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Pihu, her 12 year old daughter had inherited her mom’s genes and had turned out to be a painter herself. But Anjani had broken the rules- the rules of social class, creed, caste and much more.
Our Muse of the Month series this year focus on stories that pass the Bechdel test, and are written on inspiration from a new prompt every month. This month, the prompt was “Paint The Sky, Make It Yours”. The story should pass the Bechdel Test, that is, it should have at least two well crafted, named women characters (we differ here slightly from the classic Bechdel test, in that we require these characters to be named),
The third winner of our September 2018 Muse of the Month contest is Namrata Singh.
“Malati, no way, no chuttis right now. I have too much on my head and Pihu has her national competition coming up. I need all my faculties on her. I cannot afford you to disappear and the household falls on my head,” Naina cried, putting the cap back on the unsalted butter container from the breakfast table. “Gosh, this is not how I want to start my Saturday,” her voice accusing Malathi, her maidservant of ruining the beautiful rainy day.
“Didi, I have been with you for the past 7 years. Have I ever asked for an unscheduled leave?”
“Malathi, that is why. You know how much I depend on you,” Naina held her dark, cracked hands and pinched it a little.
“Didi, but this is important.” Malathi pleaded, oscillating between the kitchen and the dining table, picking up the dirty plates and collecting bread crumbs from the table mats.
“Malathi, okay, take a leave but after Pihu’s competition. It is day after tomorrow and I need to be with her rather than with the broom.”
“Oh, Malathi, you are so stubborn. What is wrong with you? You don’t care about this home or my problems.”
“Didi, you know this home means a lot to me.”
“Yes, I do but right now, it doesn’t look like. Okay, okay, go ahead. When do I see you back?”
“After 3 days. Thursday I would be back. Also, I had a request.”
Naina looked up, her eyes irritated at another request coming in. “Now what? Please, tell me fast.”
“Didi, I need advance payment. Have some important work.”
“Malati, you okay? What’s going on? Did your husband blow up the money on alcohol? Did he beat you up again?”
“Oh, no. He is okay. Beating is not a big deal,” Malati said brushing off ‘the beating’ as if it were a fly on her shoulder.
“It is and I have told you umpteen times that I can take you to NCW and we can work out something for you and Anjani to stay peacefully.”
“No, Didi. He has been sober for a week. I just had some work.”
“Okay, I will pay you. Wait for a second.”
As Naina walked towards her bedroom that the bell rang. Malati rushed to open it, only to find her 12 year old daughter Anjani jumping with a letter in hand.
“Maa, look at this. A letter from them. I read it. There are some important details about the competition.”
“Competition? Which competition?” Naina asked, her eyes counting the cash in her hand.
“Ummm…Naina aunty,” Malati looked at her daughter and gestured to keep quiet but Anjani was too excited to keep anything inside her.
“Naina aunty, day after tomorrow is the national competition, the one organized by Mojarto.”
Naina looked up, stumped, “Mojarto? Okay… So?”
“I got selected and Wednesday is the final competition.”
“What? Really?” Naina tried hard to hide the shock. “You never told me Malati,” she looked accusingly at her trusted maidservant.
“Didi ji, chota muh, badi baat. How could I tell you? I was not sure how would you feel?”
“How would I feel?” Her voice rose and realizing that displeasure and bewilderment stood written on her face, Naina tried to compose herself.
“I didn’t know you painted? Do you learn art? How did you got to know about Mojarto and this competition?”
“No art Didi. The government school she attends hardly teaches anything, forget about art.”
“I learnt it from you Naina aunty.”
“My mother has been working in this house for 7 years now. You remember I use to accompany her during weekends and watch you in your studio room painting. Those have been my most precious moments of life. Every stroke of your hand got etched in my heart, your eyes, the palette, and the canvas…just everything. You were so kind that even if disturbed, you always answered my silly question. Remember once I had asked you- Where did you learn to paint so well?”
“And you had replied – From my mother and from my heart. Anjani, I paint from my heart and that is how I am here.Those words stayed with me and I started painting at home.”
“Wow! I had no idea.”
“Didi , she use to just draw- cat, goat sheep etc. What was there to say?”
“But Mojarto is big Malati. 5000 entries from all over the country and only 10 selected for the finals. Pihu ranked 8th. What was your rank?”
Before Malati could answer that Anjani chirped – “2nd.”
“Really? That’s so nice….” Naina stuttered, her mind racing fast. Why didn’t Vaani tell her about Anjani? She was overlooking this project with the PR and Marketing team to engage young painters and bring them under their umbrella. Brushing the many questions aside, Naina looked at Anjani and Malati.
“Didi, I will get going with house work. This girl talks a lot.” Saying this Malati adjusted her beige, cotton saree, pulling it further up, tying her thin mass of hair in a loose bun and walked towards the kitchen.
Naina sat on the chesterfield sofa and Anjani perched herself on a cane chair, dangling her feet and humming a song.
“So, who is your mentor?” asked Naina, her gaze stuck on Anjani’s face. The Mojarto team had invited ten mentors, eminent people from the field of art and each child was assigned a mentor to work with on day 1 and paint on their own on day 2. The winner had promises and dreams packed up in the goody bag along with an art exhibition contract and a reward of 5 lakhs. Pihu, her 12 year old daughter had inherited her mom’s genes and had turned out to be a painter herself. But Anjani had broken the rules- the rules of social class, creed, caste and much more. Art doesn’t reside in slums, art doesn’t flourish in poverty, and art doesn’t belong to her maidservant’s daughter.
