HELPING his father at his stall near Jehangir Art Gallery, Hanif Mohammed Qureshi saw a man write on a grain of rice. Qureshi, then a teenager, observed the artist for almost a year before attempting the craft himself. “It took me six months to get my first letter right. I kept practising, and ultimately opened my own stall,” says the 35-year old, who has been working on the footpath outside the art gallery in Kala Ghoda for the past 12 years.
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The self-trained artist dropped out of school after Class VII owing to his family’s poor financial condition and began helping his father. While he was enrolled in school, Qureshi’s interest was in the arts, which continued even after leaving formal education. “After I observed the micro-art on the rice grain, I practised it at home by borrowing paint brushes and colours from my two younger siblings,” he says.
Qureshi says that while the task looks simple, the biggest hurdle initially is to prevent trembling hands. “The grain is very small and requires focused attention. If your hands tremble, the paint will smudge the entire grain,” he explains. He recalls how the first letter he tried writing was ‘I’. The first sentence he wrote was ‘I Love You’, which continues to be in demand among most customers, he says.
Today, a green placard at his stall announces “Name on Rice in Two Minutes”, offering inscription on a rice grain in any language. A man from Iraq approaches Qureshi to write the name of his daughter in Arabic. Qureshi asks the name to be written on a notepad. From a small mound of rice grains on his table, he picks a grain, holding it between two ends of a plucker. Qureshi then picks up a fine brush, dipping it in black acrylic paint and begins replicating the design on the rice grain. Once it’s done, it is checked using a magnifying glass, before being put in a small scroll with oil to prevent damage.
Qureshi says most of his customers are tourists, including foreigners, who take his work back to relatives, friends and lovers as souvenirs. “I can write in any language since I look at it as a design I have to replicate,” he says. On weekends and vacations, he earns upto Rs 1,000-2,000 a day. On weekdays, the earning is around Rs 300-500. Qureshi and other artists are also invited for events, including birthday parties, across the city. “There are many youngsters who sit and observe our work, wanting to learn. While there is no time to go teach anyone formally, we tell them to begin practising,” he says.
When not working at his stall, Qureshi paints on rice grains. Recently, he made a painting of the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, who visited the country last month for Republic Day. Qureshi says he has sent the painting to Dubai through an acquaintance two weeks ago, and hopes it will reach the prince. “What we do here is an art in itself, but I do not think it is respected as such. I want to eventually be recognised by people for my paintings,” he says.
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