By Gita Viswanath
Bending over his sketch book with an array of art supplies spread around him, he drew with the concentration of a hawk stalking his prey. He stared at the object he was copying in the classic style of an art student doing his assignment. Whoever said art is therapeutic couldn’t have been more correct. From a sense of redundancy to finding a new joy at the ripe old age of 89, Daddy had bounced back from the day he felt a deep sense of despondency, when he woke up late because as he put it, ‘Wake up early and do what?’ Especially for a man of his era who cannot potter around the kitchen, cannot make grocery lists and cannot fold washed clothes. These are some activities that kept Mummy meaningfully occupied all day through but for Daddy, even television, books and newspapers proved inadequate.
This once smartly attired man went to work daily as a senior official in a public sector undertaking and took off on work to countries like the former USSR, Japan, England and Kenya with a complete sense of purpose and fulfilment. Struck by a paralytic attack almost twenty years ago that left him with a speech impairment and a disabled right hand, he taught himself to write with his left hand. Such was his tenacity and to think a person like this found no meaning in waking up was tragic to say the least. But that was some months ago. Rediscovering his passion for drawing, he has, of late, been engrossed in his new preoccupation, feeling like a child with a box of crayons.
After all, he had graduated with a major in Zoology around the year 1955. As a child, I had learned to draw an elephant from him. He chose from the shelves, with great care, art pieces he had picked up on his travels – an ebony rhino, a brass coffee kettle, a wooden auto rickshaw and so on. With sketch pens and water colour pens, he began gingerly. Gradually, he became totally absorbed, almost meditative. Probably, each object he drew acted as a mnemonic device plunging him into the memory of another time. Filling time apart, the practice of art had surely enabled him to rediscover his own abilities and despite shaky hands, he found great joy in drawing.
His work with its wavy lines may be the consequence of shaky hands. However, what they evoke is certainly symbolic. The lines that resemble the waves of the sea could not have been more telling for one who worked for a shipping company! The lines, equally, indicate movement and like waves, the unstoppable passage of time. The colour palette is thoughtfully selected to reflect reality, like green and yellow for the autorickshaw, as well as a fine eye for the aesthetic. What’s interesting is also the fact that he drew on only a small part of the page. Of course, a large-sized drawing could be too daunting. Nevertheless, the blankness seemed to point towards a much larger universe that can only be imprinted in minimal ways.
But for now, he seemed to enjoy seeing the blank, white page come alive with colours that he filled into shapes that he was creating. Clearly, he was captivated by the magic of the creative process.
‘Wake up early and do what?’
Daddy draws again!
Gita Viswanath is the author of a novel, Twice it Happened. Her second novel, A Journey Gone Wrong, is forthcoming. She has published short stories and poems in several journals.
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