Monumental Pride


Published on 28 March, 2014 in Time Out Delhi

Artist Kavita Iyengar sketches Delhi’s architectural legacy with rich inklines

Delhi is as wondrous a historical city as it is modern. Its architectural legacy is proof of this. If on one hand there is the Qutub Minar, one of the earliest and most prominent examples of Indian-Islamic architecture, on the other is the Lotus temple, the Bahá’í House of Worship, built less than 30 years ago. If Purana Qila marks the beginning of the Mughal era, barely a kilometre away is Pragati Maidan, built in 1982, a grand venue for trade fairs and exhibitions. This mélange of architecture and history has been translated into captivating line drawings by Kavita Iyengar in Delhi, Old and New: Inkline Drawings. Iyengar captures the burgeoning spirit of the city in her book, with confident ink strokes recounting its formation over the ages.

Iyengar is an economist by profession and an artist by choice, the book is Iyengar’s first solo venture in the field of fine arts after two successful group exhibitions at the Epicentre in 2011 and at the Lalit Kala Akademi in 2012. Iyengar claims she has always had a knack for painting but the decision to pursue it seriously came in 2009. “I wanted to take the art classes at the Triveni Kala Sangam but the timings were not compatible with my work hours,” she said. “Luckily, I found weekend art classes conducted by artist Jitendra Padam Jain, an alumnus of Jamia Milia Islamia, near my house. Ever since, my Saturday afternoons have been spent in the company of brushes, colour tubes, pens and palettes.”

Back then her focus was on perfecting oil paintings, but her inklines came out better. With Delhi celebrating its centenary year in 2011, Iyengar decided to commemorate the occasion with 50 large and 50 small drawings of the city’s major monuments and buildings. “One large inkline drawing takes me three days, and that is if I keep at it continuously,” she said. “The entire work took me a year and a half.”

Delhi, Old and New chronicles the formation of the gateway city. It opens with two illustrations of Indraprastha, the fabled capital of the Pandavas – the Kalkaji Mandir, one of the oldest shrines in the city, and the Ashokan Rock Edict. Other noteworthy architectures include Qila Rai Pithora, formerly known as Lal Kot, Siri Fort and Hauz Khas, Humayun’s Tomb, Jama Masjid and Lal Qila among others. Since the waning of the Mughals and the gradual establishment of British rule, Delhi received a facelift. With Sir William Fraser’s arrival in 1803, Civil Lines became the official residential quarters. Other construction came up under the Raj, including the Rashtrapati Bhavan (1929), India Gate (1931), Parliament House (the foundation stone was laid in 1921) and Connaught Place (construction began in 1929 and was completed in 1933).

Iyengar then goes on to sketch some of the sculptures and buildings of independent India – the yaksha and yakshini at the entrance of the Reserve Bank of India’s office, Devi Prasad Roy Choudhary’s Gyarah Murti, Dilli Haat, Akshardham Temple, the Rashtriya Dalit Smarak in Noida, and Gurgaon’s high rises.

Complementing Iyengar’s drawings are select portions of texts from various sources. Verses by scholars such as Amir Khusro, Mirza Ghalib, Ibn Battuta, Al Badauni, Gulzar and Amrita Sher-Gil are combined with quotes by Rudyard Kipling, BR Ambedkar, Anita Desai, Mark Twain, Sarojini Naidu and Mahatma Gandhi.

All royalties from the sale of this book will go to Salaam Baalak Trust, a non-profit organisation established in 1988 by Mira Nair with the proceeds from her film Salaam Bombay.

The book is one of the few artist­ic representations of the city to take the reader through 2,000 years of history. While some are wide-angle perspectives of the cityscape, others are intricate close-ups. It should help readers remember the city’s glorious past and at the same time, embrace its evolution.

Delhi, Old and New: Inkline Drawings, Bloomsbury, R495.

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