Friday, April 21, 2006

The Painting

Palette knives, multitudes of them, tenderly smudge a viridian sky in my dreams. I wake up with a start. The stark white canvas stares at me. Ah! My masterpiece – my Self-Portrait, my Sunflowers, my Last Supper – still awaits me. I do not know when I became a painter. I don’t even pretend to recollect it. Failure is nostalgic, success amnesiac. So, we take it that I’ve always been a painter.

My house overlooks a T-junction. It is at the mouth of the T-junction, overlooking a street. The street is, as any other street would be in a mofussil town in India. Faceless, splattered with patches of brown – cow dung flattened by tires, human steps, and the oppressive heat – flanked by flowing sewer, littered, and cattle squatting randomly. And then all sorts of vehicles to transport humans – cycles, carts, rickshaws, autos, taxis, lorries, cars – stifling its slender shape. Finally, completing the picture are the ugly shops, with their soot-covered tarpaulin awnings, lining its both sides with greedy shopkeepers spilling out on the pavement with their cheap wares. The Bazaar.

I sit here wondering what should I paint. And then the epiphany strikes. Oh damn those viridian skies and swaying green grass! Why not paint the bazaar in front of me. So, I pick my sable, palette, mahlstick – all the paraphernalia at my disposal and start painting the scene across my window. It takes me days but I am seized by this vision that the street throws at me. Slowly and painstakingly I capture the street. It shifts, changes colors, throw varied images but I wait everyday for the afternoon – just that right hue – to start work on my painting again.

After many tireless afternoons, I do finish my painting one-day. It is a snapshot of the world outside my living room’s window. But something is amiss. The painting betrays me. I keep standing, staring at the painting, a sable caressing my cheek as I wonder what must I do to transcend this painting into an extraordinary one. Ah! How about an accident. Yes. Perfect. I show an accident in the middle of the street. I immediately get to work. I paint a head-on collision between two cars. Smashed with their bonnets crumpled. Next to the cars a body lies covered with a white shroud and an anxious crowd next to it. Morbid but I guess I’ve got what I wished. I leave the painting on the tripod to dry.

Days pass by. The painting adorns my living room. I marvel at my creation. But soon it becomes another fixture in that room. I am no more seized by the morbidity it paints. I become oblivious to its existence. I don’t even look at it as I go about my chores.

Then one afternoon a bang wakes me up. I immediately rush to the living room’s window to see what has happened. But what I see shake the wits out of me. The scene outside is an exact replica of my painting – the street with a head-on collision in its midst. They’ve laid down a body next to the cars, as it was in my painting, and covered it with a white shroud. The crowd surrounds the scene. There is chaos. I am transfixed. Did I paint the future?

It takes me a while to gather my wits. I am still shaken but I decide to go down and check this mess out. I rush out on to the street and run towards the accident site. Everyone is rushing towards the accident site. No one knows what happened exactly. I reach the spot. The crowd has swelled now. I jostle my way through and reach the helm of the crowd. I ask a person or two but they just shrug and keep staring at the body. Finally, I muster courage and bend down. I look around at the faces. They’re as eager to see the face. I lift the shroud: Dad.

© Dan Husain
April 22, 2006

PS: I saw this dream fifteen years back.