As a first feature of the three-part series on unassuming artists of Kashmir, Aamir Hamid’s acumen stays unsung in the larger artistic blitz. To salvage his passion, the young artist had to leave home, wander in wilderness, before Lady Luck smiled on him on the ghats of Dal Lake.
It’s a routine wintery day at Srinagar’s Press Colony. A motley group of daily-wagers are protesting against the apathy of the government and unfulfilled promises. They attract the attention of a few passersby who look at the protestors with half aroused curiosity, before hurrying on. One passerby, however, pauses and then appears to dither and deliberate with himself. Looking absorbed, his keen eyes peer from behind the steel rimmed glasses.
In his late sixties, the man—wearing a beret cap, tweed coat of fashionable cut, neat trousers and pointy polished shoes—gives the impression of being a well to do gentleman. A shiny magazine tucked under his arm as he looks intently at the newspaper offices.
I walk up to him, thinking he’s seeking directions to some organization, “Are you looking for something?”
“Do you work here?” he inquires, smiling.
“Yes,” I said, and a glint appears in his eyes.
The man introduces himself as Abdul Hamid, a heartbroken father out to make amends, and earnestly pleads for help: “I’m a guilty parent who choked his son’s dreams and forced him take a career path that he never liked.”
He removes his spectacles and dabs his moist eyes with a neatly folded handkerchief.
A father to three children, Hamid talks about his eldest son, Aamir Hamid, a self-taught artist, whom he forced into Agricultural Engineering, and abandon his dreams of art.
However, in a twist of fate, Aamir’s paintings have been recently published in a leading Hebrew magazine, published from Jerusalem.
While Hamid feels proud of his son’s achievement, he can’t help crying at the same time.
“I could never understand his love for the art and now his work is recognized by an international magazine. I want the whole world to know about him,” says Hamid, flipping carefully through the pages to show his son’s publications.
Four published paintings depict various themes – three portraits done with meticulous detail and an abstract painting stare out of the magazine.
Beaming with pride, Hamid asks, “Don’t you think my son paints well? Will people ever get to see his art?”
Intrigued, a week later, I catch up with Aamir, at a local café, overlooking Jhelum, in Srinagar. As we converse, he toys with a mug of coffee that lies untouched in front of him. His brown fur cap and a white pearl on the ring finger stare out. He gazes moodily out of the window, staring at the mud tinted Jhelum and grey winter sky.
“This ring is given to me by Mum for anger management, though I must say I’m cool as a cucumber,” he begins on an artistic note.
In his early thirties, Aamir sounds as a captive storyteller. His features grow animated, and his hands wreathe the air, drawing figures and lines in the warm air, while detailing his trysts with Art. His story, like many others, began from the very beginning – childhood.
“My mother had a friend, a Sikh lady. Her two daughters and my two sisters would often sit in a circle, and paint with crayons on a chart paper. This is how I fell in love with art,” he recalls.
The course of true love, however, never ran straight.
After grade 12th, he was packed off to an Engineering college in Punjab, to study Agricultural Engineering. However, his student activism got him in hot waters, and he left for Srinagar in 2009 leaving his degree unfinished. His father was less than enthused, and the father-son began engaging in slinging matches.
While he wanted to return to his original love—art, his father wished him to finish engineering. This led to fierce arguments and after one such argument, his exasperated father decided to arrange a meeting with an expert.
Impressed by his art, the expert encouraged him to pursue his passion seriously and made him to fill in a form for BFA at New Delhi’s Jamia Milia Islamia, a month later.
The form required the applicant to select an option among three—applied art, painting and sketching—mentioned in the form. “I chose painting,” recounts the young artist.
Fate intervened again. Ignorance is bliss, but sometimes it’s quite the opposite.
“I asked my father to submit the form, happy at last I was pursuing my dream,” the artist recalls his trysts with passion.
Having a little idea of art, his father was appalled at his choice, thinking painting implied painting doors and windows.
“So, he tore the form, filled in a new one, selecting applied art,” Aamir says. “When I sat down to take the exams, I was shocked to see a paper of a different subject. Naturally I failed!”
He returned to Srinagar, as a broken, depressed man with a pale shadow of his former animated self. Home was drudgery.
“Every day was torture,” he recalls. “I wasn’t applying for a job or anything ‘constructive’. I wanted to paint. One morning, I got so annoyed with my parents that I sold my bike to a cousin for a petty amount of Rs 11,000.”
Without betraying the slightest inkling of his plans, he went into self-imposed exile. With the proceeds of the sale, he booked a ticket on the next train to Pune. He stayed at Pune for a year, where he made ends meet working as a BPO executive. Then, in 2011, he moved to Delhi where his artistic instincts reared their head again.
“In Delhi, I became a frequent visitor of British library at Connaught place,” he says. “I used to read whenever I got time.” During one of his reading sessions, he had an epiphany that he should pursue his journey of art, no matter how difficult it is.
“I would dream about things that I read about and the next morning paint them,” says the young artist. “I would work night shifts and scarcely sleep. Whatever I earned, I spent on art. I even cut down on food expenses to buy art supplies.”
Aamir focused mainly on contemporary and abstract forms. He worked on subjects like Russian Revolution, Jerusalem and Pandit Migration, which are rather different from themes commonly explored in the art scene back in the Valley.
Yet again, the cruel hands of fate returned to trouble him. As his parents forced him to return to Srinagar, the battle lines were drawn again. He began to seek refuge in loitering around on Boulevard Road, Dalgate, helping tourists.
It was here, that finally the lady luck smiled on him at last.
“One day, a Jewish girl approached me and started inquiring about the route to TRC,” he recalls his life-changing moment. “We fell into conversation, and by and by the conversation drew around to my paintings on Jerusalem.”
The tourist girl, who happened to be a journalist, was intrigued by his work, and insisted on seeing the paintings. “She insisted on getting them published,” he says.
And that’s how Aamir’s art finally appeared in front of the world.
Inside the cafe, as he voices his riveting journey, he happens to mention Van Gogh, the struggler and his artistic inspiration.
“In one of his [Gogh’s] letters, he told his brother that he doesn’t have money to buy food. He died young, unknown, but today his art sells in billions. He could not sell anything during his life. This is the phenomenon that our parents don’t understand,” Aamir says.
He laments the challenges and hurdles Art Community has to face in Kashmir. His complaints aren’t run of the mill. Rather, he distinguishes between earning from art and being able to contribute to the society in any way.
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“To attain the goal of contribution, an artist must choose his subjects carefully,” he believes. “Artists are still painting landscapes and Kangris while no efforts are being made to paint subjects which could mark out the issues in the society and initiate a conversation on them.”
The young artist hopes that he can continue to contribute to the society through his art and never be defeated by cynicism. He also said that his first exhibit in Kashmir would be for charity.
“It would be dedicated to all the disappeared persons who have been made to vanish like ghosts,” Aamir says. “It will be commemorating the grief of thousands of families who lost their kith and kin to the war-torn homeland.”
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