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Reviving interest in Islamic calligraphy

Reviving interest in Islamic calligraphy
As an ancient art that retains its appeal in the new age, calligraphy merits better promotion amid a few practitioners even as there is latent eagerness to learn the fine art of writing, if a recent get-together in the national capital is any indication.

Once patronised by the sultans and maharajahs of the sub-continent, the aesthetics of glorious lettering have today paled into occupying the margins of India’s mainstream art, thus warranting big-time institutional rejuvenation, going by the vibes from a workshop on calligraphy at National Museum (NM), New Delhi.

All the same, young urban minds nurture bright ideas about having a brush with calligraphy — more so the Islamic style that revels in Arabic-Persian inscriptions — for which they attended a three-day training that concluded in NM early this week. 

Workshop on Calligraphy for Children that was held on May 29 -31 had experts training high-school and plus-two students, all of whom getting initiated to the art on three mediums: metal, stone and textiles.

While the 30 teenagers and their tutors found the span of the session sufficient enough to kindle interest in the trainees, NM is nurturing hopes of holding more such workshops — next time for college students.

“We have been getting numerous enquiries on whether the museum can hold similar calligraphy programmes for the benefit of senior-level students,” points out Anamika Pathak, curator of the exhibition. 

She further adds, “The few pockets where this art thrives are far away from Delhi (though the country has an odd calligrapher or two residing in the national capital). Even so, masters on a medium like metal-ware are a dwindling community, hard to be located, harder to be hired for a workshop like the one we host.”

Inside the workshop gallery in NM, Irshad Hussain Farooqi sits surrounded by seven teenagers trying their hand on a handy wooden rod with a chisel and a hammer. A self-taught master in calligraphy on wood, the middle-aged <g data-gr-id="57">artiste</g> from Rajasthan says less scope for employment is weaning away young practitioners from the art that has a global history of two-and-a-half millennia.

“Calligraphy is integral to the history and culture of Hindustan; the government should chart out way to popularise them,” says Farooqi, who lives in Delhi, having migrated from his native Sikar after going his master’s and a diploma in journalism in the mid-1980s.

“The <g data-gr-id="44">artistes</g> should not be in a situation like mine where one has to do several things for a livelihood; calligraphers should be able to make theirs a full-time engagement,” adds the master.

Today, students at the workshop are thrilled to have had their tryst with the ancient art. “It takes a lot of patience, but it worth it,” gushes Prakriti Nambiar, who is aspiring to be a civil servant. “We learned a bit to carve Alif, the first Arabic letter.”

Mohammed Aslam, who taught stone calligraphy at the workshop, says the NM can inspire more students to acquire the spirit of harmonious expression of signs and the alphabet. “It takes a lot of <g data-gr-id="45">training</g>, though, to script letters with perfection on the stones,” points out the artist, who works on white marble and black granite.

Gushes Teesta Dayal, a high-school student at the workshop: “So far, calligraphy had remained just something just to view. Today, we had a hands-on experience of it.”

Young Hassan Mehdi, who is a calligraphy enthusiast assisting artist Farooqi, reiterates that the Ganga-<g data-gr-id="52">Jamuni</g> <g data-gr-id="53">tehzeeb</g>, which fuses the Hindu and Muslim elements of culture along the central plains upcountry, retains much of sheen also because of the art of writing once promoted by the Nawabs along the erstwhile Awadh region. 

“If that has to retain its pride and pre-eminence, the contemporary administrative set-up must devise ways to ensure the upkeep of calligraphy,” he adds. The workshop got over amid NM’s temporary display 56 utility <g data-gr-id="46">arte facts</g> from the past five centuries at the exhibition titled Art of Calligraphy and Beyond: Arabic-Persian Inscriptions on Decorative Arts objects. Beautiful inscriptions are on metal ware pen-cases, bowls, plates, <g data-gr-id="48">alams</g>, wooden boxes, mendicant bowls, <g data-gr-id="49">tawee’z</g>, amulets, bracelets, textiles and costumes.

With its focus on inscriptions on metal-ware, wood, textiles and semi-precious stones, the 59-day show with all its objects from NM’s reserve collections ends on July 12.
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