“Manu Sir, Manu Parekh.” The confidence in Anjani’s voice startled Naina. Manu Parekh was illustrious and award winning painter whose painting on Benares series had been an inspiration for Naina herself. Anjnai talking of Manu Parekh was like an ant talking about the lion as her friend. Who was the ant and who was the lion now…this confused Naina.
“Who is it for Pihu?
“Jatin Das,” Naina replied with an air of arrogance.
“Wow, Jatin Das sir. I love his Ganpati and Radhika work.”
The more Anajni spoke the more it awed Naina- “You have seen it?”
“Yes, aunty, I have seen many videos and read about Raja Ravi Verma, Samir Mondal, Sudip Roy, MF Hussain. They are all my teachers and they don’t even know about it,” said Anajni giggling. “But my first and the greatest teacher is you aunty. I can never forget that. I saw your latest painting. Expressionism theme, isn’t it aunty?”
“You know a lot Anjani.” The words uttered not from appreciation but from annoyance and resentment, as if Anjani had crossed the line which she is not supposed to, as if Anjani is not supposed to know or talk about expressionism, or abstract painting, as if it is a crime for her to hold a brush.
An hour later, Malati came up, “Didi, I have made the chapattis for lunch. It is kept in the purple casserole. Also, I made cauliflower vegetable for the night.”
“Let’s go Maa. We have to buy a dress also. You promised me.”
Malati and Naina’s eyes met for a second, revealing the entire story about the leave and the money.
Naina forced a smile on her face, straightened her floral kaftan, and went to close the door. The air outside smelled of trampled, wet leaves and bemired foot mats. More than the rains, an unpleasant heartburn soaked Naina.
Late that afternoon, Naina sat next to her incomplete painting and a Filbert brush in her hand when the bell rang. Rishab and Pihu entered hand in hand, leaving behind muddy footprints.
“The workshop was fun Maa. I hope I do well on Wednesday,” squealed Pihu.
“Gurgaon traffic I must say is getting worse day by day. Phew! Please put some food in my stomach? ” Rishab simpered.
Naina decided to talk about Anjani lest Pihu got disturbed seeing her at the competition on Wednesday.
“Maa, really? Wow, how talented. Look at Anjani. She came 2nd. Whoa. Truly awesome. I am dying to meet her. Mom, you should give me your phone to use too. It’s better than going to workshops,” Pihu giggled and ran to her room leaving Naina in fumes.
Rishab rose from the dining table and held Naina’s hand, “The sky doesn’t only belong to us. It belongs to them too. Let them paint with the color they want. You paint yours. We all have the right to find our space in life…to grow, to dream to achieve, to break boundaries and reach for what the society says is not ours. We all do Naina. There is nothing wrong in what Anjani is doing.”
“But…I mean…you see…” Naina stammered, each words coming out with much effort.
“ Pihu should compete with her own self. Anjani is not her competition. Remember what we always tell her – Life is about becoming a better version of yourself.”
“That girl is stupendous. She knows so much…without anyone teaching her?”
“Why does that surprise you? Or are you envious? Yes, it is surprising but more than that it is INSPIRING. Leave it there…on a positive note, on an encouraging note.” Rishab hugged Naina and went to check on Pihu.
The next day Naina met Vaani- the Creative Director at Mojarto. “Hey, how am I supposed to know that Anjani is your maidservant’s daughter? Her entry was love at first sight. We knew it all along that it would be selected by the panel and it did. Well, I am amazed at her ambition but then, she has the right to dream. Isn’t it Naina?” Vaani squinted at Naina, fidgeting with a bunch of papers in her hand.
Naina walked out of the office disoriented and wondering. Her mother Nadita Kapoor had been Delhi’s famous muralist. Naina grew up to be the aesthetic sort and painting soon became her life. A Masters in Fine Arts from New York University, Naina returned back to India only to become another distinguished name in Delhi. She worked with Mojarto and had many art exhibitions and an uptown gallery in the posh locale of Greater Kailash to herself. Pihu was another Naina in making and that made Naina very proud, until yesterday, when the pride seem to collapse in front of mighty Anjani. It had taken her grueling long years to be where she is and Anjani’s success seemed unfair to her. “I learnt it from you aunty”, the words felt like boulders on her pride, crushing it in pieces. Before the claws of envy could bleed her, she dialed Malati’s number.
“Hello Didi, is everything okay?”
“Malati, give the phone to Anjani. Hope she is back after her 1:1 with her mentor?I want to talk to her.”
“Sure Didi. She just came back. She is so excited that she can’t stop talking. Tomorrow is a big day for both the kids. Pihu baba is such a beautiful painter. I always tell Anjani about her,” saying this she handed the phone to Anjani.
“Namastey aunty.” Anjani soft voice embarrassed Naina and she took control of her words, “Anjani tomorrow is a big day for you.”
“Yes aunty. All because of you.”
“I want to wish you good luck. The sky that you see belongs to you. Paint it with your dreams. And remember to paint from your heart. It doesn’t matter where you start from. What’s regnant, what supersedes is where you end and with the kind of honesty you have, there is no looking back. God bless you.”
“Thank you Aunty,” and the line disconnected.
Namrata Singh wins a Rs 250 Amazon voucher, as well as a chance to be picked one among the top winners at the end of 2018. Congratulations!
Image source: maxpixel
It is a beautiful story. Thank you Namrata for the very fallible entirely human character of Naina.
Hey Manishi, thank you so much for taking out time to read. This story had been on my mind for long and Women’s web gave the prompt :). Envy is truly the green eyed monster and it takes tremendous courage to shut his voice. I am glad Naina did.
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