Maneka Gandhi: Treating animals is more important than having something on the wall | art and culture | Hindustan Times
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Maneka Gandhi: Treating animals is more important than having something on the wall

Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi is selling her rare mica art collection for her true love — animal welfare.

art and culture Updated: Mar 24, 2018 14:48 IST
Henna Rakheja
Henna Rakheja
Hindustan Times
Politician and activist Maneka Gandhi shows two of the mica miniature paintings from her collection, which she is selling to raise money for the animal hospitals under her organisation, People for Animals.
Politician and activist Maneka Gandhi shows two of the mica miniature paintings from her collection, which she is selling to raise money for the animal hospitals under her organisation, People for Animals. (Amal KS/HT)

One may find objects of art in a public figure’s home or workplace, to be mere showpieces. It, therefore, comes as a surprise when Maneka Gandhi — Union Minister for Women and Child Development — reveals a stack of mica miniature paintings stowed in a cardboard box in her office. “These are very fragile and almost totally unheard of. The reason is because the British made them only for tourism purposes. So, these would only go abroad, and were never sold in India,” says Gandhi, as she opens her treasure trove of the lesser-known art form from 19th century India.

I saw them with somebody in India, and fell in love with them immediately. Then I started collecting them,” says Gandhi, unable to recollect when she first found about the rare beauties. However, she says, “I did read up on them, the little that was available. And then, we just kept waiting [to buy]… Sometimes you get ikka-dukka (one or two). Sometimes, somebody is coming from abroad [and] then you spread the word around saying ki jab ayenge tab mujhe de dena (when you manage to source them, give it to me).”

A mica miniature painting from the collection of Maneka Gandhi.

It took a long time to build a collection of 200 paintings, which are created on transparent mica sheets and largely portray Indian tradesmen and their costumes, and sometimes depict scenes from traditional festivals. For details on the paintings, one can write to shilpakbhargav@gmail.com.

It’s said that mica was chosen as a base to paint in the era between the 1820s and the 1850s because paper was expensive. But, Gandhi explains, “Mica miniature paintings were developed because this was an area where mica was available. So, they (the artisans) decided to make an art form out of it. Somebody, I suppose, in the British administration realised that this could be made beautiful. And at that time glass painting had been taught to us by the Chinese. There was a strong Chinese movement for glass paintings in Kerala, Karnataka, even in Lucknow they had moved in… Like glass painting, this is also painted from the back.”

“I enjoy art without a sense [that] this has to belong to me. I collect it because otherwise kahan jayega, rul jayega (it will get wasted). I sell it because for me, treating animals is more important than having something on the wall. And I enjoy both parts of it; they are both based on love.” — Maneka Gandhi

The paintings are displayed at 14 Ashoka Road, Delhi, and Gandhi has decided to sell them to raise funds for her organisation, People for Animals (PFA). One wonders why. “I enjoy art without a sense [that] this has to belong to me. I collect it because otherwise kahan jayega, rul jayega (it will get wasted). For me, treating animals is more important than having something on the wall. And I enjoy both parts of it — both are based on love,” says Gandhi, who has always had a keen eye for art. “As a child, I was told ‘You have to be curious about everything.’”

“It’s a labour of love… And I don’t know [for] how many years. But it’s not the only one. I collect lots of little things. And then whenever I need money for the hospital, I sell them because I have 36 (veterinary) hospitals, with the 37th coming up in Raipur (Chattisgarh). We always need money. So, I combine my personal taste for art of any kind because I’m intensely interested in anything to do with India, or Indian heritage,” she says.

However, adds Gandhi, “The sense of belonging is less. I collect them and they’ll go to somebody, or get sold. People for Animals is well known because we have been having these art shows from ’87 onwards. Sometimes, we sell Raja Ravi Varma oleographs, sometimes it’s all [the works of] ceramists of India. We pick up things that nobody knows about, and then we bring them to the fore so that they become wanted, and therefore, preserved,” she says.

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