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Umar Singh - an artist or a stone carver?

Umar Singh, is one of the family sculptures' whose generations has added on towards the creative art of stone carving. Unlike in Europe and in the US or other countries, where an individual who feels the love for art and knowing that he/she may have the talent to undergo a 4 year long study course in order to be able to sculpt on stones, there lays a generation of creative artists in Rajasthan, who start sculpting ever since their childhood. One such, is Umar Singh, who I met, during my 2 hour long drive from Jaipur to Bhangarh.

Umar Singh's village falls, just about an hour and half drive from Jaipur. The entire village is into sculpting on stones and produces hundreds of beautiful art, which is then transported to Jaipur, from where it is sold to art lovers not only in India, but across the world. "Umar Singh's first toy was a chisel which he got from him father, when he was around 3, and he used to scratch on stones, seeing his father at work" says his mother Anita devi. He never went to school of arts, instead, learnt to carve on stones by seeing his father and other family members. He started working independently since the age of 14 yrs. and now almost heading to his 60s' he has decades of experience behind him to share. 

"It is much easier now to carve, since we have modern tools, which makes jobs easier and quicker" says Umar Singh. He remembers his early days, when most of the work was done with simple tools. Mostly he and his colleagues carve statues of Indian Gods and Goddesses. Often they also carve statues of Indian politicians and industrialists.

Holiday for him is, to sit between his statues, and play with his grand children. The last vacation he had was, when he went to visit his family in another village on the death of his grand father. "Ambitions, goals, career are words which exists in the books of people from the city" says Umar Singh. The only one work he has learnt is, to carve on stones and, it has helped him to feed his family, thats all his goal. "Haat ka kam karne wala kabhi bhukha nahi marta - A person who knows how to use his hands to make money, never falls short of work" thats what his father had told him when he was learning the art of sculpting and, that is what he tells his grand children too. But, he is sometimes concerned if his grand children will ever take his art seriously. "TV ne sab ko barbad kar diya - TV has spoiled the youth" says Umar Singh "Instead of working, they (his grand children) waste their time looking at politicians beg for vote, families fighting amongst themselves ... if thats all we can see on TV, then I rather walk to the center of my village and see it happening live - why waste my money on TV" said he with a big laugh.

Further, he said something which actually meant a lot in words - "Educated people don't find jobs, they spend so much money first to educate themselves, then, few even have to bribe their way to get a better job and eventually end up jobless" he says, in his village, there is no un-employed and their is no one educated. The only education they provide down the generation is, to carve on stones and, of course, they can well calculate and count numbers.

I asked him what he does in his free time, and he said "time to free hoga jab koi kam chori karega - those who are lazy have free time to waste" there is always work in his open air studio. He does enjoy watching Bollywood films and his favorite actor is Amitabh Bachan and loves to sing his songs sometimes when he works. His favorite song is 'Rang barse' from the film Silsila. I asked him if he knows about foreign countries and ever wished to go there, he said he wants to visit England, upon asking why, he said he wants to see the country and people, who ruled India for more than 300 years. "Aisa kya hai jo wo teenso saal hukumat kar sake aur hamarey neta 5 sal bhi nahi tik sakte - what is it that the British had in them, that they could rule India for 300 years, while our Politicians cannot even stick to their 5 year term"

Although I spent around 2 hours with Umar Singh, talking, sipping home made 'Chai' (tea with milk and sugar), one thing I noticed was, that, even though we talked, he was focused with his work, carving and stopping once a while to sip and talk to me. It was worth meeting him and learning some lessons of life, from a humble artist. Now whenever I see sculptures, I try to see the hands carving them out of the stone and their story behind it.

Contributed by: Mohinder Pal Singh
City: Kolkata
Country: India 
Date: March 29, 2010