NarayanSandesh Sancha Maker
In the Pathuriaghata area of Chitpur, one comes across several craftsmen carving wooden blocks to make Sandesh moulds, each typically engraved with an intricate design and message.
We interviewed a third-generation woodcarver, Narayan da, who sits under his late father’s photograph, chipping away at blocks of Segun that he procures primarily from Assam. With heritage sweet shops in West Bengal continuing to prefer wooden Sandesh moulds to silicone and plastic ones, the present demand is enough to sustain the salaries of Narayan da’s four apprentices. However, these apprentices weigh the value of this craft only in terms of earnings. Ruminating on the future, he said, “This craft will die with me. One has to love the craft to be able to do this. One can’t run after money. There is more sweat than rewards here. We sell 10 sanchas a day at Rs. 60 and make a meagre Rs. 5 profit on each.”
Narayan da’s ancestors were master craftsmen who were often solicited by zamindars and Bengal royalty to make furniture. They were also the first to arrive at the culinary craft scene as pioneers of ‘Sandesh sanchas’. Never having got the chance to learn the craft from his father, who passed away when Narayan da was just a child, he keeps his father’s memory alive today by using his well-preserved tools—15 different batalis—to produce his very own ‘bestseller’ designs.
“I will see any photo, and make the designs. I can make anything you bring to me. You know the ‘buddha buddhi’ you see in ‘shaadi badis’, the bride and groom—that was my invention. No craftsperson used to make those, not even my father.” His most popular designs are the peacock and fish moulds. Orders are often placed via WhatsApp on his son’s smartphone and his moulds are delivered all across the world: KC Das in Kolkata, Mullick Ratan in Mumbai, Bengali households in the US and shops and restaurants in Bangladesh.
Narayan da offered his details for anybody wishing to order moulds: “The Sandesh moulds are handcrafted with love, made out of pure Segun/Teak wood. They are waterproof but have to be dipped in oil 2-3 hours before use. Make your Sandesh offerings in these exquisite designs. They come in assorted shapes and sizes from 2-15 inches. Custom orders, I can do."