An evening spent with Mr Gupta leafing through these Kalighat pats is a delight. The good news now is that you do not have to travel to Calcutta to experience the same pleasure: the Redstone Press has produced a similar box of treats, Kalighat: Indian Popular Paintings, 1800- 1930 ( pounds 14.95). No metaphors here: this is a box which contains a book, three full-colour posters (folded, alas) and a postcard. Julian Rothenstein, the designer who is the Redstone Press, has done other boxes in the past, but this is the best yet. It's a wonderful present - a pretty souvenir, which is entirely appropriate because Kalighat pats themselves were nothing more than that.
As Balraj Khanna explains in his introduction, they were the product of Calcutta's great Victorian boom as the commercial and administrative capital of British India. Itinerant rural painters settled round the temple and adapted old skills to new factory-made paper and paint, selling their pictures for fractions of a rupee to the crushes of poor temple pilgrims who wanted, back home in their villages, to remember and advertise their trip to the big city. The painters worked fast, families of them copying and colouring, until new printing processes made them redundant in the early 20th century. Their pictures were, in their profane sense, the equivalent of the British seaside postcard - the enchanting art of thousands of unknown Oriental Donald McGills.
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