A Journey To Remember

Nepalese artist Uma Shankar Shah’s recent exhibit is a playful, quirky comment on Indo-Nepal relationship, one that admires the relevance of Indian trains in the Nepalese way of life

As a child, Uma Shankar Shah would be so intrigued by the Indian railway link that was set up between India and Nepal that an opportunity to even be able to touch a train would be an occasion to celebrate. Now 51, Shah, a Nepalese artist, has put together all those childhood memories into artworks that were recently exhibited by Gallerie Ganesha in New Delhi. Titled Roti Beti, the show is a playful, quirky comment on Indo- Nepal relationship, but one that admires the relevance trains have played in the Nepalese way of life.

“Nepalese have been fascinated by trains ever since their introduction in India. Like India, trains became a symbol of search for new life in the hearts of Nepalese as well. Trains connecting India and Nepal have always promoted trade and fostered socio-cultural relationships. For me, trains — especially the steam-driven ones — are also about several other childhood memories,” says Shah, a Fine Arts Lecturer at Tribhuwan University in Nepal.

The relevance of Indian trains in the Nepalese way of life

In the Rana regime, trains were used to transport timber, wheat and jute. Also, people would travel from Raksaul to Amlekhgunj by train and then cross Bhimphedi hill to reach Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu. Later, railway system was opened to passengers from Jainagar to Janakpur. This was calledthe Nepal Janakpur Jainagar Railway (NJJR) and was later extended all the way to Bijalpura. “In the 40 years that I have grown up watching these trains, I developed a connect with them and I can now associate ‘mood’ signs they give out. These moods are what I have depicted in these works,” says Shah, born in Janakpur in Nepal.

Speaking of his title work Roti-Beti, Shah says it depicts the twin inspiration for this show — One, trains gave people their economic livelihood (Roti), and second, many Indian women after marriage migrated to Nepal (Beti).

Shah’s artist wife Seema is an Indian artist from Banaras. In fact, Seema traces her ancestry back to Lahore where her grandfather served as the family priest to Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s family. During the partition, in 1947, her family came to India and settled in Varanasi. It is in this city that both Uma Shankar and Seema pursued their studies. In 1995, the two got married and moved to Kathmandu. No surprise therefore, their paintings express the subconscious merging of their cultures.

Relevance of Indian trains in the Nepalese way of life

In other works too, like Railway Station of Janakpur, Nepal Janakpur Jainagar Railway (NJJR), Sita-Ram and Mahabir, Shah depicts the steam engines in their full glory. Bollywood film posters find space in his canvas as well, another symbol of his childhood memories. “When the cinema hall in Janakpur opened, the first place Railway Station of Janakpur Etching; 29×75 inches Exhibiting a typical railway station, Shah shares how travelling by trains was a way of life for Nepalese people. these posters were put up was at the railway station. I was fascinated by these posters. Actors like Nargis, Manoj Kumar, Madhubala were my favourite.”

Shah also depicts a lot of Hindu deities in his work. Nepal has a population of 94% Hindus and is a place where many of the important national entities are named after Hindu gods and goddesses. The trend extends from figures in flags to the name of mountains such as Kailash. “People have names like Umashankar, Gaurishankar and banks have names such as Prabhu Bank or Laxmi Bank. Even trains have names such as Gorakhnath, Krishna, Sita, Ram!” says Shah, as he looks back on this special journey with both nostalgia and love.

Text :- Poonam Goel

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