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The Grand Old Man of Calligraphy

The Grand Old Man of Calligraphy
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The octogenarian Hyderabadi artist, calligrapher Mohammed Nayeem Saberi brings his unique style and beauty to the exquisite script written in myriad...

The octogenarian Hyderabadi artist, calligrapher Mohammed Nayeem Saberi brings his unique style and beauty to the exquisite script written in myriad colours and shades

The art of fine writing or script, Calligraphy, is derived from a Greek word Kalla meaning, “beautiful”, and graphia meaning “writing.” Arabic, the language of ‘Quran’, has the quality of adaptability to various decorative forms and can be altered to accommodate any surface or scale and yet retains its visual integrity

Rajeshwari Kalyanam

The octogenarian Mohammed Nayeem Saberi in his dark coloured sherwani, white beard and namaaz ki topi; an epitome of tehzeeb, is a pleasant reminder of the erstwhile Hyderabad when art and culture took the front seat. He has seen it all; the rich and the opulent life of the Nizams, the police action and the later Hyderabad that was annexed into India under the supervision of Sardar Vallabhai Patel. In this background of major events that would be changing the course of history, young Nayeem was nurturing his love for art. He was painting and drawing even as he was having regular education at school and college.

Then he did his diploma in Fine Arts at Madras. It was a British diploma during those days. He was pursuing his passion even as he was chided at home for drawing all kinds of pictures. After college education, Nayeem worked with the government as architect in the Research department in the Godavari Valley Circle. Later he did another diploma in art from Bombay followed by one in the Hyderabad Art College. It was as if he was trying to learn whatever was there to learn. It was during this time, that he found a liking for calligraphy too, which he learnt for nine long years.

However, his work prevented him from pursuing arts. “I was away from art and calligraphy for 40 years. I was busy with work and raising my children. I have four daughters and three sons,” says the grand old artist. He was working for the government department and hadn’t touched his brushes until retirement. It was only after retiring from government service that he took up art again. But this time he confined to the art of calligraphy.

By then the well-respected art of calligraphy has taken a back seat in the city. Nayeem saab was working from his house near Mecca Masjid in Charminar. “The special ‘Baru ka Qalam’ which is usually used to do calligraphy became more and more difficult to find. So I started using the bamboo, cut into half and made pens of various length and width and carved one side like a nib, in the way I wanted,” he shares

And with this pen and the different coloured inks, he writes directly (without using a basic outline) on starched and polished paper. His expertise has to be seen to be believed; the smooth lines made in amazing combination of colours that defy definition seem to flow into each other creating a dazzling image, which is undoubtedly the finest art of calligraphy. The most important aspect of his style is the way he makes the nib by cutting the end of the reed with a knife to create different effects. He can make larger sizes of script by using a reed with larger width. One of his work which is currently in London is 19``X 16`. He can write script of any language in calligraphy style.

His work has travelled across the world. In addition to many Indian cities (His work was exhibited at New Delhi as a part of Siasat Urdu daily’s initiative at Jamia Millia Islamia), he travelled with his works to England, Australia, Dubai, Madina, Iran, Persia, Lahore and several other countries. He likes to do the Iranian Calligraphy which he considers the finest. “Calligraphy has made me popular and rich. I got all my children and 19 grandchildren married with the money I earned,” says the teacher of thousands of students, some of whom come from outside India to learn the art from him.

“Initially, I used to keep my style of art a secret, but not anymore. One of my sons Faheem shows interest and I teach him in addition to anyone who shows an interest to learn the art. However, learning calligraphy needs enormous patience and continuous practice. Unfortunately, many from the current generation come to learn it purely for commercial purposes,” he opines. There is a huge demand from calligraphy, but quality does make a lot of difference. “Ek ada (nobility / style) honi chahiye. The old and classic style continues to have great value. And practice is what brings perfection,” signs off the grand master, who is as excited as a young student when he shows off his recent creation.

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