Reviving An Art

Caught by immobility dictated by situation and pandemic, a number of girls started reviving the forgotten art of calligraphy and some of them were so encouraged by the response that they are about to convert their passion into profession using social media as the platform, reports Urvat il Wuska

Safura with her creation on the banks of Dal lake in Srinagar. Image: Special arrangement

Everything is a flip side. During the lockdown enforced by Covid19, when people were restricted to their homes, some youngsters turned towards various creative arts. This precisely was aimed at releasing the stress. This, however, helped some of them to rediscover the abilities they thought they do not possess.

A group of young girls started calligraphy. When they put their artworks on various social media platforms, they got instant recognition. Encouraged, a few of them started their small scale business by selling their artworks. This phenomenon led to the literal revival of calligraphy art at a time when technology and writing software had pushed the art to oblivion.

An Entrepreneur Rises

Munaza, 23, who lives in Srinagar old city, is one of these ‘lockdown’ artists. She is pursuing masters in journalism. A self-taught Arabic, Persian and modern English calligrapher, she is making frames and writes beautifully on diverse frames including T-shirts, mugs, walnut wooden plates and canvases. She is the second alcohol ink artist in Kashmir. These Alcohol-based inks are highly pigmented inks that require isopropyl alcohol (IPA) for dilution. Its use requires a special craft.

“I use either Ranger Adirondack alcohol ink, Jacquard Pinata inks, or a Copic marker refill,” Munaza said. “These are dye-based with either isopropyl alcohol or denatured alcohol.  They come in many colours. There are of course other brands that are available from art stores and online.”

Munaza has been into calligraphy for years but converted it into a small business only in 2020. “I do calligraphy part-time since I have another full-time job, but if Allah wills I will turn this hobby into a profession in future,” she said.

When the clients smile over the artwork, Munaza said it is a price well paid. Costs apart, prayers and blessings come as an added incentive.

“Calligraphy has some rules, some definitions and a link to spirituality because of the Arabic language. It is just not about designing alone, it’s about each stroke in a letter and if you need your strokes to be right you need to have the right tool which is your Qalam (the pen),” she said.

Munaza’s journey from an artist to an entrepreneur has been a roller coaster ride. She had not expected the response that she got from people, especially the female folk. “I was flooded with orders just after a month of starting and it was overwhelming for me”, Munaza said.

Not New

In Kashmir, calligraphy is not a new concept in writing art. Calligraphy, according to an Archaeological Survey of India publication, was introduced to Kashmir by the scholar saint Sharif-ud-Din Bulbul in the fourteenth century. However, it was the Mughal era during which the art of calligraphy flourished. The era produced many artists like Muhamad Husain who served in Akbar’s court known as Zarin Kalam (golden pen) and Muhammad Murad popularly known as Shirin Kalam (sweet pen). Ali Chaman was another noted calligrapher of Mughal period.

Certain histories suggest the Kashmiri calligraphers invented an irremovable indelible ink during Mughal period. Yaqub Muhammad, the son of famous calligrapher Murad Kashmiri who excelled in the Kufi style, even compiled a book on calligraphy.

In Kashmir the art has its traditional significance also as the Ayahs from the Quran can be seen written on the walls of shrines and mosques. Some of the faithful even get the beautifully written texts as wall hangings as a good omen.

Not Alone

Munaza is not alone in self-discovery as a calligrapher. There is Farah Deeba, hailing from Insafabad, Bandipora, who has barely moved out from a college as a contractual lecturer. She used to copy the Quran manuscript in her childhood. So after completing her studies she took admission in online courses in Kufic calligraphy and then completed another online course,  Tuhlut calligraphy from Mumbai based calligraphy institute, Qalamaurkagaz and from BCI (Bangladesh Calligraphy Institute).

Farah is at work. Image: Special Arrangement

“Whenever I did calligraphy of Quranic Ayah in, my parents always appreciated me,” Farah said. “They motivated me so much for this that I used to spend more and more time with it. Their motivation made me realise that I can be a good calligrapher.”

Calligraphy has been her passion but she said if she would get a chance to take this art as a profession, she will gladly do it. Calligraphy is as good a stress reducer as meditation maybe. “Being at home was not easy but I got benefited from the lockdown as  I got ample time to practice calligraphy,” she said.

What she regrets, however, is the lack of required infrastructure. “We have no place or gallery to display our work. There is no government institution here where calligraphy is taught. So I took a course in Kufic calligraphy. But only this will not help. It needs an initiative from the government itself,” Farah said.

