Mission Delhi - Manoj, Pragati Maidan

Mission Delhi – Manoj, Pragati Maidan

Mission Delhi - Manoj, Pragati Maidan

One of the one percent in 13 million.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Its construction began in May 1639, it was completed almost a decade later in April 1648–Old Delhi’s Lal Qila, the seat of the Mughals.

This Lal Qila is in New Delhi and it is getting completed in mere two days. Manoj is giving finishing touches to the monument.

“I am,” he says matter-of-factly, responding to a query if he is an artist. Attired for the intensely humid afternoon in workday shorts and T-shirt, the Faridabad dweller’s current studio happens to be a roadside pave near Bharat Mandapam in Pragati Maidan. The canvas is an outer wall of a busy underpass, the road underneath echoing with the steady hum of traffic sounds.

Manoj has been commissioned by an art academy to paint the entire stretch of the wall with Delhi’s UNESCO world heritage monuments. “Yesterday I completed Humayun Tomb.” He waves his brush-holding hand towards the adjacent painting. (The original Humayun Tomb was completed over eight years). Working on the site for two days, Manoj hopes to complete the job in a few more days. “I started the Lal Qila last evening.”

Smiling lightly, he says, “I never miss a chance to visit Delhi’s monuments.. been inside the Red Fort many times” He pauses to critically stare at his work-in-progress. “I’m not making this Lal Qila from memories of it alone… in monumental drawings, you have to consult references so that every single detail is accurate.”

Manoj’s Lal Qila shows the Red Fort’s most recognisable aspect: the outer ramparts with Lahori Gate at the centre, where the Prime Minister delivers his annual Independence Day speech. The detailing includes the national flag, too. “I have to make two more world heritages… Delhi has four… Qutub Minar bhi hain, Jantar Mantar bhi hain.”

Lal Qila’s interiors were severely damaged during the uprising of 1857, but is still left with many exquisitely beautiful structures within. Naturally, they cannot be represented in this drawing, which focuses on the façade of the palace-fort.

Meanwhile, the afternoon is becoming cloudier. It might rain any moment. Manoj continues to work. He had arrived at 12 and will work until seven in the evening. Responding to a query, he remarks that he makes his living through his art. “My most recent exhibition was held in Lalit Kala.”

Minutes pass. Manoj starts to apply his brush on the sky above his Lal Qila (see photo). The depiction is accurate only upto a point. This is smoggy Delhi after all, the sky is never this blue.

[This is the 584th portrait of Mission Delhi project]