Malick Asghar Hashmi/New Delhi
“Arabic calligraphy survives to an extent in Kerala and Karnataka while it has vanished from Uttar Pradesh; I am trying to revive it.”
This is what Zehra Jafri of Bahraich, Uttar Pradesh, has to say about the ornamental and artistic writing a language that has great importance for Muslims the world over.
Zehra, 22, dreams big she has taken up the responsibility of reviving Arabic calligraphy.
More importantly, Zehra is clear that unless an art or a hobby becomes viable, it cannot survive. So, she is trying to turn her art into a business.
During a conversation with Zehra Jafri, it turned out that she also runs a school by the name of 'Imam Ali Madrasa' where 41 children are being imparted regular as well as religious education.
Zehra makes it a point to teach her students calligraphy. Her idea is that after they leave the madrasa, the skill of calligraphy will help them earn extra money or maybe it becomes the sole source of earning for them on bad days.
Besides running a madrasa, Zehra has made calligraphy an important source of her livelihood. She has been pursuing commercial use of her art for five years.
Zehra Jafri is busy creating artwork
Her Twitter handle is 'Zehra Calligrapher’ on which she has more than 10,500 followers. She also has a Facebook page and YouTube channel named after him.
She sells all her products on these social media platforms by displaying these and asking those interested to leave their number in her mailbox.
She speaks with them on mobile and strikes a deal.
The customers place their orders and on a designated day, the item and money are exchanged.
Zehra Jafri is thus able to make a living from her art. She makes everything from wall hangings to car decorations for her customers. She also makes Togra (calligraphy on glass).
Zehra Jafri’s father Shakeel Abbas runs a garment shop in Bahraich. She has three siblings – two elder brothers who help her with her online business. Both of them handle her social media pages.
Her eldest brother is in charge of the design of her products on social media. Zehra says, “Bhaijaan is very creative in this matter.”
Zehra Jafri displaying her artwork
It may be mentioned that Zehra has not undergone any formal course in calligraphy.
She says, “Not everything can be learned by reading. Many do not even learn by reading. Many learn a lot without studying.”
Her story of learning calligraphy reminds one of Eklavya, a tribal king in epic Mahabharta who quietly observed Guru Dronacharya imparting lessons in archery to Arjuna and became an expert.
Zehra said Moin Sahab was a teacher of Sanskrit and painting in her college in Bahraich where she did her B Com from. His handwriting and art of drawing were impressive.
Zehra says in Moin Sahab’s class, she purposely sat on the last row and closely followed his strokes and his handwriting as he wrote on the blackboard.
Once home, she practiced what he learned in her drawing class. She thus learned the alchemy and maneuvering of colours from her teacher while being a backbencher and unnoticed, like Eklavya.
It was when she realized that Arabic calligraphy was a dying art in Uttar Pradesh, home to the largest population of Muslims in India.
She started practicing the art that she had learned from Moin Sahab on calligraphy. Zehra had already gone through her dini (religious) studies and Urdu is their mother tongue. "That's why I didn't find it difficult to learn Arabic calligraphy," she says.
She pleads for larger efforts to revive the art of Arabic calligraphy by imparting its training to students in madrasas in Uttar Pradesh.
Unfortunately, her inspiration and guide Moin Sahab passed away before Zehra’s art had flowered. He passed away five years ago.
Zehra is planning to launch her website soon. “Since the business is growing, I am going to launch a website soon to promote her product. Its preparations are in full swing.”