Swarna Chitrakar

Swarna Chitrakar


Interviewer (RN): If you could tell us your name?
Swarna Chitrakar: My name is Swarna Chitrakar. I have two names.
I am known as ‘Swarna Chitrakar’,
but my passport, voter card and ration card read Rupaban Chitrakar.
Interviewer (RN): Which of these was given by your parents?
Swarna Chitrakar: My father gave me the name Rupaban Chitrakar.
When I was born, there was a film called ‘Rupaban’.
Not exactly a film but a ‘balak-sangeet’.
It was a very old production.
My father was a big fan of that.
So, Rupaban Chitrakar is the name that my father gave me.
I also had an aunt,
who could not have kids.
She gave me the name ‘Swarna’.
Interviewer (RN): Where did your father and aunt stay?
Swarna Chitrakar: Father was from Boria, under the 24 Parganas district.
When my grandmother passed away,
he was only six years old.
my grandfather, along with my father,
moved to
since my grandmother’s parental home was in Thekuachowk
From there, they came here.
This is where my father grew up.
Interviewer (RN): Did he become a ‘patachitrakar’ in the latter half of his life?
Swarna Chitrakar: My grandfather,father and uncle learnt the art at a very young age.
My grandfather learnt it from his father.
Painting ‘patachitras’ is a part of our family heritage.
Apart from that, both my father and grandfather used to make clay idols.
Interviewer (RN): So when did you arrive in Naya?
Swarna Chitrakar: When my father was 6 years old, that’s when my grandfather brought him here.
Interviewer (RN): At the time, did other patachitrakars live here as well?
Swarna Chitrakar: No, at first there were a few people;
then slowly the population expanded.
My father grew up here.
So we were also born here, and we grew up here.
Interviewer (RN): Did your father or grandfather take their artwork to fairs?
Swarna Chitrakar: (shakes head) No.
Back then, only to villages.
Both of them used to paint patachitras and make idols only for villagers.
Like now, patachitras used to be our livelihood even then.
When my father and grandfather used to exhibit their work in villages,
the villagers used to support them with rice, money, clothes etc.
Interviewer (RN): What is your father’s name?
Swarna Chitrakar: His name is Amar Chitrakar
Interviewer (RN): Did he also sing along with his patachitra display?
Swarna Chitrakar: Yes. Songs are the main ingredients in a patachitra.
From a story we build a song, from a song a patachitra.
When the audience can’t understand our language, the paintings explain to them the ongoing story.
For example, when we show the pata on ‘violence on women’.
At first we tell them it’s because of dowry.
To emphasise this, we depict money through actions.
Then we show that they are unable to pay it when they go to their in-laws –
this, when we are talking about societal issues.
How are women getting abused?
They hold her by the hair and hit her.
A kick on her hips.
So that even if they are unable to follow my language,
my art should tell them that it’s about violence against women and that women are being tortured.
Interviewer (RN): Did your father learn how to compose songs after they arrived here?
Swarna Chitrakar: No, no.
As it is our family lineage, my father had already learnt it from my grandfather.
Then I learnt from my father and uncle.
My daughters learnt from me.
My brothers also learnt from my father.
Interviewer (RN): So then your father, from Garia…
Swarna Chitrakar: Not Garia. Boria. It’s in 24 Parganas.
Interviewer (RN): Did your family have an ancestral home in Boria?
Swarna Chitrakar: Yes. My grandfather had his own house.
Interviewer (RN): There are also patachitrakars in. East Midnapore district. Are you all in contact with them?
Swarna Chitrakar: Yes. We have some relatives as well who stay there.
We are in touch.
Interviewe (RN): Are they the ones who –
Swarna Chitrakar: Few patachitrakars from Nandigram live here in our village.
Interviewer (RN): So did they migrate from here to Nandigram?
Swarna Chitrakar: No. They all migrated here from there.
Whoever came here hasn’t left.
Interviewer (RN): When you were a kid…were you born here?
Swarna Chitrakar: Yes.
Interviewer (RN): So, in your childhood, how many families lived here?
Swarna Chitrakar: There were quite a few families when I was born.
Over a period of time, new families were added –
some of our age, some younger.
But as far back as I can remember, there were quite a few families around.
Interviewer (RN): From then to now, has the number of patachitrakars increased or decreased?
Swarna Chitrakar: Increased a lot. A lot.
