Twenty-six year old Meena Uike’s husband died in a road accident just four months after her marriage in 2009. Within that short period, Meena’s husband taught her the basics of Gond painting and, in the process, gave her not only a lifelong passion but a livelihood as well.
Meena earned Rs 70,000 by selling the paintings over the past one year and used the money for her five-year-old daughter's education.
Welcome to Patangarh, the village of legendary Gond painter Jangan Singh Shyam where every family has at least one painter and everything revolves around art.
In the 1980s, Jagdish Swaminathan, a leading artist, painter, poet and writer, met Jangan Shyam and invited him to Bhopal to work on a series on paper and canvas – a creation that occupies today a pride of place at Bharat Bhawan.
Jangan Shyam’s exploits set off a revolution of sorts in this once hardscrabble village, which now has about four dozen painters who have made a name in Gond painting.
Motivated by this early success, Patangarh, a village with about 1,200 people, has engaged itself in painting. Most of the painters use acrylic and water colours.
“My husband draws the sketch and I paint. The market value of one painting is between Rs 5,000 to Rs 25,000,” said Jyoti Shyam, an agricultural labouer and wife of Rajesh Shyam, a young painter.
The couple started painting four years back. “I mostly work in (the) afternoon on painting depending upon the tranquility. It all depends on moods and sitting,” Jyoti said, returning after a day’s work in the fields.
But what many in this village still lack is proper training and grooming and, most importantly, a steady market, the lack of which threatens to kill off a once-flourishing art.
Most of the villagers said they are not exposed to the market in comparison to some painters who went to bigger cities.
"The government should provide us (the) market. Our paintings are not selling. Earlier, Tribal Co-operative Marketing Development Federation of India (TRIFED) used to purchase our painting but for (the) last nine months they have not purchased from us," said Ummed Singh Patta, 33, a labourer and a painter.
"I am totally dependent on the painting to run my family and I have not sold my painting for last two months."
Many painters in the village used to carry their paintings to other parts of the country.
"I have sold my painting in Chhattisgarh and Chennai but we are not getting (a) proper platform," Chandra Prakash Patta, an 18-year-old painter, told Hindustan Times.
The women of the village try to sell their paintings by forming self-help groups (SHGs), but that too has not helped much.
"Some people are making paintings out of fashion but (for) people like me it is a source of livelihood," said Meena Uike.
"The government has done nothing for the village. The villagers need camps, events and workshops which should be provided either by the state or central government," Mayank Singh Shyam, son of Jangan Singh Shyam told Hindustan Times. “The whole Gond tribal painting is in this village and people should come up to preserve it.”