We share the story of Sand Kaushik, a sand artist from Bengal. Growing up Meghalaya, Kaushik’s passion for drawing began as a child, and he continued to pursue it even after his family moved to Kolkata. Today, he is known for his sand art and has earned fame and recognition in India and abroad. Read the full story.
He hails from Shillong, the picturesque hill city of Meghalaya, one of the Seven Sisters states of North East India. The bungalow was situated close to the cemetery and the brook. Big glass windows did not have any iron grill or grid – which made them perfect entrances and exits for the little ones, siblings of two sisters and a brother, who resided in this house. The huge precinct of the bungalow was put to use for harvesting crops like corn, potato, and various seasonal vegetables. The head of the family was an engineer in the army corps and the lady of the house, herself an artist, who, besides running a happy home, initiated the little boy to drawing and painting. The fog-clad Khasi and Jayantia hills swaddling the city, the flotilla of clouds on the open blue firmament, and the stretches of lush green were a fine combination to ignite an imaginative mind. Gradually, in that bungalow, a dream was taking shape which transformed the life of Kaushik Basu, the sand artist from Bengal, popularly known as “ Sand Kaushik”.
On a sultry Kolkata afternoon, Kaushik gladly accepted my invite for a tête-à-tête. “Calibre of a person may be best measured by the size of his dream,” said Kaushik with a soft smile. Beginning of the ‘80s, the state of Meghalaya had seen the worst anti-Bengali agitation which compelled the family to shift to a rehab center under police protection with restricted movement. “Those were the days when, for hours, I used to draw Diana, Phantom’s fiancé, on the frosted glass windowpanes of that makeshift center.” The magazines at the St John’s Whitehall School library used to be a treasure trove for ideating. Kaushik’s imaginative mind could shape up the figurines of different animals in the cumulus cloud. Even if he was not drawing, images used to build up inside his mind of the places he never traveled till then.
The family finally migrated to Kolkata in 1982 and settled down in Baranagar located on the fringes of North Kolkata. In his eighth standard, Kaushik started his new journey in the City of Joy. He continued with his passion for drawing. During this time he drew backdrops for Durga or Kali puja decorations or designed packaging for some consumer durables or CD jackets. Gradually Kaushik was turning his passion into a profession that had started paying off for handsome pocket money!
After finishing his school in 1989 he got introduced to the world of computers, considered a novel gadget then, which he still considers to be a boon in disguise. He played with application software like CorelDraw, PageMaker, Tree Draw, etc., and taught himself the art and science of this novel device. After graduation in 1993, he attended a short course from the National Institute of Fashion Designing (NIFD) where these applications became handy.
With his father’s retirement from the service in the mid-’90s, Kaushik needed to figure out a reliable source of income for sustenance and that was the time when he delved into designing and printing tee shirts, a new fashion which was fast catching up with the youngsters. “I spoke to different people to gather information about the trade and came out with startling facts”, elaborates Kaushik. “The entire market of east and north-east India used to be served by about 50000 small manufacturers from north & south 24 Parganas and Howrah district of Bengal. Another market existed at Burrabazar of Central Kolkata which produced export quality graded products. Moreover, while a tee shirt is worn by people of all ages –the infants and kids’ segment had more repeat buying. Bengal-made products had good acceptability in India and also around the globe.” A 4-day program on entrepreneurship development conducted by a government agency opened up Kaushik’s eyes and with the hiring of workers, he finally launched his silk screen printing facility for tee shirt printing in 1994 with a focus on kids’ garments. Kaushik read about “Ikigai”, the Japanese concept of finding the right balance of purpose, happiness, and success in one’s life. “The tee shirt venture seemed to be a perfect fit to the Ikigai formula! “
Kaushik struggled hard. The tee shirt business was pulling him through the oddities of life. But 2004 turned out to be a watershed year for him when his mother, died of suicide. “As a caring mother, she used to look after every bit of small little things at our Shillong home and also carried on her tasteful artistic pursuit which had a different dimension altogether. She wanted me to draw pictures and become an artist. But as I grew, I sort of ignored her advice.” Kaushik gradually drifted into a state of depression; the ominous thought of being responsible for his mother’s death took a toll on his mind.
