Presidents, chief ministers, venerated culture doyens, national and international art curators and scholars, a cross section of Hyderabadis including the Princess of Berar, Jacqueline Kennedy and many more, have all visited the Jagdish and Kamla Mittal Museum of Indian Art in Hyderabad, marvelling at its invaluable art collection. In our research for the documentary on Rocks and Hyderabad, after remarkable lack of success in locating references to the Deccan rocks in art, it was at the same museum that Mittal sahab opened the door to a luxurious series of references.
The museum itself is a lifetime work of love and knowledge on the part of Mittal sahab (a PadmaShri awardee himself for this) and his late wife Kamla. Both gifted with impeccable taste and astuteness in discerning aesthetic value, they have curated a uniquely significant collection. As importantly, Mittal sahab is generous in sharing the works and blessed in his skill at communicating insights around them.
Of the references to rocks in paintings, he says that while Mughal, Pahari, Kangra and many other schools of painting all reference landscapes, it is in the schools of Deccan Art that rocks are the most prevalent: “References yahaan hain , Deccan mein. The area from Nagpur to Kurnool/Poona. You have the Hyderabad, Ahmednagar, Golkonda, Asaf Jahi and Bijapur schools etc. Rocks were naturally part of these paintings because rocks are such an integral part of this terrain. Such referencing is also to be found in other works of art: in Bidri, in textiles, Kalamkari, Ikat etc.”
His lifetime’s immersion into art began in childhood in Gorakhpur and Dehradun and, formally, at Shantiniketan where he studied painting. His home for many years now is in Domalguda, Hyderabad. Today people in the bustling colony would be hard put to believe he remembers a time when it was once full of toddy palms and the sunset over them was like a painting in itself!
The open spaces in Domalguda then were very conducive to his passion for kite-flying. He learnt to make varied kites in Gorakhpur and that brought him an acute sense of craftsmanship, balance and colour. “We put bells on the kites so we heard them if we caught a quick snooze while flying them at night!” Then there were candle-kites, where a candle was let fly with the kite so it could be seen far away in the sky.
While kites are still flown in Domalguda, it is so built up that the landscape is unrecognisable. He says the neighbourhood’s rocks now only remain in the Hanuman temple nearby which is created around a rock projection under a peepul tree and the Banda Maisamma temple near lower Tank-Bund. Unruly, unplanned and hasty overbuilding that completely ignores the value of the landscape has irretrievably lost the earlier plentiful rocks of the neighbourhood.
To the question of why he collects art, he says that viewing artworks elevates him to another plane. “The artworks make a web around you and place you in “Anandvan”. You are cut off from your surroundings, all anxieties vanish and you experience pure delight. They provide a “sublime delight” and exhilaration which activates the whole being.”
“My intense involvement with art objects has acted as an elixir for my health and continues to prolong my life span.” It certainly proves his point that at 90 he remains sharp-eyed, youthfully agile and quick witted.
There are even today, beautiful rock spaces in our city that evoke the same exhilaration / sublime delight that Mittal sahab is fortunate enough to experience through art. I am one of many rock enthusiasts who experience this delight, for instance, on looking upon the Durgam-Cheruvu rocks or those of Fakhruddin-gutta. Even the scant remaining rocks and lake at Khajaguda jolt one into awed wonder and joy at nature’s creation. Our city could be planned to retain this treasure in substantial ways while meeting the needs of required development. But we seem blind to what we have been blessed with by nature as we heedlessly continue to blast and flatten our stunning rock formations. The line from an old Hindi film song ( Chitralekha ) comes to mind:
Apmaan racheta ka hoga
Rachna ko agar thukraaoge
We insult the Creator
When we spurn creation
(The writer Uma Magal is a documentary film maker, writer and teacher.)
This is the 26th in a series of articles based on research for a documentary on the rocks of Hyderabad.