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Rediscovering the ancient Indian art of handwriting

Posted on Sep 05, 12:25PM | IANS

In the age of iPads and electronic notebooks, a NGO is promoting the art of writing with the aim of resdiscovering the "great civilizational history" of India involving ancient scripts.

Through its Akshara: Crafting Indian Scripts exhibition starting Sep 16 in the capital, a six-day event will highlight the importance of "Saaksharta" (literacy) throughout India with the help of craftsmen. It will cover 14 Indian languages covering 16 states and 58 crafts people.

"The idea of Akshara began with the knowledge that crafts people are not widely literate and feel a lack of selfworth when the world around them is going the English-speaking and computer way," Jaya Jaitly, president of the Dastkari Haat Samiti, told IANS.

"Also, we have a great civilizational history involving scripts. We have 22 official languages and hundreds of dialects. However, we do not do much to respect and preserve them as an important part of our culture.

"Combining these two aspects I thought of exploring letters, scripts and calligraphy through the many wonderful skills possessed by our crafts people. The entire Akshara programme expresses these efforts," she added.

Over 100 commissioned and curated arts, crafts and textiles carrying letters, scripts and alphabets created by using 21 different craft skills will be on display during the exhibition.

The items on display include the last hand-written newspaper in the world, produced in Chennai; stoles with calligraphy; jewellery with letters; painted cupboards, screens and wall panels.

The event will also see the launch of an art book called "Crafting Indian Scripts", highlighting the use of the Indian scripts on crafts in the past, cataloguing the exhibits of the Akshara exhibition, and honouring calligraphers of the open space who paint walls and film posters.

The book is co-authored by Jaya Jaitly and Subrata Bhowmick.

"Calligraphy is popular in Chinese, Japanese and Arabic languages. People around the world are paying attention to calligraphy and feel nostalgic about the art of writing. Islamic calligraphers have wonderful shows of their art works. I want our languages to achieve the same level of creativity and interest," said Jaitly.

"We have a vast range of over five million manuscripts to be documented, many of which contain calligraphy. Now the literacy levels of China and India are low at 52 percent. Why did we let this happen is the question," she added.

A film on combining choreography and calligraphy with dancers Navtej Johar and Justin McCarthy and calligrapher Rajeev Kumar in it will be shown. It is a "jugalbandi" between bharatanatyam dancers and a calligrapher to explore links between the body and the pen.

Angarag Mahanta, an Assamese folk singer, is expected to perform during the exhibition.

When asked if the exhibition will travel to other cities, Jaitly said that she would "love to show it in Paris where Unesco can see our effort at preserving cultures and languages".

"They have a special programme on this and would surely be interested to see what India can do. As long as we have enlightened sponsors the exhibition is designed for travel. Japan and China have both crafts and calligraphy. I want them to know we can match the best of them. In India if we are invited I am ready to go to all the big cities as our own people would love to see what we have done with their regional languages," she added.