A rickshaw puller’s tryst with darkness and arthttps://indianexpress.com/article/cities/kolkata/a-rickshaw-pullers-tryst-with-darkness-and-art/

A rickshaw puller’s tryst with darkness and art

Usharanjan Mondal says he uses Rs 3 gel pens as it is difficult for him to afford oil or water paints given his meager source of income and space restraints

says he uses Rs 3 gel pens as it is difficult for him to afford oil or water paints given his meager source of income and space restraints

In 2003,Usharanjan Mondal came to the so-called cultural capital of the country to pursue his dreams to be an artist. Instead,this man,now in his early thirties,had to pedal his way towards two meals a day and a roof above. However,this native of Khejuri in East Midnapore district didn’t let his dreams get crushed under the wheels of a rickshaw amid daily struggle to eke out a living.

On Day Two of his four-day solo exhibition at Gaganendra Pradarsasala here,the artist spoke of this journey infested with hurdles. Titled ‘Black Dot.Dot.Dot. for Light’,the exhibition showcased 65 of his works all in black on white paper. One of them,co-incidentally had Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee as a subject surrounded by a sea of people. “This is titled Jananetri . I have immense respect for her. There is a lot of honesty in her and her actions. So I have drawn her as a people’s leader,not as a chief minister,” Mondal said.

Showing off his favourite of the lot,Sesh Ashray,which features a man on the wheel of a rickshaw,he said: “I had to struggle a lot and the fight is still on. Hailing from a very poor family,life was never easy for me. When I was in Class IV,my father,who used to work in an iron workshop,lost his eyesight in a mishap. I had to start working in a tea stall. However,I kept studying and appeared for my higher secondary examinations.”


A knack for painting and willingness to pursue it as a full-time artist brought him to Kolkata around a decade back. “I went to various art schools in the city but money became a major factor. I also went to Shantiniketan as I wanted to enrol at Kala Bhawan in Viswa Bharati but there too I couldn’t find a way in. I took up the job of a rickshaw puller at Picnic Garden area,” Mondal said. Back then,he struggled to earn even Rs 2,000 a month and also did odd jobs for the residents of the area.

In 2004,Mondal saw an advertisement in which the state government was inviting young artists for a seven-day course-cum-coaching camp. He applied,got selected and got his first and only formal training. “After that course,an exhibition was organised where my painting was selected as an exhibit. It felt great,” he said.

Juggling between rickshaw pulling and painting,Mondal would toil hard all day for his basic needs while at night he would cater to his artistic sensibilities. His paintings take two-three months each to be completed,with single dots transforming into a work of art,and the theme of darkness looms large in majority of his works.

“I have seen life in a way most people who are visiting the exhibition haven’t. Darkness is something I’ve had to see and encounter from very close quarters. There are other reasons why I use black pen for my work. Firstly,my dwelling-cum-workshop doesn’t have enough space to work with oil paintings and water colours. And secondly,I use gel pens which cost just Rs 3 each,” the artist said.

Now Mondal teaches kids and even takes free classes at local clubs.