Abdul Gafur Khatri had nearly mastered the 300-year-old Rogan art by the time he was 13. Now 53, his is the only family that practices this art form. One evening, to his surprise, he was informed by the government officials that he is one of the Padma Shri recipients of the year.
“I must confess this is a dream come true. Our (family’s) struggles have borne fruition. It is a matter of pride for Kutch since I don’t think anyone from here has been bestowed with this honour before,” said Khatri, a resident of Nirona village in Kutch district. “Samman ka koi mulya nahi hota (honour cannot be evaluated),” he added.
Khatri is among the six people from Gujarat who have been awarded the fourth highest civilian award on Republic Day.
‘Rogan’ is a Persian word meaning ‘oil-based’, and refers to the thick residue formed when castor oil is heated and cast into cold water. After it is mixed with natural colours, the residue is drawn out into a fine ‘thread’ and then applied to a cloth.
For Khatri, who has extensively explored the ‘Tree of Life’ motifs in many of his works, says, “Depending on the detailing involved, our work can take from four days to a year for completion.”
Khatri, who has also won state and national awards before, credits Prime Minister Narendra Modi for making his art popular when the latter gifted his ‘Tree of Life’ motif to ex-US president Barack Obama on his 2014 US visit.
“Since then, the motif has been so popular that it has generated a lot of demand and interest. Modiji has been supportive of our work since the time he was the chief minister of Gujarat,” he said.
Practised only by men in the family, Khatri has now been teaching girls in the art form through a workshop he has been conducting since 2010. “At some point in time, decades ago, there was a total of four Muslim Khatri families practising this art in Kutch but subsequently everyone stopped, except us,” he said.
In fact, he was the first who introduced the intricately designed aspect. Prior to him, Rogan art was used as rudimentary motifs to serve for utility purpose as per the tribal origins of this art form.
Khatri, who runs his own unit in Nirona, is the seventh generation of his family which has been practising Rogan art for over 46 years now. Today, 10 of his family members indulge in the art form and have employed 20 girls from the village as well.
“Now the eighth generation, my elder son, is the only member of the current generation who has chosen to embrace Nirona’s Rogan,” said an elated Abdul.
However, till 1993, Khatri himself was not so impressed by the art and he did jobs in Ahmedabad and Mumbai.
“I fulfilled the promise I gave to my father that I will take this art form to international platform. It happened when Rogan art reached the White House and was presented to former US President Barack Obama by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to the US in 2014,” he said.
“Rogan motifs once graced mainly ghaagra-choli, bed sheets and tablecloths but now they adorn more contemporary items and are also used as decorative items like wall hangings and framed cloth pieces,” he said.
Vallabhbhai Vashram Marvaniya, 96, who got the Padma Shri award for agriculture, is a carrot farmer.
Even today, he walks around his 10 bigha farmland every day in Khamadrol village of Junagadh district, inspecting the crop personally while his 56-year-old son Arvindbhai has taken charge of farming and seed production. His farm produces one of the rarest varieties of carrot ‘Madhuvan’, as the Marvaniyas have named it, which as per the Anand Agricultural University’s 2017 test reports, has 277.75 mg beta carotene per kg against a normal 70-80 mg per kg.
“My father has been awarded for his hard work and perseverance. He has been farming carrots since 1943. After repeated improvisations and trials, we came up with this carrot variety,” says Arvindbhai, who started helping his father since 1985.
The family, a Kadva Patidar, initially used to grow carrots for their own consumption but an increase in demand forced them to do it for the villagers as well. Same happened with the seeds which they prepared at their own field.
Vallabhbhai was awarded third prize by National Innovation Foundation in 2017.
Muktaben Dagli, 58, one of the two founders of the Pragna Chakshu Mahila Kunj blind school in Surendranagar district, is popularly called ‘Hellen Keller’ of the area. Along with her husband Pankaj Dagli, she took a momentous decision to rise above her own visual disability and adopted blind girls abandoned by their families. Till date, the couple has adopted over 200 blind girls and helped them settle in their lives.
Mukta was 7-year-old when she had lost her eyes to meningitis. Attributing their vision to Goswami Tulsidas, Dagli’s website states, “Understand the pain of dumb animals. Pains of disabled can be understood very well by a disabled person. And so this institution has decided to work for blind girls enwrapped in suffering, moving with affliction, being insulted and disdained at every step in the society. This institution moved the blind girls lying in huts in the villages and made them reside in independent houses, for whom her own home is like a dream, and for whom marital bliss is like a water bubble.”
Dagli is a 1983 alumnus of Ahmedabad’s Andh Kanya Prakash Gruh, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been a regular guest at events during his days as the chief minister of Gujarat. She then got a sponsor and completed her B.Ed before starting the blind school at Surendranagar.
The residential school has over 200 girls studying from Std-I to XII. The school also provides vocational training to girls in computer, beauty-care, handicraft, etc.
The charity has centers in Morbi, Junagadh and Surendranagar and runs on generous donations from patrons, who have encouraged the couple’s contribution towards the betterment of the lives of the visually impaired.
Ahmedabad-based Bimal Patel, received the Padma Shri award for architecture. Patel, 57, is currently the President of CEPT and also a practising architect at HCP Designs.
With a doctorate in city and urban planning, Patel has given shape and form to many of the city’s buildings such as the new IIM-A campus and has revamped urban spaces with the Kankaria Lake Development Project. He had won the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 1992 for designing the Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India in Gandhinagar.
With his continued focus towards urban planning, he has played an instrumental role in policy-making in the state. In 1997, Patel founded Environmental Planning Collaborative (EPC), a not-for-profit company which continues to work with local governments on city planning. One of the very first NGOs in India to do so, the Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project was one such project undertaken by the organisation under his leadership.
Joravarsinh Jadhav is a pioneering figure in the folk culture of Gujarat and the founder of Gujarat Lok Kala Foundation.
Jadhav, 79, who has published over 94 books on folklore, is a man of humble beginnings. Born into a farmer family in the district of Dhandhuka (now Ahmedabad) in colonial India, he has been a patron of folk artistes, especially in Gujarat.
An author, fiction writer and philanthropist, he has now devoted his life largely to providing spaces to folk artistes and putting them on the world map.
Another Gujarati to be awarded the country’s fourth highest civilian award, was national award winner Jyotindra Bhatt, 84, is a graduate in painting from MSU Baroda who hails from Bhavnagar. For Bhatt, who started with oil and watercolour paintings, he subsequently took to printmaking and specifically to the intaglio format, which involves inking incised surfaces. With intaglio, he incorporated popular Indian motifs including mythological figures and also drawing inspiration from folk art.
His works have made their presence felt in contemporary spaces such Museum of Modern Art and Smithsonian Institution in the US as well as in more traditional spaces with his thorough documentation of rural life and arts.
(INPUTS FROM ADITI RAJA IN VADODARA)