Mission Delhi – Sarju Gihara, Mehrauli Road
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Like the pages of an art-gallery coffee table book, the pavement wall consists of a series of hand-drawn paintings. One shows a woman peeking out from behind her veil. Nearby, with a setting sun in the background, a woman is sitting on a seaside cliff while a man in glasses gazes towards the viewer. Who can these people be? What is their story?
“There is no story,” says Sarju Gihara, the painter. In his 20s, he has drawn these panels on the boundary wall of Gurgaon’s Government Industrial Training Institute in the Greater Delhi Region. His painting stall, crammed up with paint cans and brushes, stands on the pavement facing the busy Mehrauli Road. Slim and solemn, Mr Gihara has brooding eyes and a soothing voice. His calm face evokes the immense patience that artists cultivate during long sittings, working on a same canvass for hours or even for days.
“I actually saw two separate images on the newspaper, they fascinated me and I put them together,” he says, referring to the panel with no story.
There are other art works, too, along the wall. And next to his stall, on a single wooden frame, the introspective portraits of two men draw the attention —“this is me, and this is my friend Ramu.”
Mr Gihara now takes out his mobile and scrolls through pictures of the works he executed as assignments for a handful of institutions in the city. One is a wall-sized Taj Mahal in a government school. He is blushing with shyness, as if showing off wasn’t part of his nature.
“I’m not para-likha (literate),” he clarifies without any prompt. But he has painted the word ‘painter’ in Hindi in many places along the wall. “A friend wrote it for me on a sheet of paper, and I simply drew the alphabets, as I would have drawn people or nature.”
Mr Gihara’s father, a native of Badaun in UP, has been running a bamboo blinds stall on this same footpath, a bit farther away, for years. “I’ve spent my whole life here,” Mr Gihara says. Gesturing towards the roadside, he mutters that “this whole stretch is my childhood.”
While well-versed in his father’s profession, the young man’s passion lies in drawing and painting, and it has been so since his early years. Like many artists, he is trying to earn through his art. He also paints shop hoardings and sign boards on commission.
His father used to paint too, but gave that up after his marriage. Mr Gihara will never do that, he says. “My dream is to become a kabildar (talented) painter and earn through my abilities… I’m nowhere near it, but I’m trying.”
[This is the 383rd portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Artist by the road