The Hands Of An Artist

It is the hands of the artists, that tell the story of their labour and hard work, the story of their misery and exploitation. They are craftsmen, the truth be told they should be struggling to get a new idea or bringing their imagination to reality and not struggle for two square meals for themselves and their families. But this is not the way we treat our craftsmen. This is not just a story but a real experience that I share today.
Saabji! Memsaabji! Stop! Please stop! I am an artist sir, I don’t lie. Madam, please madam look at my hands, these are the hands, the fingers of an artist. They don’t lie.” Crying thus he ran after our rickshaw in the fast enveloping darkness, trying to light a matchstick to show us his hands, his fingers with tremors in his voice and body.
We had planned a visit to Agra and I was super excited for it was where the Taj Mahal was. Taj, the embodiment of love, devotion, exuberance and all things beautiful. Along with all the tales of love and passion that one hears about Taj, I’d also heard how Shah Jahan had got the hands of all the architects, masons and other construction workers chopped off so there could be no other Taj in the world. It is this story which always made me feel that the Taj is also a symbol of extravagant eccentricities of an emperor. And I wanted to see for myself whether one was really capable of such extremes? To love one human dearly and be extremely cruel to other humans
It was a beautiful December morning when we left for Agra, just a few hours drive from Delhi. We reached our hotel rested for a while and headed towards the Taj. There were many men, women and children selling replicas of the mausoleum and also little marble boxes with lattice work or pietra dura inlay work with coloured glass. We stopped for a while to appreciate the articles and were soon surrounded and pestered by many to buy their wares. Wading through the sea of sellers, we went inside through the huge gates and there stood, the Taj in all its splendour.
It was quite late in the day by the time we finished marveling over the architectural  genius of the tomb. The sun was almost set and dusk was giving way to darkness. We came out of the gates and there stood a man with his wares. He only had a few decorative marble boxes with him. He asked us to buy some. Abhay asked about the cost of each box and whatever he quoted seemed too much. We started walking towards the main road in search of a vehicle and found a rickshaw. We climbed in and were about to move when the man with the wares came over and requested us to take some of his pieces. We refused. He looked disappointed and offered to give them all for only Rs. 100/-. We didn’t need so many. The rickshaw walah was an experienced man and started pedaling fast so as to rid us of this persuasive seller.
The seller ran after us with all his might, uttering his agonizing calls of hopelessness. It was as if we were his last chance, his only hope for the day. We knew not how important those hundred rupees were to him but they were definitely not so important to us to drive someone to such despair. We stopped the rickshaw, the man tried matchstick after matchstick to show us his hands in the darkness. But the cold wind blew them all away. Abhay gave him a Rs. 500/- note in exchange of his wares. The man kept thanking us profusely and bent down to touch his feet. We stopped him from doing so and sent him away. We were deeply moved by the experience and just sat silently almost all the way back.
Those pieces of marble with their inlay work are still lying in my almirah. I never had the heart to gift them to anyone. But whenever I see them, they remind me of the hard work that the artisans who built the Taj had put in. The inlay work must have obliterated their fingers so much that they became incapable of doing any other work. The emperor didn’t chop off the hands, the artistry of those men took away their fingers. I still think of the artist we met. Hope his life is better and his fingers still up to work.

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