Abdul Gafoor Khatri will soon be conferred with India's highest civilian honour - the Padma Shri in the Art- Painting category. He is among the 94 select few to get the award this year. These awards will conferred by the President of India, Ramnath Kovind. Check the video below where he speaks of his desire to win this award.

There is a sense of quiet that prevails in the room where the Rogan art form (a kind of a painting made on fabric) is being created. Apart from a few conversations that happen in hushed tones, all the artisans are immersed in their craft. Sitting on the floor, with their heads bent and their hands moving in a dexterous fashion over some pieces of fabric, there is a new-found meaning in the word “impromptu.” With no design books, no templates or drawings, it’s hard to believe that all these artisans are each creating a design with no reference whatsoever. You almost don’t want to interrupt to ask this, for fear that your question breaks their design thought. But master artisan, Abdul Gafoor Khatri, seeing our expressions and muted questions, takes a break and says with a smile, “From heart to head to hand – that is what Rogan art is about. We never sit with a piece of paper or look for a reference, while we are creating this art. Every design is created at the spur of the moment. That’s Rogan for you!”

Making the Rogan

Abdul Gafoor Khatri Rogan
The master artisan Abdul Gafoor Khatri at work
Photo by Jan Sassmannshausen

As one artisan dips into the color tray and picks a color and smoothens it with the 6-inch thin metal rod, Gafoor says, “Creating this color is the base of Rogan art.” He adds with a laugh, “While I can’t reveal all, what I can tell you that Rogan art is made from castor oil. It’s heated for 5-6 hours – with the temperature constantly monitored and stirred often. Once we arrive at the exact consistency, we cover it and keep it to cool. This gooey mix is called Rogan. We then mix the colour in it and that it what is used to paint.” (See the video for the Rogan process)
The design using Rogan is also made in a different way. Once a design is made the cloth is folded over it and you get a mirror image on the opposite side. This while may seem a smart way to do intricate and big design work, it also means imagining the design in half. “So if you want a circle print then you have do only a semi-circle because on folding the cloth over this, you will get the complete design,” explains Gafoor Bhai, as one of the artisan does this live and shows us.

I got a call from the PMO to make a Rogan painting for Mr Obama (as a gift from the Prime Minister)... many know this now and when they meet me, ask ‘You made the Modi gift to Obama? Wow!’ So yes, I am happy my art is travelling, but now I want it to survive
Abdul Gafoor Khatri, master artisan, Rogan

Abdul Gafoor Khatri wins Padma Shri - 2019

The Modi gift to Obama
The room where all this is done is small, but speaks volumes of the efforts Gafoor Bhai has taken to keep this art alive. Hung with Rogan art fabrics, posters of the awards, the tree of life painting and the most famous picture of Prime Minister Modi and former US president Barack Obama, the room is witness to how one man has strived to keep this art alive. Says the artisan, “At one point in the 80s, I almost felt that I should give up. But my father had done so much for this art that it would be unfair on my part to not pursue this. So I renewed my interest and this art did get a fresh lease of life.”
Pointing to the Modi – Obama picture, Gafoor recalls, “A lot of the credit for the visibility of this art goes to Prime Minister Modi. When he was Chief Minister, he knew about my art and it was gifted to all dignitaries who visited the state. So, when he became the PM, and his US visit was planned, I got a call from the PMO and was asked to make a painting for Mr. Obama. It took two months to make but I did it and many know this now and when they meet me, ask, ‘You made the Modi gift to Obama? Wow!’ So yes, my art has travelled but now I want it to survive.”

'Spread the art the world over'
As he looks at the paintings and tells his young son about the intricacies, he tells us, “None of these people you see have learnt this art formally. They have observed and learned. That is the only way to learn this art. They are all men, but I want to change that and empower women with this art form. So I started at home and trained my daughter – many women from my village and town are now learning this art form. We are now online and this has helped our business a great deal, I just hope that with so many people that I am training – the love for this art will spread the world over."