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Everything we see and all that surrounds us is light and colour. But do we really notice? For three generations, a family of craftsmen has worked to make sure that we do in Udaipur, Rajasthan.
Sitting at his workstation by the window, ninety-year-old Harlal Sharma is busy sifting through pieces of mirror, oblivious to the 10 am sunlight that he’s scattering all over the room. His son-in-law Subhash Chandra Sharma is off to one corner rummaging through their stores of coloured glass, looking for the perfect shade for his new design. The sharp scrape of glass on glass, competes for attention with the soft music playing on their crackling radio. And making himself comfortable on the floor is Tarun Sharma, the grandson, sipping on his chai, examining the Glass Inlay frame that was left out to set the night before.
It’s clear to see all three men share an impeccable work ethic stemming from real love for their craft, even though they were all introduced to it differently. A four hundred year old art, Glass Inlay was exclusively crafted for the Suryavanshi Rulers of Udaipur - a Rajput clan that reveres the Sun. It is only fitting that their Palace was designed to capture the Sun’s light. Until one ingenious artisan developed a way to do more with light, using mirrors and glass, he set it free.
“This is a 400-year-old art in a 500-year-old city. The work you see here can’t be found anywhere else because you see, the palace artists were perfectionists.”—Subhash Chandra Sharma.
It was in that very Palace that Harlal Sharma found his calling. Silvery mirrors shimmered all day, holding memories of ages past. Coloured glass panels lit up his steps in hues of red and green, drawing him into this world of light and colour. Soon he learned to bend glass to his will and transform mirrors to create art with light, lessons he would eventually pass on to his son-in-law and grandson. The sheer detail and quality of work was so grand, it was fit only for a King. Or so he believed.
Today, artists take inspiration from Mughal patterns and Rajasthani motifs, sketching their designs onto paper. Once perfected, the design is copied onto clear glass and then painted in reverse onto coloured glass pieces with a fine brush, a relic from the past that very few use today. A very few like Subhash Chandra Sharma. He wasn’t born into an artistic family, but he has always been fascinated by colour. When the time came for him to choose his line of work, he gravitated towards Glass Inlay and found himself a mentor, spending years honing his craft.
Using a diamond tipped tool, Subhash Chandra Sharma is surprisingly delicate as he cuts the glass pieces and shapes them with a grinding tool, sprinkling glass dust all over himself, flecks of colour that fall unnoticed as he concentrates on the task at hand. Despite his ideal for perfection, the process is quite imperfect. Even with his years of patience and careful hands, glass tends to break.
“As a child, I was never allowed into the workspace. There was an imaginary line my grandfather drew that I wasn’t allowed to cross. But I’m here now.”—Tarun Sharma.
Tarun gathers up the glass fragments shaped by his father and starts to piece them together, revealing its design. He sets them in a paste of lime and marble powder he’s prepared, and after a few hours and a bit of intensive scraping and polishing, they will be ready to install on walls, ceilings or smaller pieces like furniture and even photo-frames.
“Today, anyone can be a King. For the right price, you can live like the Kings did in their palaces of light and colour.”— Subhash Chandra Sharma.
By the eighties and nineties, mirror inlay work was no longer confined to the palace walls. Hotels were the new abodes of the opulent. And to experience Rajasthan, was to live like the kings did. With every new hotel that sprung up, Subhash Chandra Sharma found himself spreading the magic of light and colour further than his father-in-law ever imagined possible.
But today, unlike his grandfather and father, Tarun believes art shouldn’t be reserved for kings, royalty or not. It needn’t be larger than life and beyond reach. Art should bring joy everywhere, whether it towers above everyone in grand halls or fits in the palm of our hands. These men remind us to stop and appreciate the shimmer of reflections on a wall. They bring back that childlike wonder of looking at a rainbow, into something as simple as a little box we can carry with us, anywhere we go.
In many ways, Mirror Inlay has changed from lining entire rooms with silvery mirrors, magnifying every moment to becoming subtle accents in our lives, taking any form our imaginations allow. But in the more important way, it has remained true to its essence, setting light free to illuminate our lives with its reflections and colours.
This story was part of the expeditions of Season 4 of Colour Journey. There have been 4 successful seasons of Colour Journey in all. For all the stories of Season 4, visit https://www.asianpaints.com/colourjourney/season4.
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