A young bureaucrat in Kolkata says he would have been a painter by profession had he not been a babu.
Rajan Vir Singh Kapur, 37, has been painting since the time he can remember but has never had any formal training.
On Friday evening, an arts festival in the city opened with a solo exhibition of Kapur’s paintings.
The man with a day job in the Department of Sundarban Affairs said: “I love my job. But I want to be remembered as an artist who was also a civil servant. Painting gives me unconditional freedom. It helps me connect with who I am.”
The pandemic gave him a fillip to pursue his passion with more vigour.
The acrylics on paper that are on display at the Kolkata Centre for Creativity — in the inaugural exhibition of the AMI Arts Festival — were mostly made after Covid struck the world.
“Covid changed every-thing. I realised that life is short and uncertain and I must do what I love more seriously. I have been painting all my life. But it has always been very personal. My friends and well-wishers motivated me to show my work to the world,” Kapur told this newspaper.
The theme of Kapur’s exhibition is Love and Longing.
“Covid took so many lives. Lovers got separated from one another,” Kapur said.
None of the paintings in the exhibition are for sale, he pointed out, dipping cookies into a steaming cup of milk tea without sugar at a central Kolkata hotel where The Telegraph met him.
A special city
Kapur traces his roots to Punjab and comes from a family of civil servants. Some of them have even served in Kolkata. He chose the Bengal cadre because he is enamoured of “the idea of Kolkata”.
“There is something about Kolkata that very few cities have. A Bentley shares the road with a hand-pulled rickshaw. You see a game of carrom played on the street that leads to a mansion,” he said, running his hands through his back-brushed hair every now and then.
He also harped on a trait of the city — that Kolkatans are often taken for granted but command the attention of people from other parts of the country.
“Issues like religion and caste do not matter here. People look at you for who you are. I think Kolkata is a merit-based city,” he said.
During his previous stint as the managing director of the West Bengal Transport Corporation, Kapur conceptualised multiple initiatives to give the iconic Kolkata tram a facelift.
In December 2020, a tram was converted into an art gallery. It was intended for budding and professional artists to display their works.
In October this year, another tram was painted to depict different aspects of Durga Puja — from idol makers of Kumartuli to sindoor khela on Dashami.
“The tram is such a classic Kolkata thing. It is full of heritage. But there is so much that can be done with other mediums of public transport as well, like ferries on the Hooghly,” he said.
Kapur remembers sketching since childhood and winning multiple painting competitions in school.
But growing up, the rigours of academic and professional life had often taken a toll on his passion.
Kapur did his computer engineering from a university in Patiala where he was an active part of the art society and designed and edited the college magazine.
“Preparing for the civil services is not easy. When you start working, there is a lot going through your mind. Painting, as a hobby, always stayed with me. But there have been phases when I have not been able to give it the time I wanted to,” he said.
That was until the pandemic. “Locked up at home, in the absence of social hours, I realised it was normal to be bothered about your job, family life and children. But it was also imperative to pursue your passion,” he said.
Kapur is married to Priyanka, an Indian Revenue Services officer who is now posted in Chandigarh. The couple have a one-year-old son.
Kapur felt nervous in the run-up to the exhibition.
“Taking my art from a deeply personal to a public space feels a little awkward,” he said.
The first day of the exhibition soothed him. Artists and friends turned up in numbers.
“I am touched. I am feeling relieved,” he told The Telegraph on Saturday.