specific features — particularly angry eyes or massive moustaches — used to be placed regularly, some even from malls in Bengaluru, Micheal said. This year, just like last year, he is yet to get any such order.
Others like Bobby Mehra, who runs Shankar Ravanwale, said they have been making effigies at home. They have received orders online this year from outside Delhi, though demand within the national capital was low last year and is unlikely to pick up this year, Mehra said. The income from the effigy sale at this time of the year needs to be supplemented by other work. Mehra, who has been making effigies for about 30 years now, takes up work as a driver for the rest of the year.
In another corner of Titarpur, inside an MCD park, Poonam Kashyap is tying strips of bamboo together to make large faces for the Ravanas. As she effortlessly splits larger strips into thinner ones with a sharp knife, she pointed out that the work isn’t easy. “It comes with years of watching and learning from others who make it,” said Kashyap, who has been at it for the past 20 years. The park is usually filled with people who make the effigies, she said, but on Friday, her family was the only one there.
Kashyap has help from three siblings and has always enjoyed artistic work.
“Since we have no other employment, the orders at this time of the year used to sustain us. But with very little sales last year, it has become difficult,” said Rema Pawan Kumar, Kashyap’s sister.
Rema’s husband makes effigies as well and has no other source of income, she said. Last year, they only sold five effigies.
Arrowroot, paper, paint and decorative material are used to make the Ravana from the bamboo frames. At Titarpur, children pick up the skill from older makers, Micheal said. Kashyap’s daughter, still a toddler, tries to slit a piece of bamboo beside her.
Micheal himself has been making effigies for as long as he can remember.