Techie shows new window to market traditional art forms

When Amitava Bhattacharya decided to leave his lucrative job in the Silicon Valley and return to India to work for the revival of the dying art forms of the country, his
father had asked him a very simple question-- “Is it work or pleasure?”

A woman buying an art piece. (Inset) Amitava Bhattacharya. Banglanatak.com

After 12 years, Bhattacharya still cannot say whether what he does really works or it is something to satiate his dormant pleasure. Bhattacharya, humbly, admits: “Computer was not my cup of tea.

I never wanted to imitate and wanted to do something which is new... which is one off. Yes, it is true that I find enormous pleasure here.

Whether it is work or pleasure... I simply don’t know,” Bhattacharya adds grinning. Alternatively if working in a treadmill becomes enjoyment and writing poetry becomes a
profession then Bhattacharya and his banglanatak.com are a fusion of work and entertainment, a blend of skill and passion, which has really worked wonders.

In fact, Bhattacharya is a computer engineer from Kharagpur IIT who left
his job in the US in 2000 and started banglanatak.com-- an initiative to revive many dying art forms of India and make them a means of livelihood for the underprivileged society of rural India.

“I want to make things very clear. I am not doing any social service. It is a
profession like any other but we in banglanatak.com think in a different way. India is a repository of traditional art forms and they have immense value globally and otherwise,” Bhattacharya said.

“The rural India is primarily looked at as a supplier of cheap labour. Whereas
rural India is also a warehouse of traditio­nal art and culture. So, I thought that is an opportunity where traditional art and culture can be tweaked and used for the development of society,” Bhattacharya said.

As a part of his experiment, Bhattacha­rya and banglanatak.com in 2000 started with six districts and six traditional art forms of rural Bengal.

“We started with Chau dance in Purulia; Jhumur, a folk dance of Bankura and Purulia; Dungri, a folk theatre form in Maldha; Patachitra, a traditional form of painting in West Midnapore and Baul- folk songs in Nadia,” said a senior official of banglanatak.com.

Now, the organisation interacts with 3,200 artistes in rural India. In fact, the
organisation now works in all districts of West Bengal, Bihar, Sikkim, Tripura, Goa and extensively in Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Odisha, Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and in parts of Assam, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Punjab.

In a unique theatre-based model
designed by Bhattacharya, the organisation revolutionised the training for these artistes and helped them not only continue with their traditional art forms but also provided them a global platform.

Patachitra, a form of painting where a collage of colours created from fruit,
vegetables, leaves and other natural sources are used to paint historical and mythological stories on a piece of cloth, was dying because of neglect.

“Earlier, we used to do the painting and go from house to house and sell them to earn our meal. Sometimes, people even gave some rice or two potatoes, instead of money and that was enough. But after banglanatak.com came to our village they started organising mela (exhibition) and took us to different places to help us to sell our art work,” Swarnalata Chitra­kar, a Patachitra painter from Pingla block in West Midnapore, said.

“Now, we get an attractive amount for our paintings. I couldn’t even think that
I will go abroad to exhibit my paintings but banglanatak.com has made that
possible,” Swarnalata added.

It has also worked with nearly 150 baul fakirs of Gorbhanga in Nadia district--a community which virtually left their art and started looking for earning through other means. Now, these folk artistes’ future is secure and even they get invites from abroad to perform.

“Earlier, these Sufi artistes spent most of their time on farms and now they pursue their passion full time. Social centres have been set up to train more people. These artistes are now the leading exponents of Bangla Kawali, an art which was popular 100 years ago and almost had gone into oblivion,” the official said.

“We worked in fields to maintain our families because we never got money from singing and now banglanatak.com has changed our lives. We now devote most of our time pursuing our passion. Even the younger people are coming to learn and this will help to keep the art form alive,” Amran Fakir, one of the baul fakirs, said.

“We mainly work in two ways-- communication for development and use
traditional art and culture for socio-economic development. In communication for development we reach out to the unreachable, do social research and train the grassroots service providers. This stage can be considered as laying the foundation stone, based on which we do our main work,” a official said.

“Rural Bengal rather rural India is a gold mine of traditional art and culture and in banglanatak.com we effectively use this valuable tool as a means of livelihood. In the second stage, we create relationship with the community members, organise functions and shows and we promote them nationally and globally,” Bhattacharya said.

“It is my strong belief that this traditional art and culture have a huge potential and they have a huge market globally. If we properly promote them, not only the artistes but also our country will be benefited,” Bhattacharya added.

For their outstanding contribution to society, Unesco has accredited contact base for providing advisory services to its Intangible Cultural Heritage Committee in 2010 and Unwomen and MasterCard, Singapore, awarded them as the Most Creative Community Outreach Project in 2011. But this humble man remained untouched by these international recognitions.

“We haven’t done anything. They had the potential and the talent but they didn’t know how to market themselves. We worked as a catalyst and made the world aware of our rich culture and that has worked,” Bhttacharya said.

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