A Masterpiece In The Making

Posted: April 11, 2018

Look at your work. It has such simple beauty in it. How long will you just hang your paintings up at home or keep them away in a cupboard? It’s time you shared your talent with the world.

Puri came back from the bus stop after seeing her twins Cheeni and Cheenu off to school. Mornings were crazy with two of them to handle. Sometimes she wished they were 18 already and out of the parental system. Though of course, seeing how much she bothered her mom, she wondered if you could ever escape the parent trap.

She settled down at her customary spot near the window and her house help Manda brought her a steaming extra-large mug of peppermint tea. Puri thanked her and mentally thanked the Gods for giving her Manda. Without her, life would be extra difficult with ten-year-old twins, a cat and a husband. Juggling everyone’s schedules and lives was stressful and Manda just made everything smoother by quietly filling in all the little potholes that lined the streets of their everyday life.




Her phone beeped, and she turned her attention to it. Mornings were reserved for the newspapers and chatting with her friends before the day started. But really speaking, when does your day begin, she pondered. When you start work? Or before that when you try to get your husband to wake up and go to the gym? Or before that when you drop your kids to school? Or before that when you feed the cat? Or before that when you read two pages of your novel in the loo? Or before that when you wake up before the alarm with the things you suddenly remembered from a to-do list the size of a PhD manuscript?

She stopped thinking along these lines. It was tiring. Instead, she turned her attention to the message from her girls’ group. One of them wanted a yoga teacher for a pregnant friend and Puri dug it out. Her friends called her Ms Yellow Pages. If she ever made a business out of it she would mint money she thought.

Minting money was not one of Puri’s dreams for herself growing up. She was from a traditional family and marriage right after her graduation was something she had accepted and was happy to follow. Luckily for her, Vinay and she had managed to create a good equation between them and had settled down into a pleasant relationship. Their roles were well defined. She ran the house and looked after the kids and he brought in the income. It worked well for them.

One day, Puri went for an unusual birthday party. Her friend had organised a painting workshop to celebrate her birthday. Puri used to paint in school and she enjoyed the session so much that she decided to sign up for classes with Falguni who ran the art studio. She soon realised her interest lay in observing life around her and depicting that on canvas. Small things caught her attention – people at the bus stop, a vegetable seller, etc., and she started painting these in class.

Puri started getting a distinct style. She was in the class when Falguni came up to her waving a sheet of paper,

“Hey Puri, I have something exciting for you.”

“What? A clothes sale or jewellery exhibition?” Puri laughed.

“No, no. You know that new art gallery Kala Kendra?  They are planning an exhibition to promote emerging artists. They asked me to suggest some new names. Each new artist will get to display two of their paintings for a fortnight. I think you should participate.”

“Me! Really! I am just a beginner. I don’t think I’m ready to exhibit yet.”

“Of course, you are Puri. You have been coming here for a year now. Look at your work. It has such simple beauty in it. How long will you just hang your paintings up at home or keep them away in a cupboard? It’s time you shared your talent with the world.”

“But Fallu…”

“No buts. Their theme is pretty universal. Moods. You can make anything of it.”

“Yes, Moods sounds like a good theme. When do they want the paintings?”

“By 31st March.” Falguni said.

“But that’s just 7 days away!”

Puri started thinking. The twins’ birthday was on the 30th. Plus, Cheeni had extra classes for an upcoming robotics competition and Cheenu had to be ferried to football coaching. And oh yes, her in-laws were coming for the birthday since it was their tenth one. They were very sweet and accommodating but still…

“Fallu sorry ya. I don’t think I can do this. You don’t know the amount of work I have over the next week. The twins’ birthday and my in-laws and of course the perpetual classes. Our driver is away, so I am ferrying the kids around. Let’s do it another time.”

Fallu shook her head firmly. “I will not take no for an answer. Life is always busy Puri. If not birthdays then exams, if not exams then something else. Your work is great and this is a readymade platform. Imagine yourself on the day of the exhibition, and think about it, what if you sell one of the paintings. Or both!”

Puri imagined this picture in her mind. It did look pretty lovely. She could send the kids off to classes with Manda and the birthday planning was almost done. Maybe she would be able to pull it off. She felt a tremor of excitement run through her. Her first exhibition!

“OK let’s do it!”

“Awesome! Let’s think a bit about what you can do.”

“How about this painting I just finished showing a morning in the ‘chawl’ near my house? You think we can submit it?”

“Yes, this is great. It has that sense of urgency and optimism and the morning colours have come out so well.”

“Thanks. You helped me”

“Puri, please give your talent credit. You are capable of a lot. OK, so basically, you have to work on just one new painting then.”

“Yes. Let me start thinking today what I want to do.”

