I recently learned about an important feature that distinguishes us human beings, right on top with our opposable thumbs and standing upright – the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex, among many things it does, enables us to simulate experiences. Or in other words, it helps us create narratives or tell stories. And we human beings love stories.

Jamini Roy, a Bengal born painter of the mid-20th century, started out as a commissioned portrait painter. In the early 1920s, he stopped portrait painting to find a visual language of his own. He decided to draw inspiration, not from Western traditions, but from his own culture, and so he sought the living folk and tribal art for inspiration. He was most influenced by the Kalighat Pat (Kalighat painting), which was a style of art with bold sweeping brush-strokes.

In the nineteenth century, the only school of painting that flourished in Bengal was the traditional art of scroll paintings that was popular in the rural areas. These paintings were done on cloth or patas. They depicted conventional images of gods and goddesses and scenes from epics like Tulsidas’ Rama Charitra manas. The artists were villagers who traveled from place to place with their scroll paintings and sang the scenes from the epics depicted in the paintings during village gatherings and festivals. It is important to note (in this divided World) that these artists, called patuas or ‘painters on cloth’ were said to be half Hindu and half Muslim and practiced Islam.

Jamini Roy was intrigued by their stories and style that he moved away from western grammar to embrace Indian folk traditions. Further, he made this popular in India, Europe, and America. There are such precious styles and languages that are hidden in folk traditions of rural India that can be a great inspiration of growing artists and designers.