Away from the bustling city of Kolkata, traveling to the North, there is a village called Pingla, Mednipore. The area of Pingla is such, that it will immediately transport you back to the time when Kolkata was all about broken roads, small huts, banyan trees stopping down to provide shade…so on…This small village has precisely 36 huts and the villagers have a hereditary talent of painting called – Patachitra.
Patachitra is the ancient art of depicting folk stories and characters in a tribal fashion. In the initial days the village was rather dysfunctional. They were poverty-stricken and traveled kilometers everyday to the city of Kolkata just to earn some money. They took up odd jobs like tailoring, cleaning, cooking, and even went door to door with their paintings and begged for money. While this is was situation of the men in the household, the women were in more distress. There was acute water shortage, there was no electricity and they had no designated bathrooms for each household. So the women had to wait till the next dawn, to go to the nearby pond and freshen up.
The area of Mednipore is a hardcore Naxaltie area, and the added disadvantage, was that the entire village of Pingla consists of Muslims. So, situations were such that the villagers of Pingla had to be careful of the rampant naxalite attacks and to avoid discrimination they had to change their names to sound more Hindu. Even till date, when the villagers go out for work, they are discriminated on the basis of their religion.
The situation of Pingla drastically changed from the beginning of 2004. An organisation called Bangla Natak.com initiated to help develop the situation of Pingla. The main motive was to make them realize that, they did not have to take up odd jobs to make a good living, rather they could commercialize their art culture. The organization has worked tirelessly to make the villagers understand the value of their talent and have helped them to take their talent to the next level.
Today, these villagers get to go to places like Italy, France, Germany, Sri Lanka, to promote and sell their talent. These people today have a minimal understanding of how to communicate or reciprocate in English. This was the village in which each household (consisting of a minimum 4 individuals) survived on a monthly wage of Rs. 30/-, and today they earn a minimum of Rs 3000/-.
Due to the help from Bangla Natak.com, these villagers have access to clean water and electricity. They are doing so well, that some of the people have started constructing concrete houses for themselves. Out of the many artists in the village, Anwar Chitakar and Gurupodo Chitrakar have been awarded with the Rashtrapati Award, for their remarkable contribution to maintaining and promoting India’s culture and heritage. In fact, the West Bengal Government is working on a deal to open an art museum within the village.
The residents of the village don’t just stop at painting folk tales, they also sing.
They don’t sing songs that we have already heard of, rather they create songs. The oldest member of the village, Dukhushyam Chitrakar, composes and writes, while the villager sing the tunes. Mostly the tunes are about various incidents that have happened in the past or are happening in the present. They sing about issues like women empowerment, to the attacks of 9/11, to the gang rape in Delhi, to folk tales.
Not only do they create songs but they also make illustrations about what they sing. And due to the intervention of Bangla Natak.com, the talent of many singers have been put together as a CD and are being heard all around.
As I mentioned before, this art is not contemporary, it is medieval in its own ways. And it is because of its medieval nature, why we as an audience love it. This art is actually practiced using natural colors, i.e. the colors are extracted from seeds and leaves of plants (now they have slowly started to use acrylic colors.)
Initially painting was restricted to walls of their houses and occasionally on paper. Now with the help of Bangla Natak.com they get to paint on various items, like canvas, sarees, duppatas, jewelry boxes, curtains…to name a few. Then these items are sold in places like exhibitions or at times even shops like P.C. Jewelers may buy these products in bulk.
“Do you ever feel that your art is being imitated and been sold at a cheaper cost that it is supposed to reap?”
To that Guropodo Chitrakar says
“See at the end of the day this is my art. We are its original bearers. So it doesn’t bother us that someone out there is imitating our art. Because he is just imitating it, he has no new idea, but we are the ones creating it and coming up with novelty material. So it is not our loss, it is his loss because he as an artist has the potential to come up with something original, but he is not utilizing his ability.”
“How was the situation in this village before the help?”
To that Anwar Chitrakar’s family replies
“Life was very bad! There were days where we could not gather two meals a day. We didn’t have water or sanitation. My husband begged for money, and even that was so less for all of us. But once help was provided we have a proper shed over our head. We are happy. We now know the value of our talent.”
“Do you ever feel that you want to go to the city and settle down?”
To that Swarna Chitrakar explains
“We are happy here. All of us in the village is our family. And we are used to it. Yes, city does offer more benefits, but that is not for us. This village is our world, and our art is the essence of our world. So leaving our world is not even an option.”