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Updated on Apr' 04
Sketches from >>

The Indian South 1

The Indian South 2
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Chronologically arranged - Sketches from the Indian South - Dec'03 to Jan'04, page 1

The dried pond and the temple of Lord Shiva

Kolkata was becoming insanely oppressive. The pollution, the noise, the daily assault on visual sensitivity puts your senses on the razor's edge. Some artists derive inspiration from such an existence, but I love my city-of-ceaseless-construction-activity too much to draw creative comfort from such a milieu. Like an escapist who cannot bear to see his dearest ones suffer, I often yearn to take flight, to remove myself to some remoteness where even the briefest thought of kolkata will not bother me. This is irresponsible, I agree, and I have done my little bit to pacify my conscience - engineered an environmental movement in my immediate neighbourhood. But I cannot be on a constant watch against this overwhelming tide of decline. In order to create, I need to rest once in a while. Kerala, and the contiguous South of India came to my rescue!


The aeroplane dipped its left wing. I looked outside and gasped! This is not a travelogue. I am not going to recount in detail the wheres/hows/whats of Kerala, like you find in travel brochures. This section, and the sketches contained herein, are accounts of an artist's creative experiences against the backdrop of a small part of southern India. If at all, I will describe the colors!

The Trivandrum(Thiruvantapuram - capital of Kerala) airport was still not in sight. The turquoise waters of the Arabian sea lovingly lapped against the gold-ochre sands of Kerala. Tiny white-crested waves described this gentle motion as they bubbled forward and died on the beach. The sea moved back and forth, leaving behind irregular greyish white cresents of surf on the sand. I could see fishermen in their long wooden boats. I could see colorful beach umbrellas. I looked further inland and an amazing spectacle greeted me. I come from Bengal, a land known for its coconut trees. Yet this was something I had never seen - a vast olive-emerald forest stretching far beyond the limits of visibility, into a fuzzy horizon of grey-blue clouds and rolling deccan undulations.

In a lazy, lazy loop that initially took the plane westwards over the Arabian sea, we crossed the thin sandy strip and entered the capital city's sky. Here we were, smack over Trivandrum, a thoroughly modern city with a vibrant hi-tech culture, yet I could hardly see buildings or roads - so dense was the canopy of coconut trees. It looked as if there was a pattern in this olive ocean, for the trees were planted in regular rows. From the top, individual trees appeared star-like with the leaves radiating from the central hub. I had never, ever seen such a galaxy of green "stars"! Almost instinctively, an inner voice blurted out - "God's own country!"

Now I was getting worried. The aircraft was definitely on a descent, and the coconut crowd was surging upwards - alarmingly fast! I could see an occasional flash from a television dish poking its silvery spread through the green canopy. In the distance, I could even see a somnolent white crane break into a startled flap. But what I could not see, especially now that the motion blurred coconut leaves were nearly grazing my fingertips(well, nearly...), was the sight of a viable landing strip! But the Captain, a lady with a reassuring stacatto accent obviously knew better. Suddenly the coconut forest vanished and the tarmac appeared below us. The wheels touched down with an insignificant jarr. I have come to Kerala!


Kerala, Kollam, Kanyakumarika, endless list of wonderful "K" initialed memories! My pencil/charcoal/brush literally flew across the sketchpad - faster than the shutter of the little automatic camera I carried. I am not trained in an art college. I do not have an extensive experience of sitting in public places and drawing. I tend to shy away from being a public spectacle - people invariably gather around you when you're sketching outdoors. But here, I forgot all my inhibitions. In fact the crowd enhanced my focus - be it on a boat down the backwaters of Kerala, the busy beach of Kanyakumari, on the extensive courtyards of the Vivekananda Temple, or on the road from Kodai to Madurai. I think what helped me more was an unfamiliarity with their language. I had once been to the Kolkata Zoo to sketch elephants. The flurry of comments that flew thick and fast from a quickly gathering crowd made me feel like an inmate of the zoo itself. Here I could not understand what they said. The ligiustic fuzz had a warm and comforting effect. Also, the people here are much more polite and less intrusive.

Sitting on a boulder by the sea at Kanyakumari, I watched the sun descend into the Arabian Sea. This was the southernmost tip of India, and in the state of Tamil Nadu. To my left and eastwards lay the southermost waters of the Bay of Bengal. To my right, and in the west - the Arabian sea. Facing me, towards south, the Indian Ocean stretched into a grey horizon. On a bright day one could actually make out the different colors of the three different bodies of water - this is what they say! well, if you ask me, what makes them different is the cartographers convenience. As far as I am concerned, this is the place where the peninsular tip of india juts into the surrounding ocean.

