A man who has picked up the art of calligraphy from his ancestors, decided to transfer the art to children for free, after retirement. Saqib Mir meets the uncommon artist who pays for what he teaches and is happy
Only a few yards away from the Srinagar Jammu highway in Islamabad’s Uranhaal area, there is a shop turned into a classroom. Every day more than 70 students come in separate groups and an art that no educational institution of Kashmir offers: the art of writing, calligraphy.
Located on the link road, leading to different villages, it is one of the noisiest places as hundreds of vehicles honks literally outside. But it does not take away the peace from this small ‘teaching shop’. With dozens of charts hanging on its faded white painted walls, almost every passer-by attempts to get his head in and see what it is all about. That is the real disturbance and technically the best advertisement as well.
In one of the ‘classroom’ corners stands a rack stuffed with charts and a few books. When the class begins, the children, falling between 4-10 age group, sit on the floor of the class in a semicircle with their teacher in the middle. Then the teaching starts.
Their teacher Gulam Mohiuddin Mir, 60, has a flowing white beard. A resident of Veer village, Mir is a retired lecturer who earlier served in the State Institute of Education.
Mir is an expert Calligrapher. All his five sons are in business and all his three daughters are married and settled. He has decided to take time and impart the training of good writing and sketch making to the students.
Mir has not learnt the art of Calligraphy from any particular college or any university. In fact, the State Academy of Art, Culture and Languages that was running a 3-year course of calligraphy has closed the project as there are no takers after the computer took over the newsroom.
Mir picked up calligraphy from his ancestors who were also practising the art. Mir said he belongs to a Zaildaar family and all his ancestors including his father practised this art. “It was their hobby and not a source of income,” Mir said.
Calligraphy part, Mir said he also knows Oil painting and signboard making. Besides, he also used to make models of different things like a human skeleton, the solar system and many other things by using Plaster of Paris (POP).
Mir is so passionate about his hobbies that soon after his retirement, he spent most of his time practising calligraphy. When Mir realised that he is the only remaining calligrapher of his district and after his death, this beautiful art could vanish, he hired a shop in Uranhaal in October 2017 and turned it into a classroom and started teaching calligraphy to school going children.
“It just gave me a serious tension that the art of calligraphy will die with me in the area so I wanted to keep it alive,” Mir said.
Every day when the children from the nearby villages return from their schools, they flock to attend Mir’s class. Mir has brought small sheets of ply which the children use as cardboard. When the class starts every student puts a chart on the ply sheet and then Mir starts guiding them to pick up the art of calligraphy. Few plastic boxes, containing hundreds of sketch pens, always lie in front of the students which they use to colour the words they draw. There are reed pens as well, abundantly seen on the floor.
“I teach my students how to write with these red pens by using ink because it is the best way for anyone to gain a command on Urdu writing,” Mir said. “If I find any of my students weak in Urdu writing, I advise him/her to write with the red pen as its flat, slightly slanting tip is suitable for Urdu writing.”
Interestingly, Mir pays for sharing his art. Entire stuff which the students use for calligraphy, including the sketch pens and the ply sheets, Mir funds it all. “Although some parents offer me money for teaching their children I hardly accept it,” Mir said.
Urdu calligraphy apart, Mir teaches his students Arabic, English, Kashmiri and Persian calligraphy as well. He believes that by practising calligraphy the students learn to write legibly.
“Apart from gaining command over the script writing of languages, the students simultaneously learn the famous quotations of the men of repute and the verses of famous poets,” Mir said. “It eventually helps in making good persons.”
In Islamic calligraphy, students are guided to write the Quranic verses. Manzoor Ahmad has his daughter learning the art from Mir. “Earlier, my daughter was weak in Urdu and English languages and she did not know even a single verse of the Holy Holy Quran,” Ahmad said. “Now she has made up her deficit in both the languages and has learnt many verses of the Holy Quran. She has also memorised some Hadith of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) as well.”
Mir is being appreciated for his work by the people of his area. He is often invited by schools, colleges, and Madrassas to guide the students in calligraphy. Not only from South and central Kashmir but he is also invited by the educational institutions located in North Kashmir to demonstrate the art of calligraphy.
“Mir is a righteous teacher and is not after money,” said Rayees Ahmad a resident of Batengoo. “He always tries his best to help his society in different ways.”
When Mir finishes his classwork and reaches home, he directly goes to his room where dozens of students from his neighbourhood keep waiting for Mir. They stay with him till dusk and benefit from his mastery over the art of calligraphy.