At the age of nine, I was taken to a popular local painter and asked to learn painting. My mother who loved art in every form, requested the painter to teach me twice a week, “She has the gift. So start with still lifes.” The painter taught me how to draw deep layers of rose petals, a lonely lime blossom under a rainy sky, and a lifeless hibiscus trying to find light through the open window. “But I want to paint human life. And a landscape of his week and month and year and I want to color them natural,” I pleaded once. “But they won’t look good forever. Flowers are fine,” the painter yelled.
I was given many sets of color crayons to fill the lives I sketched. But in a very British skin-tone loving post-colonized India, there was no crayon to paint a real Indian skin, and the blemishes of a face that changed colors based on the changes of emotions. No wonder I stopped going to the class within three years.
A year ago, I lost a friend. “Suicide,” the friends of friends whispered. “Go to the online profile and read if you don’t believe,” a bespectacled guy, who was connected with all friends’ recent updates, unfolded the story.
The friend was not on my social media friend list because we were not close. Not close to remain friends in life. But close enough to mourn the death. Death is a magic eraser, it blurs all lines.
I searched the friend’s profile on the social media. A smiling profile picture with no proofs of the sudden absence came up. It was taken in a tea garden in the lap of the Himalayas. I remembered, we spoke about the Himalayas a lot, because we both had happy memories attached to those sets of mountains. There were too many recent messages under the picture. “RIP.” ” Shocking.” ” Still Can’t believe it.” Some of them didn’t match with the powerful smile on the picture. On top, in a reply to an old comment, the friend wrote long before the death, “Call me, or email. I don’t like social networking much.”
I felt a strong to urge to go back to painting after reading that. I wanted to make a portrait of a known person, known through our marginal encounters in a large landscape of life. But the pains and aches hidden in the heart, I still don’t know what kind of crayons will be suitable to capture all the colors that a heart can hold back.
I lost my grandfather on a gloomy day. It rained here in California that afternoon. My mother telephoned while sobbing. She is the most loved child of her parents and I know very clearly what a father-daughter bond looks like.
I had to fly to India after six months from that day and face my Grandmother, one of the most favorite people of my life. In all of my childhood time paintings, she looked the most beautiful, with a bright red bindi on her narrow forehead, her red bordered Saree flying like a free kite in the sky. “One day, I’ll own all of your Sarees,” I told her so many times until I became the teenager with a different frame of mind, fluent in contemporary literature and dressing sense. But she remained close, and too modern to remain my best friend. “I fell in love with a guy from other culture,” I said to her after the fall, a decade ago. “Never mind. No guy is that good for you in our culture,” she supported while giggling. “A best friend, always a best friend,” I cleansed my soul in the comfort of her tight hug.
Her laughter, her love for good and bad movies, her gypsy soul, her feminism from the old time when eastern Indian women were fiercely decisive- I inherited all and always carry with pride. But.. But..She has changed since the death of my grandfather. Now she is not even the shadow of her colorful image that I painted after my art class. Her pale skin, weary smile and hunched back make me want to look away from life, from her perfect floral arrangements framed on the wall, and the permanence of a large sky that keeps all clouds floating. She’s now the reminiscence of what life does to one to win with the time.
After a while, the ghosts of our pasts are not around us, but within us.
When I close my eyes, I find myself in that small painting studio from my childhood and the painter explaining to me about decay of flowers and human lives.
A week ago, during a small lunch break on a busy day, I opened the reader to read some recent blogs. There were three posts that talked about the death of a fellow blogger who we all knew through his and his wife’s blogs. Once, maybe more than once I was touched by their kindness. He and his wife helped so many new and old bloggers by replying to technical questions, sharing kindness, writing prompts, diet plans, issue with eating sugar, happy stories of childhood. I remember reading them all. What I could not remember were the dots, the dots which could connect life and the untimely death. I found his last posts on his blog. It’s not easy now to read them and know the pain that he went through.
Life, never that still.