Photos: Prabir Das
They don't have any fancy title attached to their names. They are not called calligraphers. Not even artist. But they have quality of little bit of both in them, because they know the art of writing beautiful letters.
They are professional banner writers, who hand write banners, posters, signboards, notice boards, wall and anything you name. But with the ever-increasing popularity of electronic tools, why do we need anyone to hand write a banner for a backdrop of a school cultural program or any political meeting, any more?
Like many other professions, disappearance of this job can simply be attributed to technological advances.
“As everyone becomes more reliant on the high resolution printed, vivid inked PVC banners, no one comes to us anymore to get a hand written one,” says Shwapan Kumar, a banner writer who has been running the business of banner writing for last 18 years. In fact no one is coming into this business as it's becoming one of the many extinct professions. But Swapan refuses to call the job of banner writing just a mere business. To him and to his fellow colleagues this is no less than a form of art.
Why not? Lettering just like any other art form takes a bit of determination, hours of practice and ounces of perseverance before it looks all perfect. “There is no school for teaching you the fonts. If you practice daily, you'll see great strides in your lettering skills. When we first started learning it, there was no computer. We used to have just an Adarshalipi (a standardarised book containing Bengali alphabets and basic Bengali grammar). The font that we followed is called Bidyasagar font, one that every text book used to follow.”
According to Shwapan, writing with enamel paint on a huge sheet of polyester is not an easy feat. In fact there are number of challenges. “All letters need to look typed and neat. Your hands need to be steady while maintaining a particular pace. Your line needs to be straight,” he continues. “I learnt this art from my Guru while working under him. It took me three years before I started giving this penmanship service,” says Shwapan, who studied up to class 8.
Muhammad Khabir Ahmed, who has been in this business since 1988, also has something very similar to share. Khabir, who had always a knack for learning sketches but could not do it because of his financial constraints, thought lettering could be a fantastic way to put his art powers to good use.
“For a four meter hand written banner we could charge almost 400 taka or even more. On the other hand, for a PVC banner, we can charge 20 taka per square. People can get it at a cheaper rate, so they prefer having it in digital print.”
There's a beautiful, unique quality to hand-written addresses that computer printers simply can't replicate opines Jafar Islam, a banner writer.
“Once, one of us got arrested, as the police found him writing an anti-government statement on a banner. He was actually copying what he was given by a party member and was writing it without even understanding the kind of consequences he might face,” he laughs. “In fact whenever we used to have any assignment of writing a political banner, there was always some sort of risks associated with it. Once we misspelled the name of the chief guest of a political seminar and the banner writer was called out to the seminar. He corrected it with white ink minutes before the seminar began.”
According to Jafar, they have some old customers who were regulars in these shops and would appreciate these lettering efforts. They used to send their children to learn lettering from these banner artists.
No matter how skilled one becomes, for these banner writers, lettering would always require some problem-solving. Every project used to be different; for example, one project may require you to write cursive, while another may demand neat, precise capital letters.
“No matter what you create, it was always guaranteed to be challenging and thrilling,” Khabir continues. “A kind of joy that digitally printed banner fails to give the banner writers.”