Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Drawing Skills

When I was four years old, my sister suddenly sprouted drawing talents. She would pick up a magazine, and draw the girl on the front cover with ease and similitude that had my parents beaming. My mother would hold the art in her hands and remark,

" Ahh! Ki sundor ekechhey! Baah!" ["Ohh! So prettily drawn! Wow!]

Once she set it down, lovingly following it with her eyes, I would snatch it up to take a look. To be honest, it was indeed well done. For a girl my age, I surely didn't expect it from her. I was reluctant to admit my real sentiments.

" The nose is bloated!" , was all I said.

Steadily her drawings grew. Her talent sucked me in too. Even though I was a jealous spectator in the beginning, I soon became a peer artist. Together we would lay down our Camel pastel colors on the floor on a lazy Saturday afternoon. Our parents would be at work and we would be entrusted to our youngest aunt. She wasn't much into baby sitting as she was into cooking. It was very easy to find her spending the entire day in the kitchen - simply enjoying herself and her culinary escapades.
One of us would come up with the idea. It would invariably be me.

From childhood, I had been distinguished from my identical twin as the naughty one. I had broken more rules and blamed it on her than she could ever have. I had concealed the real story more often than my conscientious sibling, who broke down at the slightest frown from my mother. In short, I was more of a menace than her.

" Let's paint on the living room wall," I would say excitedly.

" It has the perfect shade of blue since the last time it got painted. We won't have to use the sky blue crayon at all!"
As if that was reason enough to get into this venture head first.

My sister wasn't moved. She wasn't exactly sure but in an undefined way, she felt it was wrong. Her conscience was forming at a much faster pace than mine. My undue zeal was not enough to drag her into it. I could have done it alone. But there is safety in numbers. You know, herd mentality. It is so much easier to say, " Enu started it, 'coz she is the artist!". My sister had already been unanimously acknowledged to travel far with her talents, so there was a high probability, she would get away, and with her, I would too.

" You drew that mountain scenary so well in class today. I think you should try it on a bigger canvas. It would look excellent. I would help you too!", I kept cajoling her. She finally gave in.

Armed with our crayons, we huddled close to the wall. Squatting on the floor, we set about painting a picture of something extraordinary.

Everytime I began a painting (to this day) , I have a vision of the final picture. That day, as I held the black color poised in my hand, I saw a village. The chimney was blowing smoke and near the fence guarding the hut, were two young boys, flying a multicolored kite. The birds flew along with the kite as the boys rejoiced in its lofty heights. A water pump served a beautiful belle with her water needs. She wore a red skirt, hitched up to her ankle, as she balanced two pots on her waist and her head. She had the most beautiful big eyes ever. Not far away, sat a man, observing this village routine. It had all been chalked out, in my mind's eye.

When I completed my work, a good hour later, my sister looked over her shoulder and remarked,

" Hee hee...what is that? a crooked cow?"

I frowned. There was no cow in the scene. Definitely not crooked. She assumed I didn't hear her from my puzzled silence. She decided to scoot over to my side and better explain herself.

" I meant this thing here, in front of the smoking train. Oooh! you seem to have got one velociraptor flying on a string - that's neat! Is that Jurassic Park? There are so many trees...", she trailed off, trying to decode my drawing. At this point, normal lily-livered seven year olds would have broken out into high pitched outbursts. I was strong. I simply smacked my sister on her head. She conformed to the norm and within two seconds, her cries roused the neighborhood. The rest is history. The village scene became the worst drawing I ever drew, just from the consequences itself.

Our repeated attempts on painting the living room wall caught our parent's attention. Punishments weren't enough to deter us ( definitely not me) so they came up with a better plan. Thanks to Mrs. Ghosh. She lived in the flat below.

One Sunday afternoon, she came visiting. She wanted sugar, but stayed over for tea, snacks and appetizers. Throughout her stay, she commented on the sad plight of the house.

" It looks horrible!" she said undisguisedly. She rebelled against the good guest rules.
" They ruined your painting job. And you guys paid so much for those Asian paints people, no? My Boombaa would never do that. He listens to my every word." She paused, beaming to an audience who weren't feeling as good about letting her stay.
" You know what? My Boombaa's classmate was as rowdy as your twins. His parents tried everything and then they put him in school. The drawing school! There's one in our neighborhood - Chitramukul. Why don't you take these two there?"

My parents saw the merit in her proposal, soon after she departed. My dad was made in charge of dragging us down there and getting us enrolled. Promptly on Sunday, at 9 am, we held our dad's hand on either side and made our way to "Chitramukul". The classes started right away. The head master was a balding beaming guy, who greeted us by pinching our chubby cheeks!

" They are in good hands, Mr. Chattopadhyay." He said with unnerving confidence.
" Just come back to collect them at 11".
With great relief and over alarcrity, my dad ran back home, abandoning us in a strange school.

Seven years later, we bid good bye to our drawing alma mater. It was the best artistic years of my life. There were no dearth of things to draw, techniques to learn, styles to try and instructors to admire. Amongst these budding artists, I felt alive. My sister outshone me in the classes and competitions. She would collect all the first prizes, while I came a close second. At regular school, we were soon recognized as good painters. We participated and nurtured our talents, on canvases and easles, far bigger than the living room wall. The beaming headmaster would continue smiling at us. He kept encouraging us, as he did his every student.

It was a small establishment. The instructors were poorly paid and the students came from various backgrounds. Several couldn't afford to pay the fees. But Chitramukul catered to one and all. It was a common ground for people, passionate about painting. I saw a boy, unable to afford palattes and yet painted such breathtaking scenaries. I was amazed at my lack of talents in their midst. I had the best brushes, palettes, drawing paper and colors - yet my picture would never come alive like his did.
For seven years we nurtured our skills and bettered it.