Puri had to get into the right frame of mind for the next one. But first, she had to get life organised. The next few days were a whirlwind of activity.

First thing was the kids’ birthday. It was customary to buy new clothes, so a shopping trip had to happen. Why couldn’t she have had identical twins? She would have finished so much faster Puri thought as the twins went in and out of changing rooms. Next was finalising the last few details of the party. They had booked a popular pizza place but had to decide the menu and chat with the party host. The WhatsApp group to invite the kids was made and the invitations despatched. The weekend was up.  Four days to go and the painting had yet to begin.

She decided to take a walk after depositing the kids at home. Vinay and she walked at a leisurely pace. Vinay reminded her that his parents were coming in two days.

“I hope you have got the room ready for them.”

“Oh, it will be, don’t worry. It always is.” She added.

“Just reminding you. Better make space in the cupboard. Papa can’t bend you know and mom will need hanging space for her saris.”

Puri felt a twinge of exasperation and irritation. How could he even point this out to her? They had been married for around a dozen years and every visit they would have the same conversation.

“Why are you getting irritated? I am just reminding you.”

“Ok fine. I’ll fix the room tomorrow.” Puri cut it short.

“Oh, and the accountant needed the bank statements for filing our taxes. Can you send them off tomorrow?”

“I won’t have time tomorrow to do that. I have to go through them once or he will hound me queries. Can’t you do it?” Puri asked.

“I have a full day of meetings tomorrow. Please do it. Won’t take you more than an hour.”

She felt a bit frazzled and at the back of her mind, the empty canvas knocked. There were still four days left. The sun was just setting as they were returning home. On the pavement, a child rocked a tattered cradle with her sibling while the mother cooked on a makeshift fire. The colours of the fire mixed with the dying colours of the sun and lit up the woman’s face in golden hues. She looked up at Puri and gave her a tired smile. Puri knew she had her painting.

That night she went home and started working while the scene was still fresh in her mind. She wanted to get the woman’s expression, not much different from her own, on to the canvas. Or maybe it was a reflection of her own tiredness? Life was the same everywhere, it was just the level of difficulty that was different. Of course, she was more fortunate her to-do list was more prosperous, but it was still never-ending. But, she said to herself, she had more, lots more. She shouldn’t complain.

She stopped at 12.30. Tomorrow, she had to get Cheenu up by 5.30 for the football coaching. She couldn’t do it if she didn’t sleep now. She looked at the woman in her painting. The woman looked back at her and seemed to smile back. “Goodnight” Puri said softly to her and turned off the light.

The next two days whizzed past. The room was organized for the in-laws. A trip to the wholesale market sorted the return gifts for the party and Manda gift wrapped them. She handled the bank statement details while she waited outside Cheeni’s robotics class.

And at the end of each day, the painting got a few more brush strokes and gradually came alive. Puri had started conversing with the lady. She called her Aru, a reminder of her best friend from her school days. I must be going a bit mad, she thought. But a good kind of mad, she giggled as she went to bed.

Her in-laws arrived and upped the level of activity. They needed special food to suit their medical conditions and the day was spent in ordering fruits, various medicines they had forgotten and making them comfortable. Plus, tomorrow was the birthday! Cheenu and Cheeni were in a hyperactive state and took forever to sleep. Manda had again saved the day by buying the chocolates they needed to take to school. She had pacified a panicky Puri who remembered it at 9 pm after the shops had shut.

That night Puri could not paint much. She had finished most of the painting, but Aru’s eyes were still not coming out right. The expression was lacking in something. She decided to wait for tomorrow. She still had that one day.

The birthday was spent in a swirl of greetings, wrapping paper, music and cake. The party was a super success. Cheenu, Cheeni and Vinay were busy unwrapping the haul of gifts. Puri felt happy seeing their excited faces. She wanted to hang out with them but Aru beckoned.

She started to get things organised for the night when she heard her mother-in-law yell. Her father-in-law had tripped and fallen. Vinay panicked. Puri had the presence of mind to call a doctor who lived close by. Ms.Yellow Pages to the rescue she thought to herself. Luckily, it turned out to be just a bad sprain and soon she had made him comfortable with a painkiller. Her mother-in-law and Vinay also had to be calmed down. The mom-in-law with a glass of hot milk and Vinay with a shot of whisky.

It was past 1am now. Puri walked to her canvas. She knew the expression she wanted in her Aru’s eyes. It was tiredness but triumph. A desire to win, conquer all odds. She sat down and painted in the eyes. They smiled at her. And then she rested.

Editor’s note: This story had been shortlisted for the March 2018 Muse of the Month, but not among the top 5 winners.

Image source: shutterstock

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