Artist: Guljan Chitrakar
My name is Guljan, and my home is in Naya. I was born into a family of four brothers and two sisters. My mother sold women’s wares in the village, and my father showed scrolls in order to bring enough rice home to feed us. All my brothers earned money by driving bicycle taxis. My elder sister was married in this neighborhood and learned the arts of scroll making and singing—so that is how the rest of our family knows how to do it. In fact, most of the women in this village know how to paint. Nobody on my father’s side of the family has the skills that my sister, father, and I adopted. But the truth is that I didn’t pick up scroll painting until after I got married. We married when I was fifteen years old, and my husband was seventeen.
When I asked my husband about learning how to paint, he told me, “I won’t teach you. We hardly earn anything from scroll painting. Why do you want to learn, anyway? We will never go out to sing or show scrolls together, so there’s no need for you to learn.” So for the time being, he went around the villages showing scrolls to people and came back with some rice and money to support us. I grazed the goats and did some gardening, and I took care of our six children. We continued to be terribly poor and were barely able to run our family, though. I couldn’t feed or clothe my children or send them to school. I couldn’t see any way to earn more money, either without having the painting and singing skills that I so desired.
Five or six years ago, though, I joined the women’s committee here in Naya. There are fifteen of us, and I’ve learning to sing a little. I don’t know as much as the other women because my husband never really allowed me to participate. I was very keen to go to the medical program in Calcutta with the other women a while ago—they were showing their scrolls and singing there! But my husband did not let me. “Who will look after our children?” he asked me. I suppose he was right. I had to tend the two goats as well. Who would take care of my very young kids when my husband went out? I’m the one who has to do it.
We are in such a terrible state—we hardly have any income and can barely manage to eat each day. My husband shows scrolls but he has no interest or passion in the art, and so he does not sell them for good money. For him, the costs of production far outweigh what he gets paid for his work. And he can’t bear to sell the scrolls for less than the value that he places on his work. So tell me, how can we paint in a starved state, constantly fighting against our impoverished conditions? My husband goes out just because he has to, and I feel a lot of pain for him. Even worse, he sells the scrolls on the condition of credit, and thus he doesn’t get paid until two or three weeks after making the sale. I can’t blame him for his frustration.
I’m thirty-five years old now, and I have five daughters and one son. I have managed to marry off one of my daughters, but she and her husband live with us. I’ve given my second daughter in marriage to a man in the house opposite ours, but we haven’t met their dowry demands in full. Only by begging have we been able to give a partial dowry to the families of both of my daughter’s husbands. I had to sell my goats to arrange my daughters’ marriages and yet I still borrow a lot from others. Manimala’s mother has lent me money, but I still haven’t been able to pay her back. I must pay her soon even though she has asked me to pay her gradually since we are so poor. And I still have three other daughters to worry about in the future. As far as schooling goes, I haven’t been able to buy books, pens or pencils for my only son. All of my children go to government-run schools where, luckily, they provide free books. But we still have to buy exercise books, and other materials, and where will that money come from? How can my children learn under such circumstances? Should I feed them or buy them books? We are under duress all the time, and it kills me to make these decisions. In order to supplement our family’s income, I work in the fields to try to earn money or food, and I paint scrolls in private. My husband does not want me to be seen working with scrolls, but I do it anyway. Like I said, I began training and learning a great deal through the women’s committee when it was founded five or six years ago. And as much as I learn, we are still so poor. The poverty in which we live seems almost inescapable.