I was on my way to Puri- the temple town of Orissa. The night train started perfectly on time and as passengers were getting ready for the night’s sleep after dinner the train stopped. It was middle of nowhere and nothing could be seen outside. For almost an hour there was no movement of the train which made people started to speculate uncountable types of theories. We were starting to lose our patience and a few gentlemen started to complain to the attendant of our compartment. The poor fellow was equally clueless like everyone else. The RPF guys were making routine patrols but were not ready to share any information. As we’re starting to fear of something dangerous, the train started to roll but only for a few minutes. When it stopped again, it was a lonely village station outside – this was some relief for us. At first, we thought things are normal and the train will start anytime but then a tea-porter arrived with the information that the train will not move anytime soon. We all went outside on the platform and there was an announcement on the loudspeaker – due to the bombing on the railway track on our route, all trains have been suspended. a group of people tried to approach the station master or anybody on the enquiry section – there were none. In fact, these stations are not a scheduled stoppage for any of the long distance trains and thus, nobody stays there on the nights.
I felt sorry for myself. After so many years, I finally planned a trip to puri but the journey now was in total disarray. There was no chance for the train to start before dawn and there will be many trains waiting before this one so all schedules will be changed. If I stay on this train, I will not be able to return on time. I took my backpack along because it was risky to keep it inside. I started walking inside the station building – it was dark and before the arrival of the train it was totally deserted. The name of the station written on the benches read – ‘Balichak’. I walked towards the exit gate. There was no one on the road but I could hear a music. It was a radio playing old Hindi songs. I followed the music and saw a small tea stall nearby. A shabby looking stall with an earthen oven, few dirty benches and, stacked in order, a series of glass jars filled with cookies of various shapes and sizes – in India we generalise all of them and call them Biscuits. The owner was seating and was not expecting any customer at this hour. He was lighting the oven and was probably planning to boil the eggs.
The passengers of the morning train come as early as 4 o-clock and the preparation for that starts hours before that. He asked me to sit and put the kettle on then oven. He was sure I would be having a cup of tea. His shop was extremely poorly lit with a single bulb but despite the darkness, my eyes fell on a fantastic painting. It was the painting of the Leela of Lord Krishna. Krishna in blue was at the centre of the picture Gopis were painted around him. The greens in the background suggested that it was Vrindaban. I was amused. It was hand drawn and I had absolutely no idea about what was it. I asked Mr Debdulal, the shop owner, about it and he said with no surprise that it was a Patachitra and almost all houses and shops here have these in plenty. He said there is a village nearby where most of the people are engaged in this art and they are living on that. I have heard about Patachitra but never saw one. This was a gem – a hidden art of Bengal.
I made my mind – I knew it right then – the dots were connected. The sopping of the train was for a purpose – it was taking me to a totally unknown world – the world of the Patuas – the painters of the Patachitra- I just had to say Yes. It was still sometime before the sun will come fully. I said to Mr Debdulal that I will go there. He was happy to know that. He said, the first bus will come by 6:00 am and till then, I can wait in his shop. He showed me the corner bench inside and asked me to get some sleep there. I couldn’t sleep at all. The thought of the night kept on coming to my mind. How my plan got completely changed and how I was about to explore something I never planned of. It was like a #TheBlindList that was taking me to a blind date with the world. The fun of an unplanned exploration kept me awake all the time. As soon as the bus arrived, Mr Debdulal called me. I jumped on the bus and bid a goodbye to him. It took about half an hour to reach ‘Naya’ – the village of ‘Patachitra’.
From outside, it was no different from any other village in the state. There was no bus stop but a giant banyan tree is used as the bus stop. A few elders were seated under the tree who were chatting among themselves. They spotted the outsider on me and asked me to come closer. I understood that a lot of people come to see their village and they are quite pleased to see visitors. The elders had a small chat with me about my hometown and all and they directed me to a yellow building where I may get refreshed and have something to eat. The shop is run by a Patua – Abinash Chitrakar and I saw that two female members of his family already started working.
After having my breakfast at Abinash’s shop I headed towards the office of Chitrataru. It is a artisans cluster formed by about 300 Patuas and these cluster has done a remarkable job in promoting and marketing their products to the world. The members, Mantu Chitrakar, Manu Chitrakar and Anowar Chitrakar were preparing for the days work. They said that almost half of their members are females but they generally come late after finishing off the works at home. Some of their lead members were visiting Delhi for a workshop. This was great to know that these artists have reached so far and at the same time, I was upset that we don’t get much exposure to their work in Kolkata despite being so close to us. Patachitra of Naya has received Geographic Indication (GI) Tag for being an indigenous and excellent form of art exclusive in this area.
Anowar explained to me that there are three main types of authentic Patachitra; 1. ‘Gotano Pat’ or reel Pat is more like a photo album where 10-15 pictures are painted in a series to narrate a story. 2. ‘Aarelatai Pat’ or rolled Pat is a large size picture which is rolled and 3. ‘Chouko Pat’ or Square Pat where the picture is drawn on a smaller square canvas. Though the artisans have started to introduce modern themes in their art the main subjects or stories have remained same – the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Mangalkavya (medieval Bengali literature), the Krishna Leela. The Patachitras have traditionally been used by the folk singers who narrated these stories through melodious songs and with that, they show the Patachitras – a kind of cinema in the rural Bengal.
He also explained that the colours they use are all organic and they themselves make these colours from plants and other natural ingredients. To increase its longevity & stickiness, they add plant extracts with the colours. Anowar took me to a corner of their cluster where two young girls were making colours.
I spent the whole day around the village. All the houses of the village are engaged in this fascinating art. The village have both Hindu and Muslim population though they all have the same surname – Chitrakar. The earthen floors of the huts of Naya are creating some of the most precious masterpieces of arts. The artform which was once popular in the entire region is now concentrated in only one village and it is always a concern that the future generations might not follow the legacy. Because of the pressure from the market, Patachitra hs diversified itself a lot – now you can see Patachitra on Sari, Salwar, T-shirts which is not authentic but this has helped these artists to live a better life.
With all praises and a bagful of Patachitra, I returned back. The sorrow of missing on my Puri trip was totally gone and I was amazed by this enriching experience. The joy of exploring the world around us truly has no match – #SayYesToTheWorld and Enjoy.
How to Reach: Unless your train suddenly stops at Balichak you have to get a local train from Howrah. From there you can take a bus.
Special Attraction: Patachitra Fair is organised in November every year. The 2018 edition of it will be held between 16-18 November.