But I was most affected by the thought of what lay behind me, towards north. I was facing the heaving Indian Ocean. Behind me I could imagine the shoreline diverging, diverging beyond the scope of my vision and extending right into the Asian mainland, continuing invisibly to meet the Himalayas. The land within this "V", - largely flat apart from the weatherworn 65 million year old deccan undulations and crisscrossed by many mighty rivers, contained a most amazingly diverse mass of humanity! Staring at the dark green waves as they lashed against the boulders, the latter errily glistening (like a pixelated computer image, or a Vermeer painting) in the orange rays of the setting sun, I could almost perceive this breathing, heaving, enormously vibrant and colorful mass of indians going about their daily business, their tragedies and their ecstasies, the mundane and the extraordinary in their lives. Sounds clichéd, but this did raise the hackles of my neck! The cultural weight of that billion people "behind" me, and the ancient Bharatvarsha they inhabit!

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<< Temple in a pond - The first acrylic sketch at Trivandrum.14.5" x 10.5" / Acrylic on Paper

Click to enlarge (56K). Top

Dida at Trivandrum >>
Lovingly tending to her garden. I got bitten by a hundred difficult mosquitoes as I stood near a shrub, sketching late in the afternoon. 8 " x 11" / Pen and Ink on Paper

Click to enlarge (74K)


<< Mamus' at Trivandrum - Somewhere on the wall to the right are tiny paw-prints. Obviously, the spot serves as a foot...err, paw-hold on the way to the top. Mamu is a big softie on all animals, and not just cats. 11" x 8" / Pen & Ink on Paper

Click to enlarge (93K). Top

Overtaking the House Boat >> As our boat chugged past this houseboat in the backwaters of Kerala, I noticed a Captain Haddock like figure at the steering wheel. 11" x 4" / Charcoal Pencil on Paper

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<< The girl and the boat . We left Kollam at 10 AM, journeyed down the famed backwaters in a two-storied boat and reached Allephuza in the evening. Throughout the day I sketched furiously, as if my life depended on recording everything I saw. 8 " x 5.5" / Graphite on Paper

Click to enlarge (17K). Top

Resting boats >>
11" x 6 " / Charcoal Pencil on Paper

Click to enlarge (20K)


<< Fishing in the backwaters - 4" x 8" / Charcoal Pencil on Paper

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Girl by the tree >>
One curious thing about the backwaters - kids running along the banks shouting "Pen... pen!" However, this young girl (about 13, I think) simply stood leaning against a coconut tree, dreamily watching us sail past. 4.5" x 8" / Charcoal Pencil on Paper

Click to enlarge (19K)


<< Chinese fishing net (Kerala backwaters) One of the more ubiquitious objects visible in the backwaters are these chinese type fishing nets. In this particular sketch the nets are missing, only the struts could be seen (You may find the nets here). The low waves in the foregorund are from our own boat. 11" x 8" / Dry Conte on Paper

Click to enlarge (29K) Top

On the roof of the boat >>
I had a seat downstairs, but soon climbed to the roof to get a better view. There were tourists all around me, and I couldn't possibly let go of an opportunity to study the human figure! 11" x 8" / Graphite on Paper

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<< Tourist on Boat (backwaters) - 11" x 8" / Graphite on Paper

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Tourist on boat 2 >>
This stout ponytailed european sat bare-backed throughout the day, turning a deep crimson by late afternoon. The sun was relentless. 7 " x 8" / Graphite on Paper

Click to enlarge (41K)


<< Tourists on boat - This group of tourists were sitting in the foremost part of the roof. 8" x 6.5" / Charcoal Pencil on Paper

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The grey-white 'back'water bird >>
actual size / Graphite on Paper

Click to enlarge (13K)


<< Tourist from Kolkata - Fellow traveller from Shyambazar, kolkata. At around 3 in the afternoon, we stopped momentarily for this tiny boat which took her to a nearby tourist resort. 11" x 8" / Charcoal Pencil on Paper

Click to enlarge (20K) Top

Boats in the Backwater >>
So many boats, so many people. I witnessed a whole way of life during that hot winter day. I believe these boats serve as water taxis, either to ferry passengers or to carry goods to and from the market. 5.5" x 8" / Graphite on Paper

Click to enlarge (27K)


<< Bathing on the Backwater Ghat - As our boat chugged closer, she quickly gathered her wet clothes over her chest, turned, and left the water. I was a trifle embarrassed at this intrusion of her privacy(felt like a voyeur!) but sketched nonetheless and furiously, trying to record this beautiful moment. The european tourists on board were equally unrepentant and clicked merrily, cameras competing with pencil. Near actual size / Graphite on Paper.

Click to enlarge (10K) Top

Old man at the door >>
He watched us with a bored expression. The sun was begining to dip, casting long coconut-tree shadows. 4" x 4" / Graphite on Paper

Click to enlarge (294K)


<< Boat on the banks - it must have taken a crowd to lift it so far inland. Notice the shadows getting longer. 5.5 " x 3" / Graphite on Paper

Click to enlarge (19K) Top

Passengers IN the Boat >>
(backwaters) - 4" x 8" / Charcoal Pencil on Paper

Click to enlarge (35K)


<< Japanese tourist, and Chinese fishing net (backwaters) -
11" x 6" / Charcoal Pencil on Paper

Click to enlarge (19K)

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