Thanks for small mercies

Tilak Gitai, acclaimed miniature and Phad painter, thanks the Government’s transparent selection process for his Padma Shri

“I deserved Padma Awards many years back. But I still welcome this step. I think this year the selection process was more transparent and clear. This time I applied my name through internet. The Government of India asked for the application. I had applied for Padma Awards previously also, but somehow my applications were lost.”

This is the first reaction from 68-year-old Tilak Gitai, acclaimed miniature and Phad painter, who was awarded a Padma Shri this year. “I am extremely glad that the Government is honouring me for my work. As an artist, it is the appreciation that matters, rest everything will follow. I will keep contributing to the field of art,” said Gitai. “I must add that this recognition would not have come if the whole process of nominations were not made transparent. Government must receive applause for this.” Gitai is from the second generation of royal court painters patronised by the rulers of Bikaner. His father, late Rambharose Tilak was also a master court painter and all-round craftsman. Tikal did his BFA from the University of Delhi and specialises in traditional miniature paintings, like Mughal, Rajasthani and Phad works. Just like his father, Gitai is also well-versed with several crafts. He specialises in making paintings on different surfaces, like old handmade paper, fine silk and wall murals. He is a master of restoring old miniature paintings, too. Another distinct quality of Gitai is that he makes his own colours from precious, semi-precious stones, minerals and herbs. Real gold and silver colours are made from gold and silver leaf. He also makes his own brushes from squirrel’s hairs. In fact, Gitai is quite into some dyeing arts. “Yes, that’s right. I particularly practice metal engraving, metal embossing and dye sinking. Unlike painting, metal engraving or dye sinking do not give you any chance to rectify any kind of mistake. Once it is made, you can’t change it. Also, it should be exact replica of yours just like a metal mould. It is a very tedious and tiring work,” he informs. Much sought-after for his restoration skills, Gitai says it is one of the most tedious and technical arts. “If you are restoring a painting then you should be aware of the style or the gharana of the painting. For example, if it is a Mughalia painting then you should know everything about Mughaliya style. Then you should know the colours, or kind of papers that were used during those times. It should be the same as the older one, else it won’t be of any use,” he informs. “You should have a deep knowledge and a mastery of all kinds of paintings and gharanas if you want to get into restoration work.” Talking of some memorable restoration works, he says, “I have restored many paintings. I have restored the paintings of our Governor’s House for two years. Once there was a team from Victoria Albert Museum, London, that wanted me to restore a painting from Emperor Jehangir (1569 – 1627). It had the official royal seal embossed on it along with Jehangir’s signature on it.” Gitai says that was the golden era of paintings in India as the Emperor supported and encouraged painters. “The museum representatives wanted me to restore this real painting and make an exact replica of it. They wanted to take the painting to Japan for an exhibition. These people asked me to leave the seal and signature part and said you will not be able to recreate it. I was aware of the seal making process and the kind of papers and ink that was used in that era, so I made a new seal and ink on the same kind of paper. They were so happy after seeing the result that they made a documentary on me.” Not just paintings, the all-rounder craftsman has restored sculptures also, particularly a bronze sculpture of Bheem Rao Ambedkar in Jaipur that got damaged by a crane. “Mr Wagh is a Mumbai-based sculptor who made one big bronze sculpture of Ambedkar Saheb for Jaipur. Some followers of Ambedkar ji in Jaipur did not want the sculpture to be at a given location, so to avoid hurting any sentiments, the authorities decided to relocate the sculpture,” he informs. “As ill-luck would have it, they used a crane for the work and the sculpture got damaged at many places. The authorities asked Wagh Saheb to rectify it, but he said it had to reach his Mumbai studio and the job will take some months. But the twist in the story was that the inauguration of the sculpture was scheduled by the President of India in a week’s time. The authorities then approached me and I agreed to do it. At first they did not believe me, but I told them about my requirements. They provided it and till today nobody knows about the damaged places. It is still there in Jaipur.” Readers may not be aware that Gitai has even attempted to create paintings, with all the ancient splendour of the traditional miniature art, which would sing the ragas they are portraying. “I always say I do not make painting, I paint music in it,” he says. “I actually worked on music and painting for 10 years. I have also written a book “Ragamala – The Missing Link” on the subject. I worked on many paintings and on ragas and raginis and proved it that a particular melody is coming out of my painting.” Gitai says Ragamala is an old and established genre in Indian painting and works belonging to this genre date back to the 14th-15th centuries. He says, “Ragas or musical modes have their specific intonations, time and situation; for when they are sung, they arouse specific emotions or rasas. These ragas have been given pictorial visualization in Indian miniatures – known as Ragamala Paintings. The Indian master painters personified the spirit of the ragas turning them into visual forms encompassing contemporary social and cultural environment.” He says two fine arts students even did their PHD on his book. “I inspired many European painters and they also started working on my music and painting style. My six ragas paintings are kept in New Zealand Museum.”

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