This is an adoption of a social media(Facebook) post by Apu Das which narrates the story of Reba Pal, the veteran artist of Chalchitra.
She took the brush from the corner of the small wooden table and the colors from the palette which she recently procured. With her long and nervous fingers she adjusted the nimble/delicate brush and rolled back her achal. For some little time her eyes rested thoughtfully upon the sinewy forearm and wrist, all dotted with innumerable paint marks. Finally she started to work on what probably is the most complicated piece of art – The Chalchitra. She is quite old but still very young, reaffirming the old saying by Walt Disney ‘Growing old is mandatory, but growing up is optional’.
It is this time of the year, she is busier then busy, and all because ‘The Goddess’ is visiting her Baper Bari. After careful consideration for an instant she finally announces “hoya gache” (It’s done) and what lay in front is a fine piece of art which gradually is getting diminished from face of the world. It all started at an early age of 16. Following her marriage she shifted to this house with her husband, a house of two rooms and a small clay oven at the balcony which clearly depicts her privation.
Her late husband, the famous artist Josti Pal, introduced and trained her to this art form, which was nearly 50 years ago. Today at the age of 72, Reba Pal continues to maintain this traditional art in her tiny little house. She recalls during earlier times both she and her husband were kept busy throughout the year. The demand of Chalchitra was high then and they were frequently visited by representatives of various Puja committee. Those were the times when single thatched structure of Durga idols where in demand and hand-painted Chalchitra enhanced the décor.
Rebal Pal recalls how her husband used to travel around 105 Kilometers by train to sell the Chalchitra in Bidhannagar. After his death she continues to paint even at this old age as this is the only source of earning she has. In fact she arranged the weeding of her three daughters with the same earnings. Her son and daughter-in-law have joined her in this profession. But the trend of printed Chalchitras is slowly destroying the tradition of this hand painted art. But the artistic mentality, refuse to bow down to any hurdles.
Reba Pal describes Chalchitra as an ancient art-form which is a part of Bengal Pattachitra. The main content of the chalchitra are stories from Puranas. It talks about Shib-Parboti, Kali, Mahish-mardini, Dashabatar etc. She uses all the natural colors to paint. For the white she uses chalk dust, similarly, pauri for yellow and cultivated indigo for blue, for black she uses bhushakali and mete sindur for red.
She also informed that Chal means covering in Bengali and as the name suggests it is placed at the background of the idol. Originally, these were used to give a proper proportion to the structure. It referred to as the Debi Chal or Durga chala. Some varieties of Chali are Bangla Chali, Mothchouri Chali, Tanachauri Chali, Sorbosundori Chali, Khep Chali, Markini Chali. Among them, the commonly seen Chali is the Markini Chali.
This way the veteran artist lives her life. She struggles but with a smile in her face. We salute this veteran artist.