No Flight of Fancy

Kolkata artist involves Santhal tribesmen to revive India’s long lost art form of rock carving by sculpting an 800ft Purulia hill with images of birds and animals, finds out Jimmy Arora

Veteran artist Chitta Dey has been involved in a virtual romance with mountains for nearly three decades. He has been busy in imparting life to the solid piece of rocks that have been standing lifeless and motionless for over 250 million years in Purulia district of West Bengal. Day has been carving out a mountain of birds (Paki Pahar in Bengali) at the idyllic Matha forest range of Ayodha Hills in Purulia, over 300 km from Kolkata.

The hills with chiseled out birds and animals giving the universal message of peace and harmony have become the most sought after destination for tourists from Bengal and also from the neighbouring states who flock here in large numbers every year. The visitors are left speechless by the singleminded dedication and passion of a man who was greeted with euphemism of being “crazy and insane’ by his colleagues, well-wishers and even in the corridors of power, till a few years ago.

The alumni of the prestigious Government Art College in Kolkata, who had just Rs 12 in his pocket when he vowed to chisel a mountain, has now given employment to over two dozen local youths who are involving in chiseling the mountain. “Since childhood, I had a proclivity towards drawing and art. I used to draw on whatever I could lay my hands upon. Be it a paper, cardboard or anything. It was my passion. I was preferred by our neighbours for decorating puja pandals and also by my friends for completing their drawing projects” he chuckles. Sitting in the forest range surrounded by boulders and mountain carved out by his team, he says becoming an artist
was the most difficult and risky decision of his life. “Ours was a lower middle class family. It was very difficult for my father to run the daily expenses and feed the family of eight. It was even difficult for my dad to buy new clothes for us during Durga Puja, which is the biggest festival of Bengal. We wore whatever we had,” he recalls. In 1979, he took admission in the prestigious Government Art College in a five-year diploma course in painting. The admission fee of Rs 96 was paid by doing art work. “Initially, the monthly fee was Rs 4, which was later increased to Rs 6. I managed it doing some work with the local theatre, ” Dey says, adding, “At first, I didn’t tell my family about the admission as they would have thrown me out of the house. It was during my course that I learnt about the minutes of sculpting. There were days when I walked 4-5 km from home to reach college as the income from theatre was not regular.”

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