An organisation trains students in this ancient skill, and aims to revive it

Cloth bags sporting poems and ideas of Rabindranath Tagore sewn in beautiful calligraphy, an art whose practitioners have dwindled to just a handful in the country, are among a variety of products churned out by children from the city’s impoverished communities.

Mohammed Akbar, 19, who hails from a slum in Seelampur and who began stitching at an early age to support his family, found his calling in calligraphy.

Defined as “the art of giving form to signs in an expressive, harmonious, and skillful manner”, calligraphy is “known in very few circles” says Qamar Dagar, who has over the years exhibited her pictorial calligraphy in India, United States and France.

“People know very little about calligraphy. They have a notion that calligraphy cannot be done in all scripts, which is wrong. One does not need to understand a script to enjoy calligraphy; it can be looked at as a pure design,” Qamar says.

Ranging from leaves, mica, marble, wood, metals, ceramic, pottery, stones and fabrics calligraphists have worked on multiple platforms.

Meanwhile, Aseem Asha Usman, imparts training to children from impoverished communities in calligraphy through his Delhi–based organisation ‘Flying Birds of India’

“We at Flying Birds teach our children to fly high with their dreams. We scout for talent from uncharted territories.

“We believe in imparting skills rather than providing only economic benefits for the social upliftment of the children,” says Usman.

Mohammed Akbar is one of those the foundation helped. So also are Fahana and her friend Adeeba. The girls label their art as “a way of getting back at a society that always restricts girls from pursuing their dreams.”

“We are greatly inspired by Tagore’s philosophy that teaches freedom and individuality. Our paintings based on the life and teachings of Tagore are our way of expressing ourselves and telling the world that girls are not restricted to the four walls of the house,” says Adeeba.

Farhana, says that her parents were initially reluctant to send her to learn art but have supported her after seeing her work.

“I come from an orthodox Muslim community, where art has less value, especially for girls. But my desire to paint and the help from the foundation helped me to convince my parents. Today even my parents accompany me for my exhibitions,” says Farhana with a smile.

Describing calligraphy as “universal”, Usman says the art form needs to be re–defined.

“We organise Tagore Utsav, a festival celebrating the birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore every year. We incorporate calligraphy and Tagore philosophy in the celebrations to send out a message that both the realms are beyond any kind of frontier,” Usman adds.

Widening borders

Akbar who was the subject of a recently madse documentary ’Akbar ki Sui’ says he has travelled to many places outside Delhi, met many senior artists and presented them with his work.

“There is a lot of talent in our country but the artists are rarely given their due. I want to go outside India and showcase my work one day,” says Akbar.

Mushtaq Ali, a class 11 student of Delhi who edited a short film “Qalam Aatma” on the first International Calligraphy Festival held here in February, has also been assisted by Usman’s foundation.

The film showcases written scripts from across the world including the Middle East the Indian Subcontinent and even the Orient.

“The short film I have made projects the message of unity through different cultures,” Ali says.

85–year–old veteran artist Mohammed Yasin, a Lalit Kala Academy awardeesays, “Calligraphy as an art form needs to be taken to newer heights. Am happy that young children are showing keen interest in the art.”

Artist Qamar Dagar says, “Logically, India should have made the maximum contribution to the world of calligraphy as the country owns a vibrant collection of languages and scripts. The reality however is different” she says.

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