Vijay Sharma, a pahari miniature school painter based in Chamba , Himachal Pradesh was recently awarded the fourth highest civilian honour of India, the Padma Shri. The Hill Post talked to the 50 year old artist about his journey from being a creative child to a successful painter.
Tell us a little bit about your early life. Why and how did you become a painter?
My father was a driver with the HRTC and he used to take me with him to distant places. Landscapes and people were my companions because wherever I went with my father, these two elements of the Universe always surprised me, different yet strikingly similar everywhere. I was just an average student but I was good at drawing images.
I used to copy the bus routes on paper, as it is, and I had not yet started going to the school. One day my father spotted me drawing those images, you know those “Chamba-Shimla-Kangra-
At 15, I went to Banaras to learn the technical details of miniature painting and I was amazed to see the world of colours, paintings, and artists. My stay in Banaras lasted only for a week but the impressions it left on my mind are still afresh. Today when I look back, I feel that I was blessed to have a father like mine who despite being a bus driver encouraged me to draw images; otherwise I haven’t seen many people asking their kids to become painters.
Looking back, was there any turning point when you followed your heart to make a crucial decision?
At 18, I joined HRTC as a painter. Writing routes, paint buses, and that’s all I was doing, job security as you know is a dangerous thing. Two years later I realized that I am not going to do this job any more; buses will always run, with or without route boards. Fortunately I was picked by the Language and Culture Department as a conservation assistant. I stayed on the same post for quite some time. I quit the job in 1988 and I was appointed as an artist with the museum.
How did you get introduced to pahari miniature painting?
I started visiting the museum at the age of 13 and the museum stories amazed me every other day. Fine paintings done with hands and that too by the local artists were a revelation for me. I inquired about artists, their families but sadly they had given up painting long ago. They were carpenters, labourers, government officials, everything but not painters. I decided to do something and since then I have given my heart and soul to miniature paintings. I train young students because if you catch them young they learn fast. Currently I have 15-20 students who visit me in the office and at my home. I have a small library-cum-painting room where we all sit together and immerse ourselves in colours.
What are your views on the art and culture scene in India?
You cannot promote arts as profession unless you appreciate it. Akbar’s “Navratans” are famous all across the world. Akbar was a great Mughal patron of arts. Raja Sansar Chand and Maharaja Bhuri Singh also promoted arts and culture. They even used to send their kids to learn these arts so that they know about arts and culture. They understood, appreciated, and encouraged artists. Their empires were not huge, they ruled small states with limited incomes sources yet they understood the importance of promoting, preserving, and appreciating arts and culture.
In the modern world money is in abundance but appreciation is disappearing and that’s why our artists are becoming anything but not artists. Governments are ready to spend money but by just spending money you don’t make artists. As Mirza Ghalib puts is, “Hamko unse wafa ki hai ummeed, jo nahin jaante wafa kya hai”. I am doing my bit by painting myself, helping young guns to fire properly, and rest is destiny. We have Saksharta Mission in India. I think we need one Arts & Culture Missions as well.
You have now got the prestigious Padma Shree award. How will this recognition help?
Awards help a great deal. Painting is not a profession like engineering or medicine so we need awards and recognition more than anyone else. Did you know about me before I had won the National Award? That’s my answer to this question. Awards help a great deal, they sure do but they are not the bottom-line. The bottom-line is dedication, hard work, and patience. Patience is a virtue and those who earn it get the highest reward of satisfaction.
How do you plan to channelize the Padma Shree Award and recognition?
I paint frequently. The last one month, since I have won the award, kept me away from my library and painting room. But now the frenzy is over and I am going back to basics. I carry my paintbrush to my office and paint whenever I get a chance. I have also authored books; ten or so. I have decided to use this award as a launch pad to promote Himachali Arts, especially the Chamba Arts and Crafts. Now I have a tag attached to my name, which can surely help me to groom young talent and bring back life to the dying colours of this great art.