Thursday, 6 March 2014

A Carpenter's Journey

Carpenter Gobindra Chandra Halder can't sit or walk unaided, but he pursues his livelihood with enthusiasm.

It begins with an idea. There’s planning to be done: a sketch in pencil completes the start. It requires concentration. There’s never been a journey of substance when it’s been relentlessly easy to plot the best course. There are always obstacles. Always.

Some travellers rely on maps. Others chart their distances with compass or strategy; or alternatively follow an intuition-based path. Gobindra Chandra Halder, 55, has found in flowers, birds, trees and people the key to his way forward. He has enlisted into his service the curves, repetition and symmetry of regal design. For his is the journey of a carpenter – a carpenter with more than thirty years of experience.

 Gobindra  has made a name for himself as a carpenter.
“The throat is four fingers,” Gobindra says, explaining how he measures each body part to give his carved figures proportional accuracy. Everything is measured.

The sawing and sanding are his setting out. It’s after that he proceeds further, commencing the painstaking carving phase that will bring to each design its life, its third dimension. He inches onward, slowly, slowly – towards the destination of the finished piece. “With delicate work,” he says, “there is no time limit.”

From his two-room, mud floor home-and-studio in College Road of Rajapur in Jhalokati he’s made his name in handmade furniture manufacture. The medium he found for his each successive journey is wood and Gobindra is a respected artisan in it.

Things are never that easy. There’s never been a journey of substance that’s been free of challenges. Sometimes such roadblocks are relatively minor and easy to negotiate; at other times difficulties of the seemingly insurmountable type appear – enough to tempt any weary traveller into hanging up his hiking boots for good. It’s in the nature of a journey: problems can arise at any time, well into a long ago established voyage or, as in Gobindra’s case, right from the start. He had little choice but to face his situation. There was nothing for it but to persevere.

“He was good at school,” says his brother, high school teacher Kitish Chandra Halder, “but fate did not reward him.”

There came a night when Gobindra was about ten years old, when he dreamt that robbers were looting their household. Driven by fear the sleeping child climbed out of the window and fell from the first floor.

At work in his garden.
At first it seemed as though he had overcome his injuries – that his nightmare would be recorded as no more than an amusing anecdote among various childhood mishaps. But from age fifteen Gobindra started to lose power in his legs. The movement in his neck, back, arms and legs started to decrease: the delayed result of a possible spinal cord trauma he had sustained.

His family took him to Dhaka. But after visiting many hospitals not only were the doctors unable to offer much more than the hope his injury would right itself over time, they were unable even to name his affliction.

His parents took him to the pond for swimming, which a doctor had suggested. They even tried treatment by a local healer, a kabiraj. All that was forty years ago.

“Our family has suffered for a lifetime from concern over his injuries,” says Kitish Halder.

Gobindra proved courageous. In pain and with difficulty he completed his SSC examinations. But after that he found it impossible to continue his studies. Nor when the time arrived was he able to marry.

There’s been a gradual deterioration. Our carpenter requires a walking stick to move about. He cannot turn his head. He cannot bend. Mostly he lives in pain. He dines at either his sister’s or his brother’s house as he cannot cook a meal. But Gobindra has never stopped trying – his furniture is evidence of his determination.

From a young age he had demonstrated a talent for carpentry. It allowed him to develop his small business and manage a meagre livelihood, in the company of flowers, birds, trees and people, in the medium of wood. He can earn around 5,000 taka per month, but his work gives much more than that: a sense of purpose.

“I never had lessons in carpentry,” Gobindra says, proud of his achievements, “The designs come quite naturally as I start to draw.”

Gobindra with a bed head he has made.
He makes all kinds of furniture including sofas, showcases, wardrobes, beds, alna clothes racks and chairs. But for his condition it would be no problem to work in building construction as well, he says.

“Big items like almirahs and larger beds are difficult for me now,” he says.

Each piece takes time to complete. Gobindra is unable to sit in a chair and needs to take regular rest, lying down for greater hours than he is able to work. Nonetheless his customers are usually pleased with the results. “They often pay more than the agreed amount when they see a piece completed.”

He should really go to Dhaka. Due to the difficulties in finding suitable transport and more so the cost, it’s unlikely that he will. But it would be interesting to know what forty years of progress in medicine could do for him. He might find there are treatment options now. His affliction might at the very least find its name.

But this is not his complaint. “People don’t order the most intricate items anymore. They are too expensive.” He wishes there were more flowers, birds, trees and people for him to measure and bring to life.

Yet, when asked what sort of design he enjoys most, he says “It’s like football. The best enjoyment is not for the players but for those who are watching.”

And all around Rajapur people are watching. Many houses in the area feature his work. In each sofa, showcase, wardrobe and bed is an arduous journey of his, most often seen in an everyday and taken-for-granted way – a journey hoping to reach the twin destinations of functionality and beauty. Yet it’s never been easy for our carpenter who cannot bend.

Carpenter Gobindra Chandra Halder in his two room, mud floor studio and home.

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