Colors still make me weak. Walking into Michaels or Joann's has me wandering like a child in Disneyland. Filled with joy - expecting something miraculous round the corner. I always end up buying colors and sketch books. On some weekends, when my laundry and vacuuming are done, I open my book. Spreading out my pastels, I pause.
This time, the village scene is clearer.
But as I paint it, I know my sister cannot just walk over and mock it. A part of me leaves the picture incomplete. On my next India trip, I will finish it, in her presence. Let's see if she will still see the crooked cow in the pretty damsel!

Friday, September 23, 2011


My Dad just retired. He has always been an ambitious person. He aimed high. Depending on who you spoke with my Dad came out as a man of many talents or none at all.
If you spoke with my mom and asked her, like an interviewer, what my Dad did, her response would be something like this:

"Who? My husband? What is this about? Is he in trouble? Are we in trouble? ...oh he is not...that's good to know! Phew! I have always warned him with dire consequences, but I never meant them. [ A broad smile ] My husband works hard. Very very hard. For his job. He runs around every day listening and obeying his superiors and (mis) guiding his juniors. At home, he mostly sleeps, wakes up to eat and falls back to sleep again. Sigh!"
At this point, the interviewer would probably move the mike away because the train of monologue is dangerously similar to a overworked wife's outburst. And that is no longer entertaining.
The next person to be asked would be us. Me and my sister. Perhaps, the interviewer would swing the microphone between our faces, not knowing if it makes any difference. After all we look alike - could we possibly have different opinions about our dad?
Depending on what our ages were at the time of the interview, our opinion about our dad would vary.

Age three: "Bloooh..boo..booo..hee heee"

Age six: "Bapiiiiiiiii is bhalo (good)!"

Age twelve: "I think my dad writes to us less. He needs to write more. I also think he makes my mother cry when he leaves and laugh when he is back. He works and works but not at home. I love my mother."

Age twenty-four: "My dad has taken care of his professional life very well. He is very ambitious and has made personal sacrifices to ensure his progress in the corporate ladder. It meant great places for us to visit, great education, good food, comfortable life but less of my dad's presence. I wish he was around more often. I enjoy talking to him. He has so many stories to tell. I miss him."

Age NOW: "Bapi is there now...but we have left home."

If the interviewer would pause there for a moment, perhaps he could discern the sadness in our voices. When we most wanted our dad around, he was missing. Now when I speak to him every day, I realize what I have missed.

His coworkers, peers and superiors admired, idolized, and patronized him. He was an ideal worker. He worked like it was his personal mission to make the company succeed. He zeal for getting more business, coming up with strategies and visions was amazing. As a result he was forever busy and travelling. I knew very little of his achievements ...until now.

Just a few days ago, my dad called me up. He wanted to know the recipe for chappati (Indian bread). Ever since he retired, he had been on a mission to lose weight. To his credit, he has already lost 16 pounds and 6 inches off his waistline! In addition to walking about and yoga twice a day, groceries, fixing the home and following my mother's instructions, he now wants to implement dietary changes. Using the power of Google vested in him, he has unearthed the hitherto unknown benefits of "whole wheat roti" over rice. In a Bengali household, "rotis" have always been an unloved step sister to the universally adored "rice" as staple diet. Since my mother refused to make him the chappatis (except on weekends), he has taken it onto himself to make them.

While giving him the instructions, I found myself amazed. I have had recipe downloads from my mother, but this was the first time my dad thought of me as a source of information. My father was never a fan of my cooking. In his words,
"It is neither Bengali, nor good."

Me and my sister had both been very distressed at the thought of our father retiring. My mother was slightly concerned, but not too much, because she would still be getting away to her work place to escape just in case my dad became too difficult to handle in his retired state. I could not comprehend my father sitting at home. He had always been so involved with his work, every minute, that the utter absence of it was terrifying. I worried he would slowly depress himself into a state of loneliness. All his power and influence would disappear with his bygone position.

I conspired with my sister and got his resume made. It was then that I realized the length and breadth of his professional achievement. He had been a success - in ways that I can only dream to be in my current nondescript position. Along with his resume,his Linked in profile was also created. The idea was to get him another job. No matter how much my dad wanted to retire, we did not want to let him.

The day came and went by. My dad was an official retiree. Much to our amazement, he got himself busy. Every time we brought up job hunting, he would silence us with his list of to-dos and chores. Apparently there was no dearth of work at home, under my mother's direction. He has started making a lesser fuss about every thing he cooks - because he cooks often now. Once my mother is off to work, he is left behind fending for himself. Much like us, he relies on "bread omelet" and "Maggi" on his lazy afternoons.

I feel closer to him now. All my life, I have spoken to my mother, every single day. My dad, irregularly. Now it is reversed. We share culinary mishaps and tips to avoid burning food while he realizes there is a wealth of knowledge to share. He unravels tales on life, work, astrology, fate, youth, interviews, blunders during our telephonic conversations.

I smile and laugh when he complains about hauling heavy grocery bags, rickety tin boxes that serve as commuter buses, the ruckus people causes in the name of reform and the general irritation he feels settling down to Kolkata. (California has become his first love followed by Mumbai!) I make a mental note to find my dad a job in US.

He always held the belief/philosophy that a person has a predefined job that they have to complete before they pass onto the next world. Since he retired, my dad tells me,

"I have completed what I came to this world to do." Before I can interrupt anxiously, he continues,
" That is why I do my remaining tasks (assigned by your mom) very very slowly!"
It amazes me how my dad finds humor in the irony of being "done" and having nothing more to do.

As both of us struggle with our professional and retired lives, we find a common place to share, to crib, to complain and to joke.

But above all, I rediscover my far away father! :)