Sumitra Debi Pandit

Clay dolls are good business, with bhars as backup

For Sumitra, there was no culture clash when she got married to Chandra Shekhar Pandit 20 years ago: Both were from the potter clan of Kumbhakars. Her husband’s family, residents of Panchudanga in the Adra area of West Bengal’s Purulia district, made terracotta bhars or cups used to drink tea and sell curd, and terracotta dolls.

Sumitra, who was from West Burdwan district, was good at doll making.

Husband Chandra Shekhar’s family had never taken loans for the family business, but when he and his brothers parted ways, the joint family model was gone. The couple realized they would have to take a loan to scale up the business.

Sumitra’s second loan was from Village Financial Services, which has a branch in Adra. She used the Rs 10,000 loan to buy colours used to paint the dolls. A kilogram of the colour costs around Rs 400. The clay with which they make the dolls costs Rs 2,000 for a mini-truckload. Then there is the khari mati used as polish.

Sumitra makes small clay peacocks, parrots, horses, elephants and a variety of dolls. She buys the moulds for the faces from Asansol and makes the bodies herself.

Bhars are always in demand, and Sumitra’s husband sells them to tea stalls. But the clay dolls sell only during the Durga Puja and Diwali festivals. Sumitra makes the dolls through the year, and the cash comes in only during the festival.

The dolls that sell as toys are priced at a maximum of Rs 50 each. The figurines of Gods and Goddesses fetch better prices: A Radha-Krishna set sells for Rs 400. Sumitra sells these at fairs. The entire year’s production is sold out in a week.

Sumitra says the COVID19 pandemic and the lockdowns that followed hit sales of the dolls and figurines in 2020 and wiped out her bank savings. The bhar sales kept them going, but these are low-value products, selling for 50 paise to Re 1.30 each.

But Sumitra is confident that her main product lines will continue to find good demand. Plastic dolls are much costlier, and the clay animals and dolls have a charm of their own.

Sumitra, who is illiterate, ensured that her daughter and son did better. The son dropped out after Class 9 and is an electrician. The daughter studied up to Class 8 and later was married off—not to a potter but a man who works in a travel firm.

Published on Oct 4, 2021 | Updated on Apr 13, 2022