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Cop who sees beauty in letters

He is a policeman in love with “letters” — or, to be more precise, forming beautiful letters. Manoj Sharma reports.

delhi Updated: Nov 24, 2012 23:27 IST
Manoj Sharma

He is a policeman in love with “letters” — or, to be more precise, forming beautiful letters. Delhi police assistant sub-inspector PP Shyamalan, who is posted at the control room at Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor’s house in the Civil Lines is a calligrapher of repute and has been named in the Limca Book of Records for writing on the most greeting cards in an hour.

He is much sought-after for writing on greeting and invitation cards and commendation letters issued by the Delhi police. He also organises free calligraphy workshops for children.

“Calligraphy, which is an ancient art form, is almost dead, but there are people who like to personally write on invitation and greeting cards. Many seek the services of professional calligraphers to do so. A printout of a message fails to make an emotional connect,” says Shyamalan, adding, “I often write leave application for my colleagues, they never get rejected,” he laughs.

Shyamalan, who does not divulge much about his life as a policeman, says he is an officer on the job and an artist at home. “When I am wearing khaki, I am a policeman first and think, act and behave like one. But after duty, I am an artist and spend at least three hours a day practising my art. I am as much a policeman as a calligrapher,” says Shyamalan, adding, “Creating good calligraphy is about great penmanship. It is about how a stroke is made, how to write serifs and build the letter form. A lot depends on the angle at which you hold the pen and move it on the paper. It only comes with practice,” says Shyamalan.

Shyamalan can do calligraphy in over a dozen fonts in English, with monotype italics being his favourite font. He also likes to work with the old English font, which, he says, is the most difficult to draw free hand. “It is always in demand as it has an engraving look and a historic feel to it,” he says.

Shyamalan claims to have created a new English font, which he calls Leela, after his late mother. “She taught me to write artistically in Malayalam, my mother tongue. It was much later that I learnt writing in English,” says Shyamalan. His moment of glory as a calligrapher came in 2011 when he was named in the Limca Book of Records for writing in calligraphy on the most greeting cards — 80 in an hour. He hopes to break the record soon. “Recently, I wrote in calligraphy on 261 greeting cards in an hour,” says Shyamalan, who is also popular among other calligraphers in the city and often consulted by graphic experts. “Many of them do not know that I am a policeman,” he laughs.

Shyamalan has been honoured by several organisations, including the Delhi Malayalee Association, for his contribution to calligraphy. “But being felicitated in my village was my happiest moment. It so happened that local newspapers carried the news of my writing on 261 greeting cards in an hour. The villagers read it and they organised an event in my honour,” says Shyamalan, showing us photographs of events at which he was honoured.

On holidays, he spends time conducting workshops at community events in the city to help children improve their handwriting. “These days, children have nearly illegible handwriting. The increasing use of ball pen is largely to blame. Besides, teachers prefer to dictate lessons to students in the class instead of writing them on the blackboard and expect children to take down dictations fast. Their handwriting suffers in the process,” he says.

He considers his wife, a science teacher, his biggest critic. “She is the one who helped me iron out a few glitches in calligraphy, especially with regard to spaces between the letters,” says Shyamalan, who has over a dozen chisel-cut nibs, his tools as a calligrapher. A calligrapher, says the policeman, should be able to choose the right font, style and colours for the right occasion. Did he ever feel like giving up his job to take up calligraphy full-time. “Not really. I love the thrill and challenge of being a policeman. Besides, I do not think I could have supported my family as a calligrapher.

He writes cards in bulk and put them up for exhibition. “I donate the proceeds to an orphanage.”