Dreams come true; that’s the mantra sung into our ears as kids either during unsolicited motivational talks or as the takeaway during moonlight stories. This simple yet powerful principle has echoed in our heads and reflected in our approach towards life. But the pursuit of dreams and the belief in them are two separate things. The success stories we often hear are often about those who pursue their dreams. One of such inspiring stories is that of renowned artist and art entrepreneur; Sujit Das, whose humble beginnings teach us that a poor background is no excuse for failure.
Sujit’s childhood in Nagaon, Assam, was relatively normal. It was humble, to say the least, characterised by pain and hardship. He often recounts how the challenges, just like gold through fire, moulded him into the man he is today. All they had was a pan shop, the aftermath of the Biswanath Mistana Bhandar, his grandfather set up in 1936. “But my father had a lot of debts,” he started. “One fine day, he decided to start a bicycle stand, and I was the cycle stand boy. I was in charge of arranging and guarding the cycles while people watched movies at a local cinema hall nearby. My life’s first earning was Re 1 and it meant the world to me. I would also paint pictures of movie posters on the back of rickshaws and autos for extra income.”
When his mother took him to an art school at the tender age of 5, he had no idea that the encounter would change his life forever. “I learned art under the guidance of reputed artist, late Pranab Baruah,” he says. That was the first time he truly felt like he was drawn to something. The young Sujit would often be caught expressing himself using brushes, colours, chalks, needles, among other things. While boys his age got busy with recreational games, Sujit learnt to paint, colourfully bringing to life excerpts from his father’s stories, and has gone on to achieve great things from there.
“I lived a very difficult life. My father was jobless and my mother was a housewife. We literally had no income. This is the reason I couldn’t go to a government art school. The fee wasn’t a problem but then the hostel, food, and travel expenses – I couldn’t afford any. After finishing my higher secondary studies, I opened an art school – Jyoti Art School. I started with 5 students, and today we have 500 students. Last year, we celebrated the school’s 21 years of its existence. Since I was good at my job, several publications, colleges, and event organisers would offer me freelance assignments, like logo design, book covers, magazine covers etc. I started a comic book – Frogman – inspired by Spiderman, with Bolen Bora. Frogman was Nagaon’s first superhero. I never worked to be famous but for basic survival necessities – food and shelter,” he adds.
In 2010, Sujit created a miniature one-inch Durga doll on a piece of chalk in 30 minutes. The idol has been already recognised as the ‘World’s Smallest Durga Idol’ by Official World Record – RecordSetter World Record and Georgian Records Federation. While Sujit has been carving idols since 1997, he, however, knew that he could only achieve international fame only through the representation of Indian God or Goddess in his art. Apart from the famed Durga idol, Sujit has made several other idols; from Bhupen Hazarika to Mother Teresa to Barack Obama.
For an accomplished artist like Sujit, one cannot help but wonder what he now records as success. Would it be the time in 2014/2015 where he received a Junior Fellowship from CCRT, Ministry of Culture, India, for his spectacular work in promoting culture by painting a miniature model of Assam; his Satriya painting titled ‘Buddha O Shanti’ that was recognised and appreciated by the Dalai Lama or the time when British Prince William and Princess Kate Middleton sent a letter appreciating the excellent work in perfecting the Kshatriya painting.
“Additionally,” he says “my painting titled ‘Giridhari’ (Sri Krishna lifter of Mountain) has already been preserved at the Kensington Palace in London. Another painting titled ‘Biswaroop’ painted on Sanchi paat (in ancient times, the tree bark was used for writing manuscripts) is being displayed at the Bahmati Museum in Nepal. I have artworks currently sitting in several infamous art galleries around the world like the Sureka Museum of Kasavo, University of the Visual and Performing Arts in Sri Lanka, the Indian Embassy in Bangkok, the Bagmoti Museum in Nepal, and the office of the recreant of Nobel Laureate Shri Kailash Satyarthi, amongst others. I also made the world’s largest paintbrush measuring 28ft in length, 4.4ft in breadth, and weighs 22 kg. On June 19, 2012, I successfully painted the portraits of Mahatma Gandhi, Shahid Bhagat Singh, and Kalaguru Bishnu Prasad Rabha on huge canvas sheets at Nagaon Govt. Boys Higher Secondary School, in front of thousands of people and media personals. The largest paintbrush has been published by Guinness World Records 2015 edition, Limca Book of Records for 2013 edition, The Book of Alternative Records (UK), RecordSetter World Records (New York), and World Records Association (Hong Kong).”
Speaking on his newly-launched art museum and gallery called Art Village, Sujit could barely hide his excitement. The project is one he holds in great regard as it gives him another opportunity to further promote art in a way he has never done before. “My museum has dolls from Africa, more than 200 terracotta dolls from Bangladesh and other countries, puppet dance dolls from Myanmar, currencies from all over the world, and even stones pyramid stones and bricks from Ahom era. There’s an art gallery where artists can exhibit their works. It is open for all. We also have a nature-inspired cave-like structure on the top floor. People can come over to meditate, do art, make music, and rejuvenate.”
Sharing his thoughts on what motivated him to come up with this wonderful initiative, Sujit says, “When I was finally able to taste success after a lot of hard work, some people from the artists’ community in my home town played foul with me; they wouldn’t showcase my work or involve me in any kind of media publicity. They made a lobby and completely abhorred me. I was very hurt but never stopped doing what I was good at. It was then I decided to set-up a space for children and adults alike, irrespective of colour, caste, religion, economic condition, or gender, wherein they can learn and showcase art – be it painting, music, dance, poetry etc. It is completely a self-funded venture. I’ve taken a loan from the bank. So far, entry is free for all, but we will be introducing an admission charge if someone wants to see the museum. This is for the maintenance of the gallery and museum. My wife plans to host poetry recital classes soon. Next week onwards, we are starting yoga classes for kids and adults alike. We are also setting up a cafeteria on the terrace wherein one can have tea and traditional Assamese snacks like pitha, laru, jolpan.”
Sujit’s Art Village is packed always, from budding artists to professionals. He has also been receiving several requests from artists in Israel, Iraq, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Singapore, and more for exhibiting their work. However, before inviting them, Sujit wants to ensure they have a safe and comfortable stay for which he is arranging accommodation within the Art Village campus.
Sujit believes art appreciation is a strong bond that connects people from around the world, irrespective of their beliefs and ethnicities. He also uses his art to depict issues that are prevalent today in society. Some of his paintings were inspired by mythologies. While he prefers not to strictly stick to modelling his art after the old art manuscripts, it still shares a few key similarities. “I have made one illustration on the ‘Life of Sankaradeva’ on handmade paper. It took me six months to make this illustration. The painting was in the form of a chart that was made by combining many illustrations. ‘Life of Sankaradeva’ was depicted through various episodes. State Bank of India, Nagaon Branch, has purchased the original work from me, although I have a printed copy of this painting at home,” he says.
As he puts brush to canvass, combining colours and making memories, Sujit’s life mission is to give art – in whatever form – the recognition, respect and value that it truly deserves. “Art is a part of our stories, beliefs, lifestyles and traditions,” he says. “We must be conscious about how we promote it and represent our cultures through its mediums”. And that is exactly what Sujit is doing, telling the beautiful stories of his humble beginnings, the richness of Assam and India as a whole to the rest of the world, one stroke at a time.