I was born before Independence and grew up in Suri in the Birbhum district of West Bengal. It was then a small town where people went for a change. It was a beautiful place with mango trees lining the road.
Those trees were a major attraction for us during our summer vacation. We would go out in groups to pluck raw mangoes. Each of us carried a blade, salt and chilli powder. We would slice the freshly-plucked mangoes and have them sitting under the trees. We didnt dare take the fruits home because we were scared of a scolding! We, however, didnt think plucking fruit from trees on the roadside was stealing as the trees were planted by the district board and meant for everyone. Not that we never stole fruit, we did steal mangoes from the Suri Rajbari that was near our home. But that was only once in a blue moon.
The other thing I enjoyed as a child was taking a dip in the pond in front of our house. We used to swim for hours and come home with flushed cheeks, red eyes and shrivelled hands. My mother would often scold me for this — but to no avail. I still love going to the countryside whenever I get time. I feel sorry for the children who grow up in urban areas and will never know the sort of fun we had.
When I was in Class VIII, I developed an interest in painting. The malakars — artisans who make clay idols — worked at a place just five minutes from my home and I would often visit to watch them work. I was especially fascinated by the chalchitras — paintings of mythological stories that adorn the backdrop of the idols.
In my village, fine painting brushes and good colours were not available. So, I would buy from colour powder that was used for polishing chairs and other wooden material from hardware shops. As for brushes, I used whatever was available in the hardware store. Sometimes they were really thick, coarse brushes!
I also found inspiration in the art pages of the Bengali newspaper Basumati and the monthly magazine Prabasi. I also went through magazines carrying paintings of Abanindranath and Gaganendranath Tagore. I studied them and tried to paint in their style. This is how I trained myself.
I was not bad in studies, but my passion was to be a painter. My parents, however, did not support this. They told me painting could be a hobby, not a career. I felt there wasnt enough scope for my art to develop in Suri. But Santiniketan was nearby. I would often go there and meet renowned painters like Ramkinkar Baij. He too used a shoe brush to paint in his initial days.