At the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival, artist Nishant Jain's project SneakyArt captures ordinary yet evocative moments

US-based freelance writer and illustrator Nishant Jain's SneakyArt project showcases the beauty in everyday urban life through ‘sneaky spots’ in public places, from cafés and bars to museums and parks.

Joanna Lobo January 30, 2019 12:10:25 IST
At the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival, artist Nishant Jain's project SneakyArt captures ordinary yet evocative moments
  • US-based freelance writer and illustrator Nishant Jain is the man behind the project SneakyArt

  • SneakyArt showcases the beauty in everyday urban life through ‘sneaky spots’ in public places, from cafés and bars to museums and parks.

  • Jain started SneakyArt after quitting his day job (a PhD researcher) to teach himself to draw.

  • Jain and SneakyArt were part of the recently concluded Zee Jaipur Literature Festival 2019.

It’s the ‘greatest literary show on earth’. Amid the crowds thronging the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival at Diggi Palace, skirting the now infamous tree, warming their hands around hot cups of kulhad chai, and discussing the #MeToo movement and politics, was an artist. You would find him amid the audience at some sessions, listening intently, hands busy sketching things on a page.

The result: a panel of a panel on stage. The artist: US-based freelance writer and illustrator, Nishant Jain.

His project is called SneakyArt and it has him showcase the beauty in everyday urban life through ‘sneaky spots’ in public places, from cafés and bars to museums and parks. Jain started SneakyArt after quitting his day job (a PhD researcher) to teach himself to draw. “I've made SneakyArt at concerts and in large crowds too, but this is the first at a literary event,” he says. “I came to JLF with the certainty that I would find things worth drawing. I wanted to make SneakyArt of the great things I would see there, and that's what the panels are to me.”

At the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival artist Nishant Jains project SneakyArt captures ordinary yet evocative moments

Nishant Jain's SneakyArt from the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival 2019

The panels, drawn with a fountain pen on the pages of a Moleskine notebook are like summaries of sessions, with notes and speech bubbles highlighting the most poignant quotes. The drawings include the panelist/s, a few standout audience members and sometimes, a bit of extra detail – note the audience reacting in surprise to Bibek Debroy claiming everyone chants shlokas. “My subject matter isn’t just celebrities or famous places. The style of my drawings isn't anything like taking a photograph, which can be very intrusive,” he says.

Expect a fair bit of snark too. Jain is a political cartoonist, having drawn over 300 web-comics about Indian politics (on his site Rajma Chawal INK) besides writing scripts for political satire shows. In 2016, he did a graphic novel on the history of right-wing politics in India, based in the world of Game of Thrones, for Newslaundry. The aspiring novelist chooses sessions based on the things he wants to learn and the people he wants to hear; ‘I am listening deeply even while drawing’, he says. His panels reflect Meghna Gulzar speaking about her relationship with her father, Bibek Debroy and Pushpesh Pant debating the Puranas, Madhu Trehan and Rajdeep Sardesai discussing the state of Indian media, and Vikram Chandra, Ben Okri, Andrew Sean Greer and Tania James talking about fiction.

When bored, Jain would leave a session and seek out something else to draw. A visit to the Delegate Lounge, and we learned that Javed Akhtar wears a bib before he eats. “I find beauty in the ordinary things people do, how they stand, how they interact with each other, how their clothes look. Sometimes I draw faces without facial features and sometimes I draw every fold of a dress,” he says. There’s the audience member sporting a fun man bun, another quietly reading Catch 22, the couple taking a selfie during a session, and some of the music performances too. There’s a fair sampling of all the headgear and fashion on display too.

You won’t find Jain surrounding the nearest celebrity or author for a selfie or an autograph. He would rather admire people from afar. “I've been a little shy of approaching people. Even watching some people speak just a few feet in front of me is very good,” he says.

Follow Jain’s work on Instagram (@thesneakyartist) and Twitter (@SneakyArt)

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