From Kohlapur to Kuala Lumpur - Avinash Kharat

“Sirf likna nahi hain” is what the voice over the phone tells me. The voice belongs to Avinash Kharat (@avinash_calligraphy), one of many calligraphers practicing an ancient art form in India. I talked with Avinash before his first international Calligraphy workshop in Kuala Lumpur, where he will impart his wisdom to budding and amateur calligraphers.

A common misconception about Calligraphy is that a lot of people think that it is just writing in a fancy and floral way. For Avinash it is a vast yet tragically overlooked ocean. He calls it a free form, with loads of room to experiment. Despite minimal restrictions, Avinash tells me that the art of Calligraphy is a demanding taskmaster. “Calligraphy requires patience, perseverance and focus. It takes five to six years of practice with undivided attention”. Calligraphy also requires a strong muscle memory and Avinash tells me that any Calligrapher ought to work on honing that.

He compares the art form to the penance undergone by Saints who would meditate for years to gain the favor of the Gods. He says “When I’m at my desk, working on an assignment, absolutely nothing and no one can interrupt me”   

For Avinash the journey began fifteen years ago, in his hometown of Kohlapur, in Maharashtra.  One day, he saw a man at his gym holding the attention of a small knot of people using the Gothic script. Fascinated with the aesthetics of calligraphy and the symmetry between the letters in the scripts he began to practice. He started practicing in the Gothic and Roman style, then moved on to Initial and Devanagari. After going at it for five years, he switched to the Copperplate and flourishing styles, which involve the use of pointed pens and writing in a ninety degree angle.

I ask him about the Calligraphers who influenced him, “There are too many people to name” He laughs good naturedly and rattles off a barrage of names ranging from old masters like C P Zaner, to modern day calligraphers like Eleanor Winters. Avinash owes a lot to Winters, as he learnt a lot about calligraphy through her workshops. Is there anyone from India whom he admires? “I admire the work of professor Sashikanth Pendase from the Sir JJ school of Arts. It was he who actually introduced me to the Copperplate style” So if I were to begin practicing Calligraphy tomorrow, where do I start? Avinash earnestly replies, “People usually begin with Brush Calligraphy before moving on to other complex forms”

Talking about the Copperplate style Avinash tells me that it tends to stay inside the aesthetic box. Despite this or even because of it, the copperplate style holds his attention, for the time being. Apart from being a full time Calligrapher, Avinash is also a collector of all things related to the Copperplate style, and he proudly tells me that after five years, he has over seven hundred vintage Calligraphy nibs in his possession.

Calligraphy isn’t exactly new, and if you looked it up on the net like I did, you’ll find that it’s been around since the 7th century. So how does he manage to survive in an era of increased digitization?
“First of all, when you’re working with fonts in design software, it’s like working inside a box. There’s no room to experiment” Though design software will offer a multitude of artistic possibilities, Avinash believes that it can never deliver on the feel that Calligraphy delivers. He assures me that Calligraphy is much more flexible than the fonts and types available in design software. Despite this many clients had asked him to defer to software. He also wants to show the upcoming generations that Calligraphy by hand, is the way to go.  

A lot of people wait for the right opportunity and they keep waiting all their lives. But Avinash feels differently “Well, eventually your passion must go somewhere” After doing his Bachelor’s in Engineering, he decided to take a leap of faith and to use the clichéd expression, to go down the least trodden path. Social media has also helped him out in this regard. With an army of over twenty five thousand followers, Avinash posts videos of his works on Instagram. This has bought him to the attention of fashion houses like LV and Gucci.  

As time went by he wanted to share the happiness that he got from Calligraphy with other like-minded people. This initiated a series of Workshops in and out of the state. He admits, he has not yet done a workshop in his hometown of Kohlapur. Avinash tells me that initially there was not much demand in Kohlapur for Calligraphy. However as time passed on and people became aware of him the demands for conducting workshops in his hometown has been steadily increasing. He feels that there is a good scene for Calligraphy in places like Mumbai, Nashik and Pune. In these places the scene is abuzz with talent and inquisitive minds seeking to improve their skills.

Avinash takes these workshops very seriously, “When it comes to Workshops people invest the most valuable commodity they have, their time.” And as any teacher worth their salt would say, when it comes to learning, it wouldn’t suffice to impart your knowledge, you need to kindle an interest for the subject in the mind of the student. That is exactly what Avinash has done in the hundred workshops that he has conducted. In Kuala Lumpur he tells me that the workshop will also exhibit some of his works as he covers some aspects of Flourishing calligraphy. 

Avinash Kharat’s star is on the rise and his workshop in Kuala Lumpur is hopefully the first in a series of international workshops.

You can check out his work on his Instagram, @avinash_calligraphy 

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