Sarai Mohana is a village in Varanasi. It’s not very far from the main city, yet the stark contrast between the urban and the rural is quite evident. There’s nothing new about villages remaining forgotten. But Rajkumar, a professional artist from Sarai Mohana is trying to paint his village on the world map. The small bridge that connects Sarai Mohana to the city of Varanasi is very symbolic of Rajkumar’s efforts.
The walls of Sarai Mohana are covered by some world-class murals. And though Rajkumar is the one who comes up with the concept, the surprising element is that the murals are made by the locals. Children, grownups, the elderlies, all come forward to experience the joy of creating public art for their own village.
When Team Shuruart asked Rajkumar the reason behind involving the untrained locals for making the murals he said, “When the communities are involved in their own growth and development, the results become far more promising. Bringing people to do something together helps them to bond and nurture an empathetic neighbourhood”.
Rajkumar completed his Bachelors and Masters of Fine Arts from Jamia Milia in New Delhi. He also lived in China for three years, as an art learner under the collaborative effort of Indian and Chinese government. A man of a simple heart, he accepts that in his initial days of learning, Rajkumar was not very proud of his roots. So, what brought him back to his people? When we asked him this question, Rajkumar expressed (looking into space, almost as if the answer found him and not the other way round), “It is always great to start from home. Even when you’re supposed to clean a temple, you get up and clean your home first. I’m not doing this to fulfil an agenda of mine. I just know that if I want to affect the world with my art, I want to start this change from my home”.
When we asked Rajkumar, “Why murals?”, he said, “It’s just a medium to bring people together. They do this, they enjoy the process. And people who have fun together can actually work together to make something substantial and sustainable for their children”.
The murals in Sarai Mohana are generally financed by the villagers themselves. All the villagers contribute to buy the art supplies. Nobody charges anything for the work that they put in.
Rajkumar’s efforts are not limited to the creation of murals in his neighbourhood. A lot of work is also being done to provide a holistic educational experience for the children of Sarai Mohana. With some help from other young minds like Rajkumar, students of the primary schools there have formed a Nukkad Gang (a street theatre group). Unlike private schools, govt. schools don’t observe annual day celebration. But this doesn’t stop the children of Sarai Mohana to prepare various cultural activities on their own. Unlike before, the school now also felicitates the toppers of the 10th and 12th standard. “However small, these activities are crucial for cultivating confidence among children”, says Rajkumar.
The world needs more people like Rajkumar. He is not often around, but whenever he finds the time he comes back to his roots. He has inspired a lot of young people in Sarai Mohana. So when he’s not around, his friend Devrath looks after the Project Sarai Mohana, a social welfare initiative launched by Rajkumar. Clearly, he wants to serve more.
When we asked him what piece of knowledge does he want to offer to the budding artists, he said, “One should never stop asking themselves who they’re and what they want from life. These questions are difficult, but the process of continuously looking for answers is what makes you grow as an artist and as a person. ”
(PS: Sadly most of the murals have now faded due to weathering. Contribute to the Project Sarai Mohana if you think that the village should retain its colours. You can contact Rajkumar on his Instagram Profile @rajsahani10)