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The Pankha chronicles: Artist Jatin Das is a big fan of fans

Some of the hand fans from painter Jatin Das’ collection are on display at the exhibition titled Pankha. The artist and his children Nandita and Siddhartha Das share the story behind the collection, and their dreams and hopes associated with it.

art and culture Updated: Jun 16, 2018 19:56 IST
Henna Rakheja
Henna Rakheja
Hindustan Times
Pankha,Jatin Das,Nandita Das
Artist Jatin Das and some of the fans from his huge collection. (PHOTO: Prabhas Roy/HT )

The Delhi heat getting to you? Not wanting to step out of an air-conditioned environment? Do you ever think about the times when technology wasn’t advanced enough for commoners to even possess a ceiling fan, leave aside AC. That’s when the significance of hand fans was felt the most. And today, when a portion of veteran artist Jatin Das’ collection of hand fans is displayed for public, one can only sit back, and marvel at the artistic aspect of something which was so commonplace as a hand fan.

READ | Don’t feel excited about exhibiting my work anymore, says artist Jatin Das

At the exhibition, aptly titled Pankha (hand fan), Jatin Das is found in his usual restive state. One wonder if it’s because of the exertion brought about by the act of curating a humongous show. But he denies, explaining: “It’s fatigue due to 60 years of working. My collection of hand fans is 40 years old and has more than 6,000 hand fans. What you see on display here is just 10 per cent. This collection is for a Pankha museum – a Khayali Pulao (wishful thinking) as I call it.”He informs that he is in the process of setting up an arts centre in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, adding: “This is my stupidity. I’m a painter, an artist. I have indulged in making this collection.”

The exhibition Pankha by Jatin Das at IGNCA, Janpath in Delhi. ( PHOTO: Prabhas Roy/HT )

As dear this collection might look, it’s also daunting and difficult to preserve it, with fans made out of all possible materials, including straw, bamboo, cloth, wood, paper and even leather.

His son and art curator Siddhartha Das recollects, “I can’t actually remember when was it that I first saw him collecting fans, but I know that whenever we travelled, he got very excited about seeing anyone making fans.”

Siddhartha, who has himself brought the leather fans from Kutch, adds, “Nandita (Das, actor and his sister) and I kept trying to dissuade him because it’s quite scary when your father has this passion in which if you collect a lot, where will it get stored? We were mired in the pragmatic side of it, and did think who will look after it… then the whole idea of a museum itself was very scary. But, he’s very stubborn. Finally after trying for about 10 years I thought I might just be part of it because if you can’t beat them, then you join them!”

Siddhartha Das is playing a crucial part in taking his father’s legacy forward. ( PHOTO: Prabhas Roy/HT )

On the day the show opened to public, one could even spot the third generation of Jatin Das’ family — Vihaan (actor Nandita Das’s son) sketching one of the hand fans on display. Nandita, too, says she grew up around collectibles his father picked from all over. “I don’t remember a time that he didn’t [collect hand fans]. Because from the time I was born — whatever my memory is —our house was like a museum filled up with little knick-knacks picked up from craftpersons around the world. It still is…,” she says.

Nandita says she has also contributed to the collection. “Because wherever one would go, he would say bring hand fans for me, and I’d be like ‘Please!’ And I would get a little bugged to be honest, but every time I see a hand fan I would also think of him and bring one… I sometimes joke with him [that if] you would have been someone else’s father I would have put you on a pedestal, but being my own father he would stress me out with the number of things he wants to do. I’m like ‘Wow!’ at 77 to have this level of wonderment [is amazing],” she says and is soon pulled by her 8-year-old who wants to show him his sketch.

Vihaan — Nandita Das’ son — sketches a hand fan on display at the exhibition. ( PHOTO: Prabhas Roy/HT )

One tries to unravel the legend behind this collection of hand fans – How Jatin Das was gifted a hand fan by a friend, and that inspired him to start collecting them. “I also don’t know, but we kind of assumed that the friend was (photographer) Raghu Rai because he is one of my father’s closest friends,” says Siddhartha, and Nandita meanwhile figures out the source of the hand fan that her son has drawn and comes to a conclusion that it’s from Gujarat, “I have seen him (Jatin Das) clean them, collect, and tell me their stories like a child, excitedly. They all carry a story.”

Actor Nandita Das tells her son Vihaan about some intricacies of the exhibits. ( PHOTO: Prabhas Roy/HT )

Beyond the tales, where will this collection now find its place? “All these (hand fans) are made and embellished by women. So, this is celebration of women craft. It’s a dying rare craft. You know 99% of people in Delhi ask ‘O Jatin, is your collection from China-Japan’ because that’s what they know of… When I collect a fan, the educated people don’t know where it’s available. And I want to wash my hands off now, shed baggage, and [request that] the government makes a National Fan Museum; I’m going to donate the collection.”

Catch It Live
  • What: Pankha
  • Where: Twin Art Gallery, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, 1, Central Vista Mess, Janpath
  • On till: June 24
  • Timing: 10.30am to 7.30pm
  • Nearest Metro Station: Central Secretariat on Yellow Line

Interact with the author at Twitter/@HennaRakheja

First Published: Jun 16, 2018 19:55 IST