Interviewer (RN): Over the last 15-20 years, what themes have you painted on?
Swarna Chitrakar: See, the first thing we learnt was ‘mythology’.
We create a lot of art out of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, even today.
But apart from that, nowadays, we paint a lot on social issues as well.
We paint, and people accept it too.
However, whatever contemporary issues we paint on, we always have mythology in the background.
That we have never let go.
Interviewer (RN): Did your ancestors also paint on social issues?
Swarna Chitrakar: No, no.
My grandfather definitely did not paint on social issues, my father also rarely did any.
Patas on contemporary issues are something we have come up with.
Interviewer (RN): So now that the themes are changing from mythology to modern issues, how does that affect your songs?
Swarna Chitrakar: Songs are also changing.
What’s happening is, we are composing on contemporary issues but with a touch of mythology, nonetheless.
Interviewer (RN): Why do you think you all are more interested in contemporary issues these days?
Is it because of the market?
Swarna Chitrakar: To tell you the truth,
previously we only used to paint mythological stories.
Then we would never paint on social issues –
neither did my father or grandfather.
Nowadays, we are inclined towards painting social issues so that we can explain some societal problems to the public.
Like, female infanticide.
In our patachitra, we show it as follows:
In a village,
the killing of a girl child is prohibited.
Ultrasonography of the foetus is prohibited.
Viewing that, people become open to our ideas.
We also paint on topics like literacy, pulse polio drive.
Nowadays, there is television and radio in every other house.
We spread awareness about pulse polio vaccination in remote locations,
which do not even have a radio.
People follow what we say.
Once there was a problem with deforestation.
Trees were being cut.
So we went to clubs, villages and explained to people that one should plant trees, one should not cut them down.
That trees provide life and give oxygen.
When we used to go up close to our audience and deliver these messages,
they used to accept most of them.
That’s why we work on social issues.
However, all of it has a touch of mythology.
Social issues are not just social issues.
Each of them has a touch of mythology.
Interviewer (RN): About the lyrics of your songs – as you have learnt them from your father – did he only compose them, or was there a group of people who would do it together?
Swarna Chitrakar: Mythology…take the call, please…
Mythology is mythology.
When we learnt to paint, we learnt mythological art to begin with.
Then came social issues.
We learnt mythological art to begin with.
My grandfather passed away when my father was only 6 years old.
We never saw him.
We learnt mythological art from our father.
Interviewer (RN): When people used to write these, did they write it alone or…?
Swarna Chitrakar: Well, all mythological songs have been passed by oral tradition.
There isn’t a source as to who wrote them.
Interviewer (RN): What about the songs on social issues these days?

Swarna Chitrakar: Yes, these we compose ourselves.
Once we get a story, we change it into a song.
Interviewer (RN): With the business around the patachitras thriving now,
which themes are your customers more keen on buying?
Swarna Chitrakar: This is quite difficult to answer.
If somebody feels strongly towards social issues,
s/he buys such art.
Or if somebody likes mythology more, s/he buys those.
We sell both forms equally, although paintings on mythology are sold in greater numbers.
As you can see, none of these small patas are based on social issues.
They are all based on mythology.
We have adapted mythological stories on a smaller canvas
so that people are able to buy them.
Interviewer (RN): So the paintings that you did in your childhood are very different from the ones you do today?
Swarna Chitrakar: Yes, a lot different.
To tell you the truth, we could never use colours then.
Our houses used to be really small.
There was very little space.
We couldn’t plant trees which could give coloured dyes.
There wasn’t even space for a little garden next to our house.
So we could never get hold of colours.
Now we have our own house and space.
Banglanatak.com is also helping us a lot.
Then, we got dye-yielding plants from IIT Kharagpur.
We are getting lots of colours from those plants,
because of which our entire approach has changed.
Interviewer (RN): How long are the paintings that you make?
Swarna Chitrakar: Long scrolls are there.
We also divide them into smaller square pieces, so that people are able to buy them.
We want to earn as well, and we want our scrolls to survive too.
Scrolls don’t sell much.
So if we were to paint only scrolls, our economy would take a hit.
Interviewer (RN): Do the scrolls cost more?

Swarna Chitrakar: A lot more.
They are priced between Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 2,00,000.
Everybody can’t afford it.