During the lockdown, Farah displayed some artwork on social networking sites and got a good response. Since then, she is getting orders from people either for drawing a Quranic Ayah or their name.

Farah loves the feeling that her art frames are part of the peoples’ routine lives, hanging on their walls. She hopes one day she will open an academy to teach calligraphy. She, however, insists that calligraphers must have a good teacher.

A Spiritual Connect

In Srinagar, Azha Qureshi, a civil engineering student, also started calligraphy as her hobby. Months later, she wants to take it as her profession because she believes, it helped her to get more spiritual and reduced her stress. Azha was always praised for her writing skills in school. In a lockdown, she decided to write the Quranic ayahs., knowing that Kashmir is the land of art and artisans.

Azha in her workstation with her art works. Image: Special Arrangement

“I love writing Quran verses as it makes me happy and I sleep peacefully after that,” Azha said. “My journey in this field has just started and I want it to be never-ending.”

Admitting that she can earn with this God gifted art using social media, Azha suggest the government must organise exhibitions so that they can showcase their talent on a big platform.

Taking To Next Level

Safura Hameed, 23, from Badamwari Srinagar is Kashmir’s first 3D calligrapher. Interested in creative art for a long time, she started calligraphy in 2018, despite being a student of electronics and communication. She was always lacking time because she is part of the network security engineering of a Bangaluru company but when lockdown forced its immobilisation, the self-taught artist put in efforts and time in calligraphy.

“I would not call myself a calligrapher yet. The actual meaning of a calligrapher is way more complex in terms of understanding the terminology behind the art,” Safura said. “I am a budding calligrapher.”

Safura believes the calligraphy is a stress buster that gives her peace of mind and calms the chaos within. “It gives me a sense of satisfaction – patience and peace. It helps me in becoming a better person.”

One artwork by Munazah, who is hiding behind her creation while holding it. Image: Special Arrangement

Starting with traditional calligraphy, Safura and then moved to 3D Calligraphy. During a lockdown when she gained a good hold on her qalam and material she started to get a lot of orders. “There is not much scope for this art in Kashmir society,” Safura regrets. “There are only a few people who understand the art and the artist’s way of expression.”

Art blindness is a crisis. Sharing her own experience, Safura said when people fail to understand the time, concept and efforts behind a piece of art, she ends up buying cheap replicas.

From Ball Point To Pen

Sumyla Yaqoob hails from Tangmarg and she was interested, unlike her parents, in art from her childhood. However, she would find ways and means to chase her hobby.

During the lockdown, Sumyla revived her interest full time and started making sketches and posting them on Instagram. The response led her family to appreciate their daughter’s capacity.

“I first started writing with bold pens and didn’t know if I could be able to make it or not because it was my first attempt,” Sumyla said. “Later, I started using qalams and continued doing calligraphy with good response from almost everyone.”

Sumyla Yaqoob with her works at her residence. Pic: Special Arrangement

Expert Speaks

Mohammad Ashraf Tak, an editor at the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages said it takes years to become a calligrapher.

“When Amir-e-Kabir visited Kashmir he was accompanied by some calligraphers. Most of them settled here and played important role in promoting this art that led to the establishment of the Kashmir school of calligraphy,” Tak said. The Academy was running a calligraphy school for decades but off late it was not getting a required number of candidates.

Iqbal Ahmad, a former Curator at SPS Museum Srinagar the art is declining with the advent of technology but the new age artists are trying to revive it.

“It was because of this popularity of calligraphy art in Kashmir, that Kashmir possesses a rich repository of manuscripts and epigraphs in various calligraphy styles,” Ahmad said. “During the modern ages the Urdu press, Urdu, Persian and Arabic book writers played a vital role in the promotion of calligraphy skill.”

Ahmad said the Academy had been conducting calligraphy learning classes for the last several years. He regretted there is no innovation.“Rajasthan is famously known for Matka ice cream and the Matka is coloured with the traditional designs. It shows how they have infused their culture with ice cream, the same is not with the Kashmiri,” Ahmad said. “We used to have pots in which we used to eat Wazwan about ten to twenty years back but now we have resorted to disposable plates at the cost of our culture.”

“In this age driven by digitisation and technology, this unprotected epigraphic heritage needs to be cared for and conserved properly so that these sources of our economic, cultural and literary history are preserved for the generations to come,” suggests

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