My flight to Kolkata, India, is scheduled to leave Birmingham International at 13.30 GMT on Thursday 12th March 2020. Passing through Dubai, I will arrive in Kolkata at 07.40 local time on Friday 13th March.

On Wednesday 11th March, the Indian government make an announcement that all international visas will be cancelled from midday on Friday 13th due to the continuing spread of COVID-19. I find this out via a text message from a friend as I’m packing to leave.

What does this mean for my trip? Should I still go? The UK government are showing little concern about the outbreak at this point. Cases in India only number a few around Delhi. I scour the UK and Indian government websites for advice but there is nothing for people travelling in the next 24 hours.

I give up trying to contact my insurance company after I find myself in an endless telephone loop, through departments that can’t help me and recorded messages for offices now closed because it’s after hours.
Project plans has been months in the making and involve collaborators in two countries. I don’t want to lose this. I’m pretty certain that without government advice to the contrary, I won’t be able to claim on my insurance for a trip I choose not to take. On the one hand I feel a sense of rebellion. To go, in these uncertain times, is something that the more level-headed might decide against. On the flip side, aren’t I actually conforming to official guidance? And what about fate? Isn’t there something in the fact that I’m booked on a flight leaving the day before the visa ban, one of the last few lucky enough to be able to travel?

On reflection, I count myself especially lucky that I’ve not only had this unique opportunity to spend time at the Kumartuli workshop of Naba Kumar Paul but also that I’ve been able to gain a cross-cultural perspective on the pandemic, as it stood in a particular week in March 2020. Many others have had to postpone or cancel travel plans entirely.

The initial days of my trip were largely unchanged or impacted by growing world events, save for consuming regular new updates in the evenings.

It is of course disappointing that rapidly evolving circumstances led to my trip being curtailed. I couldn’t start the second phase of research working with ceramicist Dolon Kundu, nor share ideas with a wider group of the region’s three-dimensional art practitioners, nor meet with the British Council and leaders from the City’s cultural institutions. Hopefully there will be an opportunity to return. I’m extremely grateful to my Kolkata-based partner, curator Nandita Palchoudhuri, for her essential support in both making this trip happen, and then quickly unhappen.

Whilst this site may evolve into something more reflexive in time, or develop as some form of archive for the wider project seeded by this research, for now this is a journal of my short time with the Kumartuli of North Kolkata. It forgets the wider context for a moment and describes my very local and specific experience from notes I wrote each day, photos and videos. Its focus is on the skills and techniques learnt. It’s via prioritising understanding through the physical act of making that I hope to gain better insight into this unique craft and also the social, cultural and economic systems that surround it.

Paper Plane - M.I.A.
Face Your Fear - Curtis Harding
The Promised Land (Live Acoustic) - Bruce Springsteen
Get Out of My Way Fascist (Pigs) - Amer Chadha-Patel
Maar Chadapa – Heera
10 Commandments, featuring Saffiyah Khan - The Specials 
Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys – The Specials
Know How - Young MC
Toast to Our Differences, featuring Shungudzo, Protoje & Hak Baker - Rudimental

British Council and City of Culture 2021, Coventry - International Changemakers, 2020