Notungram in the Bardhhaman district in West Bengal is home to a quaint style of wooden doll craft. Seasoned wood is cut into a long, roughly triangular shape and then painted upon. The usual motifs are, Radha- Krishna as a conjoined duo, owlets. The owls are a symbol of prosperity, represented as goddess Lakshmi’s escort.
Toton Sutradhar is one of the many practising artists whose family has been custodians of the craft for generations. He watched his father and grandfather carving and painting as a child and learnt from them.
He has two sons who although in primary school, are already learning the skills of the craft. Doll making is a family ritual and isn’t just a ‘job’. Male members cut and chisel out the wood into doll shapes and the women colour them.
Toton finds it easy to procure raw materials from local godowns. There is sufficient competition in this space with close to 50 families in the same line. In 2018, a collaboration between the government of Bengal and UNESCO helped turn the Notungram hamlet into craft hub, giving it the necessary boost when it was stagnating. There is even an annual ‘Wooden Doll Festival’.
‘The main problem for us is money. With earnings of 5,000 to 7,000 rupees a month, it’s difficult to support my family. We don’t earn enough to be able to invest in big projects. My children are learning but they don’t want to do this when they grow up. They want a better life for themselves. Every day is an economic crisis in our home so how can we blame them for feeling this way?”, Toton shares the harsh reality of his livelihood.