So we make smaller ones, which cost. Rs. 500, 700, 1000, 1500 or 2000,
which are more affordable.
Interviewer (RN): For how many years have you been painting smaller scrolls mainly?
Swarna Chitrakar: For quite a few years.
Interviewer (RN): Are there any other reasons behind this?
Swarna Chitrakar: No, no other reasons.
Just that we make smaller ones so that they sell.
Unless we earn something, it doesn’t feel good.
If running the household becomes difficult, then patachitra will also become a challenge.
That’s why we make the smaller ones.
Apart from small patas we make a lot of smaller things like
winnowing trays,
smaller things like these,
even hand-fans.
Interviewer (RN): How do you train your children in this art?
Swarna Chitrakar: For two years, I used to train 2 to 15-year old kids of the patuas here.
Now I have stopped it voluntarily.
Can’t shout so much anymore.
This used to happen every Sunday.
Kids had their day off from school and tuitions;
so I used to teach them on Sundays.
Interviewer (RN): Are kids here adequately interested in patachitras?
Swarna Chitrakar: A lot. A lot.
Interviewer (RN): Would you like them to pursue patachitra?
Swarna Chitrakar: I don’t think they are ever going to vanish.
We have held on to it despite severe hardships.
Now when the Almighty has blessed us with many fortunes, patachitra will definitely not disappear.
Interviewer (RN): Has your condition improved over the last 15-20 years?
Swarna Chitrakar: Yes. It has improved a lot compared to the past.
Interviewer (RN): If you could elaborate on how it compares to when you were young.
Swarna Chitrakar: We struggled a lot during my childhood.
We got neither paper and colours to paint on
nor two square meals.
Having left that behind, now we get colour and paper, and our kids get them too.
As a result, we are really much better.
Interviewer (RN): What led to your financial improvement?
Swarna Chitrakar: Due to pata. Only because of pata.
Pata has enabled us to survive.
Because of this pata, Banglanatak.com – they have created a Resource Centre in our village.
That Resource Center has been set up only with Banglanatak.com’s assistance.
Every year there is a fair which happens here, where quite a few guests come.
Sales are decent.
And because we are able to sell, we feel like doing a lot more of different kinds of work.
That is how our financial condition has improved, and our pata has also advanced quite a lot.
Interviewer (RN): Don’t you think that when the new generation gets educated,
it might be more interested in taking up other jobs as compared to doing pata?
Swarna Chitrakar: Maybe that’ll happen.
But I don’t think so.
Actually patuas didn’t use to study earlier, honestly.
In those days, people used to study only upto the 1st, 2nd or at best, 4th grade.
Nowadays, although they are completing their education till middle school and the secondary level,
they can still fall back on patachitra.
Whoever has ventured into pata,
or has been born in the house of a patua,
their lives mostly centre around patachitras.
Interviewer (RN): How many have cleared the middle school or secondary examination in Naya village over the last few years?
Swarna Chitrakar: This year itself I think 5 or 6 of them have cleared the middle school exam.
Interviewer (RN): Are these numbers increasing every year?
Swarna Chitrakar: Yes.
Interviewer (RN):Tell me a little bit about your religion.. Do all of you here follow Islam?
Swarna Chitrakar: Yes, all of us.
Interviewer (RN): But your daily lives are very different.
Swarna Chitrakar: We practice Islam. We are all Muslims.
But, in every house here, stories of the. Ramayana and the Mahabharata can be found.
In every house, there are patas of the. Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
But we follow the Muslim religion.
We are Muslims.
Interviewer (RN): But the names you have are similar to Hindu names.
Swarna Chitrakar: No. Largely Hindu, but Muslim as well.
Many of us have only Hindu names, but no Muslim names.
Again, many of us have Muslim names, but no Hindu names.
Interviewer (RN): Given that all you all have this beautiful balance between religions,
if someone from the outside world someday creates pressure on you to lead your lives
strictly according to the laws of Islam, what would be your thoughts on that?
Swarna Chitrakar: Look, once, there was pressure on us.. Not pressure exactly. We were told that,
if we were to follow Christianity instead of Islam, we would be given a fair amount of money.
Quite a bit of money.
Paid per family, per individual.
But we haven’t stooped to that.
We said that our pata was going to be there,
and that whatever religion we have been following, we were not going to give it up.
Interviewer (RN): So you want to preserve this balance.
