As a child, Shantanu Pal (name changed), a potter in Calcutta’s Kumartuli, would be intrigued when his father, a reputed idol maker, would instruct his helper to get ready and leave in the dead of night. The helper would be back by early morning with mud wrapped in newspapers in a nylon bag, wash his hands and feet and change clothes. His father would then ask the helper if he had any trouble, and he would answer yes or no, giggling at his own narration of victory. This would usually happen at the beginning of monsoon, some 3-4 months before Durga Puja.
Growing up, Pal realised his father had pious intentions behind sending the helper at that hour to collect soil from outside the door of a sex-worker at Sonagachhi, Asia’s largest red-light area, to make his Durga idols.