The last of the city's calligraphers

Changing times

A week ago, people visiting the Jashn-e-Rekhta Urdu festival, remained glued to their seats as literary giants of Urdu rained poems all over the place. Panel discussions about the language, theatre, recitals, mushaira’s and songs, the venue was abuzz with these artistes who had but one wish – resurrection of Urdu language. And if the mood of the visitors was any indication, the message had gone across loud and clear.

Yet, 60-year-old, Mushtaq Ahmed, remained sceptical about a field which has been part of the Urdu language ever since its inception. Ahmed is a calligrapher and is currently running a training centre for the same where he teaches more than 25 students. During the festival, Ahmed and his associates were bombarded with requests by the visitors who were eager for their name to be written in style.
“It’s nothing like the old days,” he said while writing. “Back in the 80s, I did this for a profession. I used to make book covers and I had lost count of how many actually got used. People used to call us in events where we would exhibit our work and we used to get quite an appreciation. Modern technology has changed everything,” Ahmed said.

Ahmed’s own life is quite an interesting one. Originally hailing from Samastipur district in Bihar, Ahmed started his career working in the printing press of a newspaper. In an accident which cost him two fingers of his right hand, Ahmed decided not to let the tragedy impede him. In fact, he went a step ahead and became a journalist. He worked for Jamaat-e-Islami’s newspaper ‘Dawaat’ for years as an Urdu reporter before he fell in love with calligraphy.

“Ustad Kamran Siddiqui was my teacher, the one who taught me this skill,” said Ahmed before being interrupted by an excited youth. “Faiz likhye,” (write Faiz), declared the youth. Ahmed obliged very happily.

More than three decades later after being taught calligraphy in the by-lanes of Jama Masjid, he now has a centre supported by the Human Resource Department of the government.

“We don’t have many funds. In fact, they are so low that I cannot make ends meet. But the worst part is that today we don’t realise that calligraphy is an art and not a hobby. The government should realise that people will only take up this dying art when they are able to feed themselves,” Ahmed said. He also added that seeing the onslaught of modern technology, he introduced graphic designing to his course yet there is nothing like teaching his students by using a ‘kalam (pen), syahi (ink) and kagaz (paper).

“Times keep on changing,” Ahmed said and concluded, “but we mustn’t forget who
we are and where we have come from”.

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