A friend’s advice came in handy during this otherwise directionless time. Firstly, to self-enforce a mental concentration and secondly, to excel as an artist which his mother desired him to be. The path was not easy, but Kaushik didn’t have a choice. “I used to sit inside a dark room with a candle lit in front of me and looked at its burning wick till the time it got fully melted. And all this while my nimble fingers used to draw on the dusty floor, whatever came as a snapshot glimpse or in continuity in my mind.”! And this was a eureka moment for Kaushik when the idea of sand art and animation germinated. His first sand art involved two renowned Indians, former PM Manmohan Singh and social activist Anna Hazare, which he published on Orkut, a first-generation social media portal. It did draw the attention of BBC and when ANI Reuters published a story on their portal local electronic media got a whiff of it.
Kaushik as a sand artist or animator draws his objects in fine-grade sand, on a backlit translucent surface with nimble movement of fingers. The silhouette thus created is captured by an overhead camera and the feed is projected on a screen through a projector. The fun of sand art is that one can change the frames very fast and that way an “animation effect” can be created. The artist’s skill lies in the fact that he has a perfect sense of drawing and should be able to swiftly create sequential frames through proper visualization.
While technology had developed over the years, a high-resolution camera with the desired specification was not available when Kaushik started. A webcam was used and as a result, the image quality was compromised. Gradually, Kaushik perfected the technology and also synced audio with sand animation and it became a perfect audio-visual medium to tell a story.
How do you create different patterns/images in such a short time, maybe in seconds or minutes? “This is no magic!”, explains Kaushik, “over time, since my Shillong days, I have stored familiar images in my mind and my artist instinct continuously works on them to create new ones. Also, I take help of symbolism to create a character on the screen, for example, a Krishna may be best depicted by a peacock feather or a flute; Howrah Bridge or fairy atop Victoria Memorial, have long been icons of the city of Kolkata.”
Kaushik’s journey as a sand artist took this art form to a greater height with its organic growth over time. He opened new vistas and took it from the local to the national level. “Unless you have a client or customer or patron who is ready to open the purse string for the art form, you are not sure about your success. And once he does that, you as a creator, have to customize your product best suited for his kind of requirement”, said Kaushik, “in today’s time art has become a commodity which, more often than not, is bench marked against a monetary consideration”.
Besides creating stuff for his demanding clientele, Kaushik also dedicates a lot of time inculcating sand art in youngsters. To make these learning sessions exciting he trains them to create visuals while a Bengali song is sung in chorus. This is another way to master the nuances of sand animation, as well as brush up on the Bengali language, which is currently under threat. “To be a good presenter on the stage there is no shortcut to such training and practice”, Kaushik reiterates. On a regular basis his students, a few of them with special needs, make it to various reality shows and programs that are organized by local clubs, associations, etc.
Another dream project of Kaushik, Gurukul Art Village, took shape a few years back in Daspur of the Medinipur district of West Bengal. It was conceptualized as a place where the visitor would get a chance to spend time in a rural setup in the lap of Nature. The kids would regale themselves by taking a boat ride, playing games, painting, singing, enjoying a magic show, or listening to ghost stories. Due to the pandemic years, the project had to take a breather.
Kaushik loves to go on long-distance biking which gives him a feeling of “flying in the air”. “Fighting with my wife mostly ends up in my defeat and then I make my escape from the battlefield to some unknown destinations on my beast”, quips Kaushik, “essentially I am a dream chaser – that is what keeps me moving all the time, and the moment I see an obstruction blurring my flight path, I flee from that place and time to continue my journey”!
“Our kids do not get amused easily the way we used to“, laments Kaushik “and therefore I want to create an illusion for them the way magicians do”! Kaushik has an ace up his sleeve as a warlock through which Kaushik loves to engage kids and sometimes unassuming adults too !!
As a sand animation artist, Kaushik travels around the globe. When he looks at the floating clouds outside the airplane window his imaginative mind tries to figure out an animal shape, a human face, or a landscape the way he used to do in his childhood days. “The child inside you would always draw a picture which may not leave a permanent impression, but that doesn’t matter – because “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” – as long as you enjoy that – you’re happy and that’s important !!” Kaushik signs off.
Postscript: To know more about Kaushik visit https://sandkaushik.com/
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Saptarshi, a finance professional, has a camaraderie with his camera and pen as he tries to capture the wonderful light and sight along his way and write about the world and people around him.