A sign-board artist, he hand-paints typefaces onto cloth and metal

In the busy lanes of Shanti Nagar in Masab Tank, M.V. Rao sits on the pavement at his ‘shop’ — a small tin box compartment that stores cans of oil paints in different colours and brands. Lined on the floor is a bamboo mat where Rao sometimes shields himself from harsh sunlight or rain. Like Rao, there were many other street artists in the city but the numbers are dwindling by the day.

Rao moved to Hyderabad along with his wife and four children from Machilipatnam, 40 years ago to paint sign boards. He is a self-taught artist but it’s not just bold typefaces and signs that he paints. Rao is quite adept at painting landscapes and people too; a stylish portrait of Chiranjeevi stands testimony to his skills. When asked about his routine, Rao smiles and says, “Sitting and sleeping.” When prodded further, he reveals that he feels useless because there is no work coming his way; at least not like it used to. A pleasant smile erupts on his face as he begins to talk about the ‘good old days’. “I had set up shop in Banjara Hills and I used to make close to Rs. 4000 a day,” he says. The workload used to be so heavy that Rao had even hired 10 boys to help him with the work. Today, he is a one-man-army with little work. Rao blames technology and says that fax machines, computers and desk-top publishing took away the value of his abilities. “Ippudu vacchindey chaalu annatuga untundi (Now I have to make-do with whatever I get).” Lack of regular work has made Rao pick up house-painting jobs too. “I don’t want my kids to join this profession. There is no future here. I want to shut shop and get on with some coolie work, that way I’ll earn a regular income,” says Rao. He informs us that he has been sitting without work for the past three days; and just then a customer walks in asking for a cloth banner to be made for a college function. Rao tells the man to come after three hours to pick it up. “I have been asked to make a 70-metre banner, I won’t be able to put in fancy typefaces but I am happy with whatever work I get,” he beams.

((A weekly feature on men and women who make Hyderabad what it is)

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