Kalu Kumale is a name synonymous with wrathful deities, and thus when your interest builds up in his craft, you will most definitely try to trace the buried anger, rage, and indignation his works emote. But, it won’t be a surprise if you are left aghast to see this humble man, who knows no anger but just his craft and his son.
I couldn’t see the anger in his face; of course, I barely knew him...
“Buwa, from the very beginning, was very innocent, he doesn’t know the mathematics of life. He just knows his craft. His journey as an artist began when one of his friends managed to sell his clay birds to a passerby one morning. His friend then returned to him, asking him to make more of them,” says Rakesh Awale, who seems to be Kumale’s dearest son. A son who is devoted to making Kalu Kumale what he is today.
A newspaper article framed in the guest room states Rakesh Awale to be the reason behind Kumale’s success as a Krodh Murtikara (Angry Sculptor). The room is, in fact, filled with Kalu Kumale’s life story; his beginnings, his struggles, and his unending persistence. The man has seen his bad days; after all, he was a Kumale—a caste strictly designated to work as clay workers once upon a time ages ago. However, he is part of a different story now.
He is an artist known for his meticulous sculpting, one who has handcrafted more than 500 deities that have been exported to many countries around the world, to Tibet, Thailand, Malaysia, the United Kingdom., the United States of America. Some of his renowned creations range from Mahasambhara Hangriva, Heruka, and a 76-cm-high statue of Vajrayogini, to a 15-feet Maitry Manjushree.
The young Kumale collaborated with Sangha Ratna Shakya for over 26 years, before his son took over and started Kalu’s Arts & Handicrafts. And, since then, the duo has been invincible together.
What I treasured the most in between the interviews with Kalu Kumale and Rakesh Awale was their father-son relationship; priceless and genuine. Rarely will you find a son who knows all the stories of his father just like his own memories.
As Kumale sat across me, I asked him, “What do you think of your son’s work, is he a great artist?”
He replied without bias, “Rakesh knows more about fair business transactions, he is the one who motivated me. However, he doesn’t get much time to work on his own craft; he is shouldered with a lot of responsibilities.” A note of pain underlines his tone as he says this. I guess, because, for the Kumale family, their journey has not been that easy. Rakesh is the third son, and he had once gone in pursuit of salvation by becoming a monk. However, due to the familial concession, he returned to the fold when they were having a financially hard time.
Come to think of it, Kumale perhaps is the silent Bhairava, or maybe his son takes the traits of the Bhairavs he sculpts, rather than him, because you cannot miss the shields Rakesh layers his father with. And, so, I move on with my inquisitiveness.
“What are you thinking when you are crafting? What goes inside your head? What is it like to be sculpting like the ‘Kalu Kumale’ the world knows?” I ask.
He is soft spoken, his hands tremble a bit, but he is eager to answer my question himself. And, his answer pricks me in the most human way possible. “When I am working on my craft, it’s
like I am blind to this world, a mirage forms in my head, my imagination takes over, and it’s like I am conversing with my image. I don’t like to eat or sleep until my work is done. I feel everybody should devote themselves to their work like I do, you should leave no room for laziness. Every work should be crafted perfectly.”
I can’t imagine myself to be that true to my work. I do have dreams of words, but I have never really felt a warping mirage on my mind. I guess that is the difference between being ordinary and extraordinary.
Kalu Kumale loves to sit on his veranda to observe his craftsmen at work, and often, he manages to spot imperfections even from afar. Nevertheless, he believes he is not a man of any special gift, but a man of skill, who practiced his way through to become the Kumale the world knows. “Hard work is the ultimate reality of an artist, not talent,” he says softly.
I am numb by the end of the interview, because when you meet the icon himself, you are flabbergasted, even if his story has been told a hundred times and more. Kumale didn’t disappoint me with the trite of being ordinary. He is the ‘Kalu’ that will be indelible in the history of craftsmen of Nepal. And, with him, people will surely and duly remember his son Rakesh Awale, who has always been there for him through thick and thin.