With a bag full of zinc oxide, retired school teacher Ratnaboli Ghosh, 70, and artist Mudar Patherya, 59, went from one house to another in north and south Kolkata in the wee hours of Saturday and Sunday, to draw ‘alponas’ (traditional floor decorations in Bengal) outside buildings.
“Alpona is… an ambassador of art, design, and inclusion… They (residents) might have appreciated the alponas but the purpose was to send across the message that ‘we care’,” said Patherya.
The two stuck to relatively ‘neutral’ designs that are not specific to any particular religion. “If you want to include the world… you do such things. Ratnaboli Ghosh was willing to collaborate and as a team of two we did it successfully,” said Patherya. Notably, Patherya kickstarted the trend of painting portraits of eminent personalities on electric boxes in Kolkata.
On Saturday and Sunday, in the run-up to Kali Puja and Deepavali, the duo painted alponas outside at least 20 houses in the city. Alpona is a centuries-old art form of Bengal that is traditionally practiced by women with the belief that the ‘auspicious’ designs usher in prosperity and happiness for the family.
“Since I was five years old, I have loved making alponas. Traditionally, alponas are made with rice flour and water but here we have used zinc oxide and mixed it with some water and adhesive. This way, the designs last much longer… My mother, Pratibha Sengupta, was from Shantiniketan. She was a student of Nandalal Bose from the Bengal School of Art… she was truly God-gifted,” Ghosh told indianexpress.com.
In the last two days, Ghosh and Patherya painted alponas outside 10 houses in north Kolkata and 10 in south Kolkata, in areas such as Amherst Street, Shyambazar, Lake Gardens, and Rabindra Sarovar. The two woke up early in the morning and finished making alponas by 8:30 am on both days.
Last year before Deepavali, Ghosh, her 32-year-old daughter, and Patherya had designed alponas outside apartments in Patherya’s housing society at night after 11 pm.
“So the next day, when people woke up and saw the alponas outside their gates along with the pradips (earthen lamps) and greeting cards that Mudar had kept for them, they were quite surprised and happy. Then Mudar got a team and they went and designed alponas at different places in Kolkata.
 
“This time, those who were awake saw me making the alponas and appreciated the gesture. While many saw the alponas after we completed them,” said Ghosh.
However, there is one major difference between this year and last year. Last year, the duo designed alponas only for people they knew but, this time, the alponas were for total strangers. “It wasn’t done for personal consumption but as a public service,” added Patherya.
“These days, nobody wakes up at 6:30 am. So the idea was that people would get to see the alponas when they step out in the morning to collect the newspaper… A lady in Shyambazar saw it while Ratnaboli didi was doing it and she said ‘durdanto (awesome)’,” said Patherya.
“I remember a man who wasn’t very welcoming when he first saw me drawing the alpona at his doorstep but he, too, took pictures in the end and looked happy,” said Ghosh.
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