If you’re looking for something off-beat, yet typically Indian to gift, Mahesh Murtikar is the person to visit. He is probably the only artist in the city who makes figurines using mitti or mud.

Nestled in a narrow lane in the bustling Raqabganj area in Lucknow, Mahesh Kumar Murtikar has been making and selling small statuettes made of mitti since over 30 years and is the third generation of his family in the business.

Though the figurines made by Mahesh are all but 3 inches high, the process of making them is a laborious one. First, the mitti is mixed in water, only to be put through a sieve to get rid of the smallest of granules. Next, the sifted mud is sun-baked and put into casts or moulds of the figurines. The mould consists of the body and the face only, limbs and facial detailing is added on separately. The statuette is then left in the sun once again to be dried completely for an entire day. Then, each piece is baked in a clay oven to strengthen and lock the shape. Lastly, each piece is hand-painted meticulously, adding details like clothes, hair, buttons, footwear etc.

It takes two days, from start to finish, for one single statuette to be completed. Though Mahesh professes that his talent is nothing compared to that of his father and grand- father, his work will have you captivated. The intricate details of the sculptures like the parting of the hair or the wrinkle on the clothes or even accessories like spectacles and handbags are beautifully executed, almost majestically so.

Though Mahesh has been making mud figurines for the most part of his life, his clientele is not very wide. Apart from a few exporters, Mahesh himself participates in exhibitions and trade fairs and has had opportunity to showcase his work in few five-star hotels’ shopping arcade. Not one to rant about his blues, Mahesh considers himself extremely fortunate to have found patronage in many foreign tourists who not only appreciate his art but also purchase pieces in bulk to gift them as souvenirs to their friends back home. It is highly unfortunate that a local artist has been able to find admiration in people from other nationalities while in his own country, his art and his work has little to no takers.

Mahesh typically makes sets of 10 figurines in a box and has a number of options to choose from – National Leaders that include Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose etc., different Gods, People of India, Labourers of India, Tribals, Bhangra dancers and even Krishna and his Gopis. Do not ask for personalisations, because Mahesh is firm that he cannot customise figurines for anyone.

NL Tip for shoppers: Visit Mahesh on a Thursday, when the rest of the market is closed, to avoid the crowds.

Price: Rs. 550 onwards for a set of 10 pieces
Location: 256/69 Khajuha, Near Mausam General Store, Raqabganj
Timings: Available all day. Avoid rush hour time in the mornings and evening.