Santiniketan, a popular tourist attraction of West Bengal, is well-known for Vishwa-Bharati University, set up by the great poet and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.
It is also popular for another beautiful place known as Sonajhuri. The main attraction being, a two-day weekend fair known as the Sonajhuri Haat.
Covered with tall Sonajhuri trees, this place is an absolute riot of colours and scenic charm with local artisans putting on display their beautiful handicrafts.
From clothes, sarees, wooden and terracotta artefacts to jewellery (which they make right in front of you); you will find everything and more in a glance.
Also, not to forget live performances by folk musicians (Baul) and Santhal dancers dressed in bright single colour sarees, which one can also join.
But, a cloud of despair and hopelessness had covered these artisans' lives when the fair got shut for several months due to rising cases of COVID-19. Many lost their way of livelihood and incurred huge losses in their businesses.
''We stayed at home during Covid lockdown. We had no means of any income. It was a very difficult time for us and could barely make ends meet,'' said Pampa Mahali, a Santhal dancer.
While, some took to online platforms like Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp to run their businesses, others had to sit back home and depend on other modes of income as businesses were cut to half.
From selling two hundred to three hundred pieces of goods on each day during the weekend, sales dropped to a meagre fifty pieces a month.
The Santhal dancers had to sit at home with no livelihood. The folk musicians travelled far and wide to perform in different villages and barely made any money.
''We started channelling the business to online platforms during Covid. Barely, made two hundred to three hundred rupees a day. People were not giving the same response as they would during a fair. It's always easier to make a sale when the customers see it in front for themselves.'' said Shukla Shao, a clothing merchant.
"We sold barely 20 pieces of goods in a month during covid. People were not very willing to buy especially from small, unknown merchants.'' said Vishal Hemrom, a clothing and handicraft merchant.
But with a drop in the coronavirus cases and subsequent vaccination, people have started travelling once again.
Tourism has picked up in Santiniketan and the government in October, finally gave permission to reopen the fair. Although the artisans have found their previous means of livelihood, the sales are dismal compared to pre covid times.
One of the reasons is the scepticism of tourists to attend such gatherings and the subsequent fear of new variants.
Artisans, therefore, have started to invest more time and effort in their online business networks than on selling goods outside, owing to uncertainty over shutting of the fair again. But things are looking up.
''We have continued the online business. It becomes difficult to give time for both but the business is decent now. Selling fifty pieces of goods each week & another two hundred to three hundred pieces on weekend," said Jayanta Ghosh, handloom and terracotta merchant.
With several hurdles along the way, the artisans are still putting up a handsome display of handicrafts with a smile on their faces.
Folk musicians are seen playing music in their ektara instrument and singing old folk songs. Santhal dancers dance in small hurdles to the tune of drum beats.
Seeing such a lively and vibrant atmosphere, it's easy to forget your worries and enjoy this magical place.
Santiniketan is a perfect weekend getaway if you are in West Bengal. Red soil roads, vast fields and centres of culture will definitely draw a place in your heart.
And it goes without saying, visiting Santiniketan is absolutely incomplete without experiencing the magic in Sonajhuri.
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