My cousin draws and exceptionally well at that. It runs in his family. Not from my side of his family though. His father's.
Uncle would paint the loveliest of pictures at which everyone would ooh and aah and make the right noises and the perfect comments. Not me. There was something missing in them always. There was a coldness to his portraits and pictures. His landscapes though would have a merry sun up there, would make me shiver.
I guess as all things in my life I tend to, I saw him in his pictures. I am not going to talk about him. It’s too disturbing to.
My cousin. I had favorites that changed every two minutes. If there was someone I could find no reason to dislike or even pick up a fight, it was him. So, I loved him instead.
We were of the same age. We studied the same classes, though every year I had a sinking feeling when the results drew near whether he would be asked to repeat a year. I shudder to think of my uncle's reaction had that calamity happened.
Every meal we had together would be one full of showcasing my talents (which I really didn’t have. But Pondicherry being miles away from Kerala helped I guess in seeing what didn’t exist!) and degrading him. We suffered through each in our own ways. I, wondering whether it would turn my cousin against me. He, filled with a loathing for his father.
Nothing changed. Our love for each other grew every year and his hatred for his father too. I would try gently to make him see how important fathers were. He couldn’t see. And I didn’t push. He 'borrowed' mine.
He was sitting on the floor and doing something. He looked up as he felt my presence. A chart paper with Mickey mouse on it. That was the first picture I saw him draw. And I fell in love with Mickey all over again. It was perfect. Picture perfect.
Seeing my admiring look, he blushed. Pulling me to his room, he lifted his mattress to show me papers which were filled up the perfectest pictures. Pictures that then colored our world, Tom and Jerry, owls and fairies and elves and puppies and kittens...I stood there wonderstruck at this fusillade of color and perfection in front of me.
That vacation when I went back to Pondicherry, the bottom of one of the suitcases was papered by Woody woodpecker.
As we grew, so did the intensity of his paintings. A puppy's nose that I could almost feel as soft and wet and velvety. Strokes that were powerful, sure and strong. And I would ask him to draw roses and tulips and white fences; which he obligingly did.
And in those growing years, under his mattress along with the porn books and graphic novels, I would find his best pictures ever.
He'd latched onto portraits, I discovered when I came one vacation. He wasn’t in his room and I was never forbidden anything in his life. This liberty I shamelessly misused and quite proudly at that. Despair was more depressing in his portraits than in real life. And emotions- man, I am at a loss for words. The emotions would hit you hard when you looked at them and you would feel the pain. There were no happy pictures. I was touching each picture reverentially when he walked in.
I'd often wondered at his total lack of interest in anything in life. We never had any ambitions or goals. We never knew what we wanted to be in life. But I had interests. And I worried about his restlessness without an apparent concern for mine- I was always good at solving other's problems, never my own.
And I looked at him happily. No one could draw or paint like that without a large percentage of self involvement.
He sat down beside me and looked at all the pictures strewn on his bed. No reprimanding me for invading his space. It was something that was open to me.
We looked at the pictures together both of us seeing what was there and what wasn’t. But the same picture.
Always the young girl with him I said, "Ok now draw me"
He laughed. So did I.
I don’t know what wretched moment brought uncle into the room. He stood there looking at those pictures.
Who- the question never came up.
When- did. Followed by, so-this-is-what-you-were-doing-instead-of-studying; wasting-time and something that pierced straight into my heart 'crude-pictures'
You better join drawing class to fine tune your pictures. Knowing how to hold a pencil is not enough.
I'd never heard him back answer his father. There was always an underlying current of fury during rows- but he'd held his tongue. I'd seen him being beaten once and that's not something I'd like to see again or something I would forget even. I'd run to daddy who came over to stop the act. I remember I walked over to his bed that night and slept with him, both of us completely miserable.
It came as a shock to me to hear him say a quiet but sure no.
Memories from the past assailed me. No, please don’t beat him, I screamed silently. He's too old to be. And daddy was not around to run to.
I heard uncle mocking voice say, "What did you say?"
"Ah, so you won’t join drawing class?"
His voice shook. But the answer never changed.
Quick brutal strokes unlike the beautiful ones on his paper were dealt to his knuckles.
I screamed in horror, No, don’t do it.
I think I got a few swishings too. Because I came in the way.
The cane went up and down relentlessly. I kept screaming and screaming. My aunt who'd seen it a thousand times watched it all helplessly.
I am not going into the act any more. It sickens me still. The cane broke.
"I wish he died", he told me later when I sat holding his hand on the night terrace.
It almost killed me that he would never know the joy of a father. And in some way it seemed almost unfair that I had a splendid one when he was dealt a rotten one. I felt almost apologetic.
I looked at his hands and his raw knuckles. Torn skin, blood and an almost white look to those beautiful hands that I held. Always the young girl with him, I cried on and on.
Putting his hands around me, he held me close as I sobbed his pain away.
I was to leave a few days later. I walked into his room again- the sadness a very important luggage I carried that summer. I sat on his bed.
He pulled out something from under his sheet. A piece of paper. A pair of eyes. Not black. Penciled in black lead. They could have been blue. They could have been grey. They were brown. A zillion emotions of the same family. Pain, bereavement, agony, loss... I cannot do justice to that picture.
It was the last one he ever drew. His hand had healed but the scar was to be a permanent one.