February 14, 2020
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Snehesh Sinha, driftwood artist, longs to revive the dying art

Snehesh Sinha, driftwood artist, longs to revive the dying art
Snehesh Sinha, driftwood artist, longs to revive the dying art
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Octogenarian Snehesh Chandra Sinha is a tall, lanky man, still sprightly for his age. Though very few know it, Sinha is one of the last surviving driftwood artists in the country, from a legacy which includes the likes of the late Abanindranath Tagore, elder brother of the more famous Rabindranath.

Driftwood art itself is not well-known with most people associating it with woodcraft, says Sinha. Very few practice the art nowadays since the raw material is difficult to procure. Driftwood takes years to take form, and most of the time the artist has to collect it himself. "Basically, it’s roots and branches of trees deposited in the earth in glacier, river or water forms for a considerable period of time. Lying there for many many years, it tends to take on different forms. The driftwood artist tries to ‘find’ the shape and gives the finishing touches. Sometimes, one has to spend days and nights on just one piece," explains Sinha. Each piece has a distinct look and it’s up to the artist to find the shape and polish it, he adds while examining a fresh block.

Sinha, famous in these parts—the Bhagalpur region of Bihar—as Tukul Babu, explains that the art form requires great patience and perseverance. Sometimes it takes weeks to find what shape the wood has taken but when one "finally gets it", the art gets it fulfilment, he says. Sinha believes that in driftwood art, God is the main artist as it is he who gives shape to the wood. The human artist just gives the finishing touches, polishing it for others to wonder at. Driftwood art is nowadays more popular in Europe compared to the Asian subcontinent. In fact, there have been cases where connoisseurs there have paid astronomical prices for a single piece. Sinha himself has never sold a single piece. As he says, "I’m not a commercial artist and anyway I feel art cannot be sold." He is pained at seeing many artists of today compromising their works so it would sell for huge amounts. Though even a student of his is now a commercial artist, he is ready to teach the art free of cost to anyone wanting to learn.

Today, comfortably ensconced within the walls of his palatial house ‘Kath Ka Sapna’ (The Wooden Dream), Sinha takes great pride in showing off his work, some of which gestated for many years before taking shape. He has also donated about 400 of his driftwood pieces to the local St Joseph’s School so that students can learn from and also take care of the pieces. The fact that he has little place left in his house for their proper care is also a factor. Sinha visits the school at regular intervals to teach interested students the skills and technical aspects of driftwood art. But as he says: "A major crisis today in carrying the art form forward is the shrinking forest cover. Where is the jungle today? Where are the riverine areas? Where are the falls? These are essential to the art, otherwise where would you get the driftwood?" Sinha himself took it up after seeing the late Abanindranath Tagore collecting and working at Bhimbandh, a picturesque spot with a water-falls in the Munger district and in the jungles of Jamui near Bhagalpur. Sinha, incidentally, is also a painter of some repute and admires the style of Nandalal Bose and Jamini Roy.

Sinha still passes the days in his studio where he can be found worrying over a ‘fresh piece’, among the hundreds of finished ones. For the last 50 years, he has concentrated on little else. Recognising his love for nature, he has been nominated a life-time member of World Wildlife Fund as well as a member of the country’s Wildlife Protection Board (WPV). He recently donated 12 of his pieces to the National Art Gallery in Delhi which has asked for 12 more. But what will happen to his priceless work after he passes away? Sinha is ready to donate all the pieces to any art gallery of repute who would preserve it for future artists. Otherwise, it will all be destroyed by family members who have no love for the art, he says. "Ghar mein sab jala dete hain, chai bana dete hain (At home, they’ll burn it all and make tea)," Sinha says with pain in his eyes. The only support comes from better-half Sashi Shankar, a well-known theatre artiste. Things have come to such a pass that Sinha now fears that the art will die with him. To this end, he’s keen to teach any artist who’s interested in preserving this dying art. For further details, contact: S.C. Sinha, Kath Ka Sapna, S.M. College Road, Choti Khanjarpur, Bhagalpur, Bihar. Ph: 0641-424458.

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