Swarna Chitrakar: We want to hold on to our religion and preserve our pata.
We don’t want to let go of pata.
Interviewer (RN): When your patas go to fairs and other events,
these are sold as patas from Naya.
But do you think the names of the artists come to the forefront and they get proper credit for their art?
Swarna Chitrakar: The number of patuas are maximum here as compared to any other place.
And both pata as well as patuas of. Pingla are equally well known.
Interviewer (RN): So the names of both the art and artists get highlighted?
Swarna Chitrakar: Yes, both.
Interviewer (RN): During your childhood, when your father used to paint patas, was the name of the artist never out in the forefront?
Swarna Chitrakar: No, no. To say it was ‘absolutely’ absent would be a mistake. But some of the artists weRe well known.
Interviewer (RN): But were most of them…?
Swarna Chitrakar: Mostly, it was the individuals who were well-known.
Pingla wasn’t as famous.
Now, the patachitra of Pingla has earned a lot of repute.
Artists are well known but the patachitra of Pingla has a greater reputation.
Interviewer (RN): About these social patas that you make, for example, the ones that you all had made on tsunami.
Who all were involved with it?
Swarna Chitrakar: At the time when the tsunami happened, there was a person in Delhi by the name of Rajeev Sethi.
After the tsunami, a few of us painted patas after reading the newspaper and watching TV.
When they reached Rajeev Sethi in Delhi,
all the patuas left everything else and focussed on painting only the tsunami.
So, in the case of tsunami patas, Pingla is, of course, well known,
but there are patas from other places as well which received attention at the time.
Interviewer (RN): Did Rajeev Sethi help you monetarily to paint them?
Swarna Chitrakar: He bought all the patas on tsunami that were painted at the time. That is one manner of assistance.
Interviewer (RN): Did he sell it to someone else?
Swarna Chitrakar: At one point of time, he had mentioned that
he’d be donating them to art galleries in countries affected by the tsunami.
He bought all the patas from all the artists in both Pingla and Nandigram.
Not just that, he also invited artists over and made them paint there.
Interviewer (RN): Did the artists who drew them get recognition?
As in, was it mentioned which artists’ works those were?
Because later somebody had mentioned that s/he was the first person to have painted on tsunamis.
Swarna Chitrakar: That happened. People have also done that.
At that time, all the artists left everything else that they were doing and painted only tsunamis.
Interviewer (RN): Have the names of one or two artists come to the forefront specifically?
Swarna Chitrakar: Not one or two,
many artists’ names have come into the limelight.
People who had never drawn patas before,
they also created patas on tsunamis, as the number of artists had increased.
Interviewer (RN): So how did patachitra start? Have you heard this story from your ancestors?
Swarna Chitrakar: It began from the times of kings, emperors and badshahs.
I have heard this story from my father
My father and I had made a pata each on it, both of which got sold.
The story goes that in Bangladesh there was the palace of the badshah,
where everyday a demon used to eat up humans.
Over a period of time, the number of humans in that land dwindled.
The emperor got really worried thinking that if a demon were to eat up all the humans,
there would be no one left in his country.
The demon would eventually eat everyone up.
As he sat worrying deeply, a ‘dervish’ came up to him and said,
“Why do you worry so much?”
The emperor replied,
“There’s a demon in my land who wants to eat all humans and is doing so. That’s why I’m worried.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll kill him”, replied the dervish.
“If you can do so,” the king said, “I’ll reward you.”
So, the dervish went into the forest and when he saw the demon approaching, he turned himself into a mirror.
When the demon saw a monster as big as him, he started fighting with it and died in the process.
Then the dervish returned to the palace and told the emperor that he had killed it.
In disbelief, the king said,
“So many people have tried and failed to kill the demon. How were you able to do so?”
The dervish was dressed like a fakir.
How could he have killed the demon?
The emperor said, “Show me how you killed the demon.”
So then the dervish plucked the bark of a tree and a dye from it
and painted pictures to show the emperor how he had killed it.
“What reward do you want for this?” the emperor asked.
“My reward would be that you give me the permission to paint patas and bring them to the people”, the dervish replied.
Since then patas came into being, and since then patuas have existed.
This is the story I had heard from my father.
Father had also painted a picture on this, and so had I.
Interviewer (RN): That picture has been sold?
Swarna Chitrakar: Yes, that picture has been sold.

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