Kolkata: Think of West Bengal and you immediately visualise the frenzy of Durga Puja and beautifully sculpted life-size clay models of the state's premier deity. And with World Cup football in the air, that earthy connection is now being explored in a corner of the bustling metropolis for exquisite clay models of famous soccer players.
But the action area is not Kumartuli, the famed residence-cum-studios of the world-renowned clay modelling artisans of Bengal.
Sculptor Sukumar Rudra Pal owns his studio, Lokenath Shilpalay, Hiland Park in the eastern fringes of the city. For most part of the year, he designs idols of gods and goddesses - Durga, Kali, Lakshmi, and the lot popular with the denizens here.
This year, the die-hard Argentina fan decided to combine two of his passions - football and sculpting - for a local sports club that also supports the South American nation.
As many as 25 items, including statues of 21 current soccer icons and a replica of the World Cup trophy, have been painstakingly carved from clay during the last course of month and a half.
Brazil's Neymar, Argentina's Lionel Messi and Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo stand tall at five feet in various playing positions - all frozen in clay.
"I was at it for one-and-a-half month, working day and night. The work was challenging because of the short time available and bringing out the expression and stances of the players," Pal told IANS.
"The same hands that make an idol of goddess Durga can also create Neymar, Ronaldo and Messi," he said.
Pal fondly recalls his passion for the sport and his team Argentina.
His inspiration to channel his craft for the mad football fans of the city came from the 'God of Football' Diego Maradona's Kolkata visit in 2008.
"He was 49 then and I made the equal number of Maradona idols standing at 3.5 feet. Only one was 25 feet high," he explained.
"People mistake my products for those of Kumartuli. But I work independently," he said, adding with the Durga puja a few months away, his schedule will become busier with the ongoing World Cup too.
The current batch of models, mostly Argentinian players, decked up the typical soccer gear and with the players' signature jersey replicas, is all sold.
"I sculpt mostly idols of players from Argentina but if customers demand then I will make replicas of other players too," he said.
Interestingly, when contacted by IANS, Bhabesh Paul, assistant secretary, Kumartuli Mritshilpi Samiti (association of Kumartuli artisans), revealed there were no plans to craft World Cup related idols.
"As far as I know, no one is doing anything exclusive for the World Cup...we do not have any plans as such," he told IANS.