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Updated: July 7, 2014 09:13 IST

Mughal miniatures await a fresh lease of life

Rana Siddiqui Zaman
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National Award winning Mughal miniature artist Mohammad Fareeduddin with his son Azam.
The Hindu
National Award winning Mughal miniature artist Mohammad Fareeduddin with his son Azam.

Historical records document the good old days and how the family followed the tradition of miniature work for almost 150 years. These include old photographs that used to come to this family for conversion into portraits

Deewar kya giri mere makan ki,

Logon ne guzarne ka rasta bana liya

(No sooner did the wall of my house collapse, people began walking through it)

This is how Azam Khan, the last Mughal miniature artist of the Delhi School of (Miniature) Art, describes the state of affairs of the miniature art and artists. His is the only family left in Delhi which, somehow, is trying to keep this art tradition alive despite the absence of patronage from the government or the corporate world.

Azam, the oldest son in the family of 20, paints incomplete old work and a few commissioned ones in his small studio at Hauz Khas. There are hardly any takers for Mughal miniatures, except those who know its worth; and such people are few and far between.

Historical records of his ancestry document the good old days and how the family followed the tradition of miniature work for almost 150 years. These include old photographs that used to come to this family for conversion into portraits. The names tell the story — Queen Elizabeth, Dr. Zakir Hussain, Jodhpur royals, Nawab Mansoor Patuadi’s father, Maharani Gayatri Devi, Naseem Bano to yesteryear actor Madhubala. All the awards given by the Maharajas till 1910 also had calligraphic writings and illustrations done by this family.

But now they have fallen on bad times.

“Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was our last hope. She promised to build a Mughal miniature museum in Delhi. The Delhi Government hasn’t done anything to revive this school of art. Other miniature schools of art have received patronage. Only we remain unsupported.”

The prodigal son, Azam still does not use the brushes and colours sold in the market. He makes his own special brush and colours.

“A true miniature cannot be made with the brushes being sold in the market. I make my own brush using the hair from the tail of squirrels,” said the artist, who kept an eagle as a pet till a couple of years ago.

Azam still goes places to find tesu flowers, gule-e-bakdali, semal and other pahari flowers to make his own organic colours. He still uses old terminologies for colours — gauwati for white, shingraf for orange, syah for black and suhar zardi for golden.

In 1969, Azam’s father Mohammad Fareeduddin opened an art gallery in Defence Colony, which was inaugurated by Dr. Zakir Husain. The gallery, named after Fareeduddin, did very well initially, but its fortunes followed the man, whose arm was almost amputated following an accident.

Fareeduddin recalls: “Since my fingers were working, I refused to get the arm amputated. It had 11 fractures. Regular operations made my right arm shorter than the left arm. I started working with my left arm. As the right arm started healing, I restarted using it to make sketches and colour.”

His faculties still remain good and he does not use glasses to work.

“I eat extremely hot dakhini mirch with almonds, sugar, milk or water on an empty stomach in the morning to retain my flawless sight,” he pointed out.

But at 84, Fareeduddin, who received a National Award in the early 1970s and sold a painting to Indira Gandhi for Rs.7,000, feels disappointed as his sons have taken up odd jobs. “I am afraid my sons can no longer make money through this rare art. The legacy may die soon.”

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