Brush strokes on the canvas of time
By Prabal Pramanik
These brush and ink works were made on handmade
paper with Indian ink in 1986 in the hills of Western Himalayas.
Those were the days when tradition was the way of life. The old philosophy of these hills
was the most important factor in the lives of the hill people in general.
The hills were covered with dense scrubs and woods, where wild animals of different
Most people here lived more or less in the way their ancestors had lived for centuries,
with one day following the other in an easy fatalistic manner.
Deceptively enough, the modern world seemed far away. Surrounded by the woods, in a
hamlet, I lived in my home with my mother, on the way to Dalhousie from Pathankot.
I had no electricity for nearly eleven years and there was no water tap at my home. Water
had to be fetched from a temple tap about half a kilometer away or even from a natural
spring further away. We collected and still collect rain water in a sizable rainwater
collection tank also.
At night deep and dark woodlands were without lights as the sparsely populated villages
that nestled in the forest had no electric light.
Leopards came up to the woods behind my home and foxes nearly everyday started their high
pitched chorus cry in the valley stretching below.
It was a world of magic and mystery wrapped in mountain lore and faith, a world that is
impossible to find today.
Drums beat at night to invoke the forest gods and the haunting tune of flute from faraway
floated through moonlit mist.
On deep moonlit nights, the entire landscape was washed with a translucent greenish grey
I could see a stretching horizon of panoramic landscape from my home.
Two mountain ranges were visible in their magnificence surrounding my studio in the
northern and eastern horizons, as they are still visible now on clear days.
Mud-built slate roofed houses were common in those days. People were generally satisfied
with whatever available in the villages.
The way of life was much more oriented with nature, and life moved at a slower, enjoyable
People were much more self sufficient as their needs were much less. The old traditional
methods of work were simple and did not require expensive gadgets and electricity. Though
I came from Calcutta, I adjusted to this simple and basic way of life, living in these
green and blue hills with my mother, Dr. Kalyani Pramanik.
We fed our inbuilt wood burning stove in the kitchen with dry fagots, and I would love
looking at the flames dancing. Those who have never tended a wood burning stove or a
fireplace can never understand the joy of watching the flickering flames and the warmth of
the reddish orange glow in the cold winter evening.
In the village tea shop in the evening, villagers sat and exchanged rustic yarns. Their
shadows loomed large on the mud coated wall. They drank sweet tea and some smoked hookkas.
They enjoyed short-bread biscuits made in those tea shops.
When one lives in natural surroundings and also with nature without imposing the
artificial values of the so called modern world to over-burden life, one comes closer to
fundamental basics of life.
The feeling that I am a part of the eternal flow of nature (and not an out
side element), comes in an easy way, through simple living with an open and
understanding mind, sensitive to the subtle vibrations from the wide expanses.
Tribal people came down from higher altitudes in autumn with their live-stock to avoid the
Gaddis came with flocks of sheep and goats. They came with sheep dogs and some times pack
horses accompanied their flocks. They wore the tribal dress in those days and thick hand
made shoes of heavy type. They came on foot all the way from villages near Bharmour.
Gujjars came on their nomadic seasonal treck with their cattle and pack horses.
Blankets, cooking utensils and tent sticks were loaded on the pack horses. Sometimes
chickens tied by their legs balanced themselves by flapping their wings when riding the
Most of the Gujjars in those days went bare foot, though the Gujjar women wore heavy gold
jewelry often set with huge colourful stones.
Gaddis and Gujjars would camp in our village. Some Gaddi groups would stay in our area for
the entire winter. I took photographs of the tribal people and taped their songs
sometimes. I made lots of on the spot sketches of Gaddi shepherds.
Many of the tribal Gaddi people had relatives living here, and they still do. As many
Gaddi tribal people have bought land here and have settled here, there is a large Gaddi
population at and near Bhamlada.
