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Jamir Chitrakar, Patachitra
Address: Village & Post:Itagoria
P S:Siuri
Birbhum 731103

40 year old Jamir Chitrakar comes from the Birbhum tradition of patachitra. All the patuas in his village, and indeed across Birbhum belong to the Bedia tribe but identify themselves as Chitrakars or Patuas.  Jamir lives in Itagoria village along with a large community of Chitrakars, but his  ancestral village was Kuli in  Murshidabad district, from where his great grandfather migrated about a hundred years ago. 

Jamir was born into poverty, but managed to study upto class 8 with the help of hand-me-downs in the form of books and clothes from kind teachers. His father, Mukul Chitrakar (son of Dhonkuri Chitrakar) would eke out a meagre living travelling from village to village showing the scrolls that his brother and Jamir’s paternal uncle, Raman Chitrakar painted. Work was divided among the patuas – some painted while some went around selling. Their meagre earnings afforded the family only a single daily meal and the children were often left hungry, with perhaps only small quantities of puffed rice to survive on. 

Jamir started training when he was about 13 years old and within a year, was compelled to leave school and start visiting villages to augment the family income. He learnt the songs from his father, while his uncle taught him his painting skills. Popular patachitra themes in Birbhum at the time were Gorur pot (also known as Goalini or Grihasthali pot, popular among Birbhum patuas, since villagers need it as part of their daily rituals), Nimai Sannyasi, Sindhu  Muni, Shib Durga Shankha Pora and Krishna Leela. The Manasa Mangal story was not common and Jamir claims he was the first in the Birbhum gharana to eventually paint the Behul Lakhindar story. None of his ancestors had painted it, to the best of his knowledge. 

The first patachitra Jamir painted was the popular Gorur pot. Armed with this scroll, the young teenager visited villages around Siuri and Sainthia to display and sell, travelling about 20km each day, several times a week. He would get 5-7 kilos of rice per day for his efforts. On occasion, if he travelled too far, he would spend the night at local clubs or at some kindly person’s house. 

About 15 years ago, life took a turn for him when one day, visiting Ghuskara, a chance meeting with a DIC (District Industries Centre) officer took place at a railway station. The officer asked him what he was carrying in his bag and upon viewing its contents, instructed Jamir to enlist with the local DIC office. Jamir has since been receiving invitations to visit melas in Kolkata and Bolpur at least twice a year. He is the first Birbhum patua to participate in a Kolkata mela. 

Jamir’s main earnings come from these melas. But for the past 27 years, he has continued to visit villages regularly, where he receives rice or vegetables and sometimes money for his performances. The food thus collected lasts his family for three to four days. Other than scrolls, he also paints on other media, such as stone (paper weights), wood (coasters, ashtrays and mobile phone stands), bamboo (winnowing fans and hand fans). 

Jamir laments that while there is a massive turnout of patuas from Medinipur at melas, he is the sole representative from Birbhum. However, he does have collectors visiting him from Bolpur and Kolkata. In fact, Medinipur patuas often visit his village to buy paintings from them and sell them to collectors. This unfortunately does not work very well in their favour, since they rarely get a good price from their brethren. Jamir’s earnings are a mere Rs 4000-5000 a month, and  he somehow manages to sustain himself and his family. But he is looking forward to the day when Birbhum patachitras will be as popular and in demand as the ones from Medinipur.  
Jamir Chitrakar : Manasa Mangal from a Birbhum Patua