Montu and Joba Chitrakar

Craftspersons/ Artisanal, Interviews, Conversations

Montu and Joba Chitrakar: Life is no scroll in the park

Majumdar, Minhazz

Montu and Joba Chitrakar, young, twenty-something couple, are at a crossroad. What should they do with the rest of their lives? What should they teach their children? Should they continue with things as they have been for hundreds of years or should they make a bold decision to break with the past? It’s not an easy dilemma to resolve for anyone, more so for them because they are no ordinary couple. Yes, they are poor and lead a difficult life, like millions of rural poor in India. However, they are also special because they are Chitrakars (traditional scroll painters and story-tellers) from West Bengal with a rich legacy, carriers of cultural customs centuries old in a rapidly changing modern world. The Bengali scroll tradition is an ancient one, featuring long vertical multi paneled scrolls known as patas (paintings) or jorana patas (rolled paintings) since the scrolls are rolled up for storage and transportation. Each panel represents a particular sequence in the story and as they are unrolled for viewing, the accompanying couplet or story is recited. Painted on sheets of paper glued at the edges to form one continuous roll, these scrolls are mounted on cloth (usually old saris) for greater strength and flexibility. In most instances, the men are the painter-performers while the women make pinched clay figurines and toys. It is not essential for all the painters to be singers, with many preferring to paint and not...
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