Except a few shops, most of the houses were away from the main road. The local people who
lived away from the main road lived in secluded little settlements on the hill slopes and
valley. Each settlement was a different world. These little settlements were joined with
each other by uneven foot tracks, some times covered by boulders. The tracks went through
bushes, up and down the hills crossing streams and terraced fields.
True, many developments were needed in those days, yet this rustic, simple world under the
pollution free sky was free from many of the damaging side-effect of progress, physically
Career craving values, that breed much more frustration than the sense of achievement in
the rural area nowadays, was non existent and the general honesty allowed people in those
days here to live then without the fear of thefts. Corruption was much less here amongst
The village people grew most of the food they consumed, and I too tended my vegetable
Each dawn was a miracle. Before the sunrise, pale light crept over the dark blue hills
under the sky still deep and shining with stars. All of a sudden, the sun would flash up
dazzling in its brilliance, sending long streaks of light in many directions. The clouds
of the eastern sky lit up and their borders seemed to be in flames.
The suns rays would colour the damp mountain mists hanging in the valleys pale
yellow and the entire woodlands would rejoice in the welcoming light of the new day. The
hill slope with dew drenched grass, shrubs and giant cacti sparkled in the light of the
early morning sun. Birds poured out their hearts delight.
The mysterious melody of the forest of dense undergrowth below tall cheer pines and
deciduous trees of many kinds can be experienced by only those who live with nature away
from the artificial world.
Though the road from Pathankot to Dalhousie passed my house, cars in those days were few
and far between, and the greetings from a passing shepherd or the postman bringing letters
would be the only touches of the outside world on a warm afternoon in the hills for me.
Clear nights came in all the magnificence of the starry firmament with the milkyway
stretching from one end of the horizon to another.
On wet days rain would patter on the foliage, and roll down the leaves.
The contours of the hills would seem to soften under the translucent veil of rain and
water carrying mud and leaves would gush down the hillside in frothy flows.
Autumn bedecked the dense woods with russet and golden leaves, while the evergreens were
bright with their verdant hue.
Long layers of damp cloud like mists spread in the valley, making the hillocks look like
islands in a greyish white ocean. Winter came with chilling rain at night and fresh
snowfalls over the mountains. Snow covered peaks in shades of white and greyish blue
created stark contrasts against bright blue sky on sunlit days.
It seemed that such days with mother, my dogs, my books and art would remain unchanging,
with the basic amenities of life only, managing with a very small amount of money, yet
rejoicing in nature with a soul free from social pressures. Yet, change was setting in
over this scenario in an inevitable manner.
This change has affected nearly every sphere of life here with positive and negative
A great deal of change has come about in the tribal community too, and tradition is giving
way to modern values and costumes rapidly.
The old way of life, with values and life-style is fading away. After the older generation
passes away perhaps not even memories will remain of the old feelings.
It is easier to record old incidents, preserve some old artifacts, keep the collections of
old materials for the future generation to see, but it is very difficult to preserve the
real feelings of the people of an age that has passed away.
The changes in the value system bring about changes in human relationships in a drastic
manner. There are changes in the concepts of success and loss, changes in the ability to
absorb from life with sensitivity, and time turns over a new page in the annals of
These pictures were made at the moment of change, that came slowly first and then
abruptly, but it will not be perhaps possible for me to convey the true feelings of the
Shivalik hill people of olden times.
Yet, these first-hand pictorial presentations may allow you to have some idea at least of
the relationship of the hill people and an artist who chose to live amongst them in the
foothills of western Himalayas.
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BRUSH AND INK DRAWINGS
By Prabal Pramanik
Old surpunch Dharam Singh at rest
At the Gujjar camp,
note the pack Ox
A porter with load in the hills
Gujjars on the move,
the pack horse is loaded with their luggage and even a live cock
At the tea shop in the evening
Life in old Shivaliks
Gujjar women with milk pots conversing
Nomadic Gaddi camp
A road-mender in the hills
Nomadic Gujjar family camping
Gujjars around campfire at night
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