AHMEDABAD: With Ganesh Chaturthi around the corner, the otherwise indolent streets ofGulbai Tekra are seen bustling with people buying Ganesha idols. In these by-lanes of Gulbai Tekra, which are populated by hundreds of Ganesha idols, resides the man who brought this culture of idol-making to Ahmedabad, and eventually to Gujarat. Modabhai Chhatrani, 86, was the first to begin idol-making in Ahmedabad in 1970, which then travelled to different parts across the state.

In a tarpaulin shanty, Modabhai lives with his four sons and 12 grandchildren. Modabhai learnt the techniques of idol-making with clay and POP at Agra in 1950s where his parents used to stay. Later, in 1970, he came to Ahmedabad, and taught this art to people in his neighbourhood. “In those days, people around me were daily-wage labourers. They were poorly paid. I taught them this art with a motive to offer them a better future,” he says with a twinkle in his wrinkled eyes. “I turned the labourers into artists.”

Today, across the shanties of Gulbai Tekra where the idols are moulded, structured and painted, every person gives the credit of learning the art to Modabhai. Malabhai Rathore, 45, admits, “I have got training from him. I still keep learning various details from him.” Modabhai trained many people in this art and made them travel to various areas like Vasna, Vadaj, Ranip, Ramdevnagar and Maninagar. Ganeshbhai Thakore, 29, who makes Ganesha idols in Vasna, says, “My grandfather had learnt the skills of idol-making from Modabhai, and today, I teach this art to my son.”

Modabhai says, “I sent people whom I trained here at Gulbai Tekra to Surat, Mehsana and Rajkot, to settle there and spread the culture of idol-making. I hope they are earning well today in their lives.”

Over years, the area, popularly known as Hollywood, has become an idol manufacturing hub with thousands of Ganesha idols being sold in Gujarat as well as in neighbouring states. With activists crying hoarse over pollution created by the raw material, locals have started experimenting with other eco-friendly materials.