As a child I was intrigued by paintings of all hues and their accompanying signages. Primarily these comprised the mundane genre, that is, depictions of everyday life. The artist’s scribble of a signature, usually his name or pseudonym, fascinated me to no end. Growing up in a small town like Hazaribagh in forsaken Jharkhand spurred the imagination in a peculiar way.
Of particular interest to me was a character called “Jamuna painter”. He or maybe she, was all over the place. On the rear of cycle rickshaws, and the walls of “paan” shops, his creations were omnipresent. The motifs, images and general elements in the paintings were commonplace and his repertoire was obviously limited. A peacock craning its neck was the most popular design. It featured everywhere and had a pride of place among rickshaw pullers. Some of them even considered it auspicious and a harbinger of good times. The signature of “Jamuna painter” was prominently etched in Hindi at the right hand bottom of any painting supposedly labored by him.
One day, my curiosity could hold no longer and I decided to round him up for a meeting. On making inquires, I came upon this strange truth: Jamuna painter was no living painter but a phantom name being used by anybody in the business. An old hand at this genre of paintings informed me that generations ago some painter hit upon this pen-name and it had stuck. Probably his apprentice would have used the same name to get a head start in his business. Emulators had carried the tradition forward till it became a powerful local brand.
Today, in the hurly burly of Delhi, the concept of “Jamuna painter” is alive and thriving. Aren’t those corner Aggarwal Sweets Shops and Bikanervala namkeens the extension of the same concept? These local brands sell irrespective of the authenticity of their lineage. Even the spelling variants of these local brands don’t make much of a difference to anybody. Some of them even put up boards to clarify that they are the “original”! Especially in Chandni Chowk, it is difficult to ascertain which the true blue Ghantewala’s sweet shop is.
Other parts of the country have their own set of “Jamuna painter” brands. For instance, Kolkata has a long list of PC Sorcars or “K Lal” magicians and KC Dass Rassogollas.
If endurance is the name of the game, then surely Jamuna painter has endured the test of time. Long live Jamuna painter and his tribe!