AS OUR CAR PULLED into the dusty parking lot, a little boy, dressed in nothing but a pair of shorts and a grin that flashed all of his immaculate white teeth, came running towards us. Upon his insistence, we let him lead us to what he claimed was the “best shop” in this area. As we squeezed in through a narrow door, we were greeted by a wall of faces.
While some looked amicable, a few were outright angry, and still others looked on with an expression I can only describe as disapproving. The colours they donned were dazzling: mellow yellow, forest green, neon pink, dark blue, and many shades in between. As I looked around the room in awe, I noticed a lady seated in one corner of the shop. Sprawled in front of her was the biggest Kathakali mask I had ever laid eyes on. The little boy who had led us there was now waiting by the door, eager to show us around the rest of his village.
I had managed to whisk my family away to Purulia for a quick vacation earlier this year, and we were on the last leg of that trip when an argument broke out on what our final stop should be. While my father insisted on an obscure ‘mask village’ he had read about on the Internet, mother was keen on visiting the village of Baranti, famous for a beautiful lake nestled amongst the hills. Unable to settle the dispute, they turned to me for the deciding vote. I picked the mask village with a mixture of apprehension and intrigue. Never before had I heard of this place, the Internet had few reliable descriptions, and even our driver was unsure of the directions. The only argument that outweighed all of this? It was a place largely hidden from the mainstream tourist influx (a boon, given the pandemic at hand), and if everything worked out, it would be a memorable experience.
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