Kumartuli – Kolkata’s century-old potters’ quarter – is a hub of activity and a tourist must-see. While most visitors to the district snap away furiously on their cameras, I enjoyed spending my time here sketching – and discovering – the incredible lives of Kumartuli’s sculptors. Drawing compels me to take time, contemplate, reflect and reach out to people.
Naturally, as a Frenchman in Kumartuli, sketching away in a corner, I invited a lot of attention! Often, the artisans would watch me drawing and offer their comments, corrections and explanations. A panoramic sketch could take me as much time as it takes them to shape a small idol. There was a sense of kinship in our shared labour – an understanding between craftsmen who choose different forms to express themselves.
To bring to life this graphic report, I spent several days in this haven of peace and serenity – a paradoxical description since it is at the heart of Kolkata’s chaos and frenzy. Through my sketches, I understood the spirit of Kumartuli which is embodied by an intense, powerful silence.
I was worried about finding a Bengali-English translator for my conversations with Chaïna Pal — the protagonist of my graphic novella. The Alliance Française teachers and students were busy but I told myself it would work out somehow.
As soon as I set foot in Kumartuli, a young medical student, around 20, asked me if I needed help. She spoke perfect English, lived in Kumartuli and was free the next day to interpret. Tanu was my messenger from Ma Durga!
Damien Roudeau is a graphic novelist based in France. He enjoys reporting on offbeat subjects like homelessness and drug abuse, and has worked on several comic books and sketchbooks as well as street art. He is a member of Argos, the collective of documentary makers. www.collectifargos.com.