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UAE-based artist display paintings paying tribute to Indian Army

In anticipation of India's upcoming Independence Day celebrations, artist Akbar Saheb is getting ready to unveil his latest creation: a tribute to the men of India's armed forces.

Saheb, who hails from Udipi in the southwestern Indian state of Karnataka, came to the UAE more than 20 years ago, and quickly began using his uncanny artistic ability to document the times and achievements of both his native country and the country he now calls home. Since arriving in the UAE, he's composed well over 1,000 works of art on a variety of topics.

His latest work - which will be unveiled to the public for the first time over the weekend - is inspired by the hardships and sacrifices of Indian army personnel.

"India has borders with Pakistan, China, Bangladesh and Nepal. The Indian soldiers are securing our country and our lives," he told Khaleej Times in an interview. "There are a lot of terrorist attacks too. Too many. But, still, day and night, the soldiers everywhere are taking care of our country."

He was particularly inspired by the soldiers assigned to patrol high-altitude sectors of the country's border. "In places like Kargil, for example, it is so cold that they can't even breathe properly. They have to be alert 24 hours a day no matter what. If they are neglectful, they might take a bullet."

"They are struggling a lot," he added. "But the normal public doesn't really think about the soldiers, or what they are doing."

After Independence Day, Saheb plans to put the painting on the auction block, with all the proceeds going to a charity that focuses on helping soldiers and their families.

Among his other crowning achievements are a series of 12 portraits of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which are based on the electoral promises he made to 1.2 billion Indian citizens. During Modi's August 2015 visit to the UAE, Saheb got a chance to present one of the paintings to the Prime Minister at a last-minute event at the Emirates Palace Hotel that was organised by the Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi.

More recently, Saheb gained the distinction of being the only artist with illustrations in Modi's book, Mann Ki Batt, which was unveiled in May at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi in the presence of then-Indian President Pranab Mukherjee.

Many of his paintings, he noted, are inspired by a longing for his homeland. "I miss my country. I miss the culture. There are thousands and thousands of languages, and that sort of culture is what I miss," he said. "I am always looking at things on Google and reading about it."

"But, when I go, I don't spend more than two or three days there, because I can't be away from painting," he added. "Only when I am painting can I relax. I only go for exhibitions or events."

Other notable works of Saheb's are a number of painting series dedicated to the UAE's leadership, including His Highness Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Culture, Youth and Social Development and the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, as well as a series dedicated to the Emirati soldiers who were martyred in Yemen in 2015.

Saheb is keeping the topic of his next upcoming work of art a closely guarded secret, but noted it is "huge", with 40 paintings in the series. "Modi will be impressed," he said.

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