Amarnath Prajapati says he cut his teeth making religious idols but made his mark only after he switched over to replicating his idol, B R Ambedkar. The 38-year-old sculptor, known in Uttar Pradesh for his installations of political leaders, calculates he has made over 400 Ambedkar statues, including a three-and-half-foot bronze one that he gifted to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Now, with Assembly elections looming in the state, Prajapati has become the first stop for BSP leaders looking to impress Mayawati: he has got orders from them for a total of 150 statues of their party supremo. Each sculpture, Prajapati says, will be 3-4 ft tall, made from bronze and weigh up to 100 kg. The cost will come to around Rs 50,000.
The work is keeping Prajapati busy at his new workshop-cum-office, in Lucknow’s Indira Colony, which stands out for its big statue of Ambedkar outside. He is in by 10 am daily.
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The first two rooms double up as Prajapati’s office. The walls are covered with photographs of him with UP’s current elite — from Governor Ram Naik to Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav — and one with Modi.
The two other rooms and a small roofed courtyard house his work or parts of them: old, and new, big and small, a few broken.
Prajapati has about 35 employees in his three workshops — the two others are on Faizabad road, about 10 km away — and there are only two at the Indira Colony one today. The others, he says, are at the other workshops as he is swamped with orders.
In one corner of the courtyard, worker Prakash is rubbing a knife over a clay hand. “It is a part of the Mayawati statues. She is holding her famous handbag,” he smiles.
Prajapati admits his BSP clients don’t want to be named, fearful of Mayawati’s wrath. Mindful of all the criticism she faced on that count, she has declared she will not commission new statues, memorials or parks if she returns to power in 2017. Other BSP leaders though have said that her wish doesn’t extend to lower ranks of the party.
Prajapati lets out though that most of his BSP clients are ticket aspirants for the 2017 elections. The Mayawati sculptures are for their offices or residences.
Leaving the Mayawati work to Prakash, Prajapati walks past a half-built bust of a Delhi-based businessman, whose name he can’t remember, and focuses on a huge figure of the Buddha in padmasana, which is in its final stage. The statue has been ordered by the Bihar government and is to be installed in Buxar; it is to be delivered in a month.
As Prajapati begins to work on the Buddha’s face with a brush, he explains the nuances of sculpting.“The first thing is to fashion an iron structure of the desired size; all measurements are pre-determined. The face is divided into three equal parts: one from the chin to nose, the other from nose to eyes and the third is the forehead. Similarly, the legs are divided into two equal parts — below the knees and above. The upper body is one part. After the iron structure is in place, we fill it with clay on the second day. It takes nearly a month to refine the clay work. Then the sculpture goes for dyeing, after which it takes a further two-and-a-half months for the final product,” Prajapati says.
The sculptor works on a project till the clay structure is complete. His workers help him with the dyeing and the final touches.
Prajapati learnt sculpting from his grandfather at their family home in Aishbagh locality in the old city rather than taking any formal training. Some of his workers though have degrees in fine arts. His beginnings were more to do with the divine than the doctrinal, he adds. “I carved hundreds of statues of gods and goddess after I started out in 1998. But I rarely got any attention. It was only after I built Ambedkar statues that people began noticing me.” Prajapati now calls himself an Ambedkarite and runs the Bharat Ratna Babasaheb Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar Samajik Trust. However, he says, he is not affiliated to any party.
While much of his bigger projects are commissioned by governments, that has its downside, Prajapati says. Putting his brush aside, he points to a black bust covered in white dust: it is of a Samajwadi Party leader’s father, who had ordered it when he was a minister in the Mulayam Singh Yadav government a decade ago. No one has come to claim it since. Then there is a life-size Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel statue, which Prajapati says was commissioned by the last BJP government in the state. “It cost me Rs 2.5 lakh at that time, in 2002.”
At around 2 pm, he leaves for his Faizabad road workshops on his way home in Gomti Nagar. Sometimes, he visits sites where his work is to be installed. “There is very little time to spare. Although most clients don’t insist on a one-to-one meeting, some of them, especially those in the government, call me to their offices,” he says.
After a two-hour break at home, Prajapati returns to his Indira Nagar colony workshop. Working on the businessman’s bust, he asks Tiwari to bring his photograph. “Look at this photo and this statue, don’t they look alike? There is 70 per cent similarity now and I will have to make that 100 per cent,” he says.
After an hour, he turns to a faceless Mayawati sculpture. Tiwari gets him the statue’s head. After a detailed inspection, Prajapati remarks, “I examined nearly 150 photographs of hers before I decided on the face. These statues will depict her present features, not those when she was younger. I have decided to show her moving forward, with one leg ahead of the other. It could be a symbol of her marching towards power,” he says.
While he has built statues of Congress and BJP leaders and several others, the Mayawati statues are his bread-and-butter these days. “She is an icon for many and her party leaders like to have her statues. These days, sculptures of others are not in demand; I have not built a Mahatma Gandhi replica in almost a decade,” he says.
But the demand from even those once aligned with the BSP is not likely to dry up soon. “I will start work on a Kanshi Ram statue soon,” says Prajapati. “All former BSP leaders who have developed differences with Mayawati want to reclaim his legacy.”