CHANDIGARH: The Indian hedgehog has virtually disappeared from the Malwa region of south-west Punjab and its loss attracts much lesser attention than the house sparrow’s ebbing fortunes. The Great Indian bustard numbers less than one-tenth of the population of the glamorous species, the tiger. Her sensibilities irked by the obsession of Indians with mega-faunal species such as tigers, lions, elephants and rhinos, city girl Rabani Bhagat set out to paint birds in delicate hues in the miniature tradition, anchored firmly in the aspiration that through her art, “I hope to show people what they are missing and hopefully instill a feeling of wonder and awe!”
Bhagat’s well-received exhibition “The World of Birds” at a cafe here is a blend of strikingly beautiful birds and poignant depictions in watercolor of such vanishing feathers as bustards and the Abyssinian Ground-hornbill. Bucking the trend of the City Beautiful brimming with admirers but not buyers of artworks of non-established artists, Bhagat has sold five of her bird paintings on display. Her viewers and buyers are a niche of hobby birders, photographers, and ornithologists.
A graduate from the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Bhagat developed her own style of miniature painting. In August 2016, she debuted at “The Egg Art Studio” in New Delhi with landscape miniatures followed by an exhibition of “Endangered Birds of India” in November 2016. As a child, she wanted to marry the rainforests! “I was interested in the world of birds and animals since my childhood in Chandigarh and the initial exposure came through TV channels such as National Geographic. I first painted the 12 species of Indian kingfishers and turned to hummingbirds because it is a challenge to capture in detail their resplendent, glistening colors. I paint birds in the hope of spreading awareness and sharing the beauty that goes unseen. Many species of birds are endangered and we don’t even know they exist,” Bhagat told the TOI.
One of her inspirations was just outside her window. It was the stunning purple sunbird that nests in backyards of Chandigarh homes. Her mother’s house in Sector 43 hosts a sunbird family, often mistaken for hummingbirds due to the male’s gorgeous breeding colors and propensity to hover around flowers. Bhagat painted a series of exquisite hummingbirds, native to the Americas, though she is aware that Indian sunbirds are a fair match for hummingbirds in terms of avian aesthetics that charm the human eye. A sensitive portrait of the critically endangered red-headed vulture underlines the bird’s status, it is seen very rarely in Tricity region and one authentic photographic record came from Siswan dam in April 2013.