Pakistani youth's talents are being wasted in search for short cuts, says calligrapher Aftab Ahmed

Published 22 Jun, 2017 09:11am

He says that the younger generation wants short cuts when calligraphy and photography require time and patience

Aftab Ahmed Khan presenting his work to President Mamnoon Hussain at a recent exhibition in Islamabad
Aftab Ahmed Khan presenting his work to President Mamnoon Hussain at a recent exhibition in Islamabad

Aftab Ahmed Khan is a renowned calligraphist, muralist, ceramist, writer, photographer and forensic expert. He is also recipient of the Pride of Performance Award in addition to several other national and international awards including the Prime Minister’s Gold Medal and four lifetime achievement awards.

He learnt calligraphy from his father, a renowned artist from Peshawar, Haji Mohammad Sharif and then went on to pursue a career with the police. He is the author of 54 books on art and culture and has published 30 international pictorial exhibition catalogues.

At the age of 87, Mr Khan heads the Scientific Investigation Wing of the Punjab Police at the Sihala Police College and serves at the rank of SSP. He is a forensic advisor and has worked with other law enforcement and intelligence agencies as a forensic expert as well.

Dawn spoke to Mr. Khan at the Rawalpindi Arts Council where he was holding a calligraphy exhibition.

What drew you to calligraphy?

Aftab Ahmed: I was inspired by the work of my father and I started working on calligraphy when I was nine. Now at the age of 87, I am trying to learn more about the art. My father was the best calligraphist in Peshawar and he told me to pursue the art when he saw my work.

After that, I started giving more time to calligraphy and looked at the works of senior painters across the world closely. I have been working towards the promotion of art and culture in the country for 78 years.

Now, I am working on trying different [styles] in Naqashi. Traditionally, vibrant colours are used in this art but I have tried to use lighter colours to give it a new touch. I also used real gold and silver on canvas to create the impression of uniqueness and depth. The technique of breaking colours by mixing them brings something new to the art. I have always loved photography but now I am more comfortable with calligraphy.

How come you joined the police, which is so different to a career in art?

Aftab Ahmed: I joined the police as a forensic expert in 1964 and retired in 1996 at the rank of SSP. They later asked me to head the Scientific Investigation Wing at Sihala Police College and I have been working there since. Forensics is also an art but policing is my profession and art and culture are my love.

Police investigations based on science are different from traditional methods where the accused is beaten to get the truth out of him. During scientific investigations, finger prints, the size of bullets, distance from the crime scene, blood and semen samples, time and the surroundings are used to determine the truths after testing at a forensic laboratory.

More than 300 sub-inspectors are being taught at the Scientific Investigation Wing in Sihala and they will join various police stations next month.

Are young people interested in learning calligraphy and photography?

Aftab Ahmed: Many people are interested in calligraphy but not in producing it. The younger generation wants short cuts when calligraphy and photography require time and patience.

Computers have made lives easier. Young people are producing calligraphy on computers, which is easier because computers can correct lines and select colours. But when you do the work with your hands, then the lines must be straight and the colours just right. However, computers cannot tell the size of words and give you new ideas for writing the names of Allah or verses from the Holy Quran, which are better written by hand.

Digital cameras have made the work of young photographers easier as well, especially taking selfies. However, photographers need to understand lighting, background, colours and balance. The younger generation just clicks a button to get a photo without fulfilling the requirements.

The younger generation is talented but their talents are being wasted in their search for short cuts instead of practicing to perfect their art. Their works should be encouraged so they work harder and the government should support them so they can learn art without any problems.

Originally published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2017