The digital age has infiltrated every aspect of human life and while most of us we welcome the ease and convenience that it brings, for some it heralds the end of a trade that took generations to perfect. Indian calligraphy dates back to the 2nd century when Ashoka’s rock edicts were carved to spread the teachings of Buddha, but today the number of people practising this ancient art is quickly dwindling. The few that are left can be found within the walled city of Old Delhi where they struggle to keep the traditions of Indian calligraphy alive.
The most famous of the Indian calligraphy styles is the Islamic style which can be seen on the artwork of ancient monuments such as The Taj Mahal and the Qutab Minar. Masters of this form are rarer than most, it is thought that of these calligraphers – also known as khaatibs – who once flourished throughout the country, only three are left.
There are a few schools that still specialise in the art but they’re finding it increasingly hard to attract students. Mohammed Saleem Ansari, head of Calligraphy at Madrasa Zeenat-ul-Quran in Seelampur laments at the empty seats in his classrooms. “The popularity of the art form is fast dwindling,” he told Indian Express. “It is essential for the government to take steps to promote calligraphy, or it will become extinct.”
One of the few khaatibs still practicing is Mr. Abdur Rehman, who was trained at the Ghalib Academy of Calligraphy, in Nizamuddin, in 1982 and was once plied with endless streams of people who needed his talents on everything from hand-written cards to ornately decorated Quran verses. Today, he sits at his shop at the end of Urdu Bazaar for eight hours a day hoping that his services will be needed.
If traditional calligraphy were to die out it would be a serious blow to both our country’s historical past as well as the art and cultural spheres. The government has in the past shown interest in its revival and while that is definitely a step in the right direction it is up to India’s art fraternity to pull together to ensure that we don’t lose an intricate and beautiful part of our heritage in our desperate race towards the future.