Expired capsules, used vials, plastic spoons: Assam man fights waste with Durga idols

Sanjib Basak crafts his idols — made of waste — with the hope that people will look beyond devotion and festivity

September 11, 2022 02:14 pm | Updated 05:30 pm IST - GUWAHATI:

A Durga idol made by Sanjib Basak. The idol, made in 2022, is comprised entirely of plastic spoons.

A Durga idol made by Sanjib Basak. The idol, made in 2022, is comprised entirely of plastic spoons. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Durga Puja makes Sanjib Basak happy and sad. Happy because he gets to craft his favourite Goddess, and sad because the earth bears the weight of the discarded materials used to create Her.

An amateur artist who taught fabric painting and handicraft before landing a job as a field officer in Assam’s Disaster Management Department, Mr. Basak turned to industrial and medical waste to express his creativity.

He found in Durga an “ally” to use his creativity as a statement to promote waste reduction.

His crusade against waste began in 2015 with a 14 ft Durga idol made of thermocol for a community puja in his hometown in western Assam’s Dhubri district. He followed it up with another thermocol idol, 48 ft tall, for a community puja in Guwahati’s Panbazar locality in 2016.

The artist, Sanjib Basak, at work.

The artist, Sanjib Basak, at work. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

It wasn’t the only unconventional idol he made in 2016. Another idol, measuring 12 ft in height, was crafted from discarded aluminium net.

Mr. Basak deviated from non-biodegradable material to honour his 2017 assignment from a local committee by making an 8 ft tall Durga idol from cotton thread. In 2018, he crafted a 12 ft Durga idol from matchsticks but had his “way with waste” by creating an idol of Lord Ganesh from discarded plastic bottles that year.

“Both the idols of 2018 were featured in the India Book of Records. So was the 160 kg Durga idol made of waste electrical wires in 2019, albeit in the Assam Book of Records,” he told The Hindu from Dhubri district’s Bilasipara, where he is posted.

In 2019, he had also made a 16 ft tall idol of Goddess Saraswati from bamboo.

The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 shifted Mr. Basak’s attention to medical waste. He used expired tablets and capsules to make the Durga idol that year.

Sanjib Basak’s Durga idol made of used COVID-19 vaccine vials and syringes.

Sanjib Basak’s Durga idol made of used COVID-19 vaccine vials and syringes. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

In 2021, he made two Durga idols for as many puja committees – one was made of used COVID-19 vaccine ampoules and syringes, and the other only of used syringes. The underlying theme, he said, was to encourage people to reject conspiracy theories and ensure vaccination against the novel coronavirus.

It wasn’t difficult for him to choose a “new waste material” to make the Durga idol this year. He got the idea when the central government banned the manufacture, sale and use of identified single-use plastic items such as plates, cups, straws, trays and polystyrene from July 1, 2022.

He has crafted the Durga idol from single-use plastic spoons and bowls, and hopes that people will look beyond the devotion and festivity.

“Every year the idol leaves my house to be placed in a pandal, I pray that I may never have to use the same waste material again to make the Goddess. I shall be the happiest if the earth is rid of all forms of waste, even if it means no material for me to work on,” he said.

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