The other day, in one of my contemplative moods while waiting at the bus stop, I looked at my hands, palms outstretched, and wondered at the number of skills I had mastered over the years. I am not just talking about writing that first word “APPLE” or drawing the first house with a chimney. Even as an adult, I have mastered various skills over the years. Though not professionally trained, I have developed a knack of picking up and performing various dances. In my play, I did more of hand gestures than I could ever think. Always a pathetic cook, I have learnt to make a decent meal over the years. I have held the needle, I have created stuff with a pair of scissors, I have tried to make a point with the pen and the key board. I have raised hornworms for laboratory research. I have used the calculator to balance complicated expense sheets. I have done so much with my hands, these short stubby fingers with nails neatly cut. But if there is one thing I regret having not been able to do so far, it is picking up the art of drawing, sketching, and painting. It is not one of those things I’d rather regard as “Who cares” and move on. Quite contrarily, over the years, I have tried picking up the pencil on several occasions and come up with something even remotely coherent, if not artsy. Alas, my high built hopes have been cruelly demolished every time.
It’s not that it does not run in the family. My dad is a great painter, he can paint what rich people hang on their walls. But it seems that the particular genes have not been rightfully passed on to me. My greatest fears in school were those assignments when we had to draw science experiments depicting Brownian motion and Pascal’s law on the left hand sheet of our science notebooks. This was followed by having to draw different human systems, stems and roots, ginger rhizoids and potato tubers for the biology classes. I would look at the better artists in my class and marvel at that extra shade added to the stomach diagram that would give it a 3-dimensional look, those extra few lines in the liver that gave it a shiny appearance and identified it from the rest. Ironically, my diagrams were not bereft of the “Good” and “Very Good” remarks scribbled by the teacher. This is because I always managed to put on a helpless, lachrymose look the night before the submissions when dad would take pity on me and make a few strokes in my copy. He screamed at me, he got impatient, he got mad at me, but at the end of it, he would remain awake late and complete my drawings while I would always excitedly wake up in the mornings with a broad grin on seeing the best photosynthesis experiment protocol diagram in my copy. Dad always went an extra step to shade and give a 3-dimensional effect, that always worked wonders. I hated him getting mad after a hard days office work to stay up and do my drawing assignments. But over the years, he gave me hundreds of those beautifully drawn things I preserved and showed off in class proudly for ages.
When I finished school, dad sighed in relief to have been relieved from his duties. But alas, God had different plans. I took biology, and had to draw 50 times more this time. But this time, dad made the rules clear. I could bug him only on weekends, not more than 2 drawings everyday. I just could not appear with pencil and paper and expect him to start drawing. However this time I had a better plan. I started to do outlines and little bits of stuff of the drawing before I showed it to dad. I would draw, let’s say, the head of the fish or the tail of the rat, show it to dad, and exclaim more to myself, “Naah, this is not half as good as what dad draws”. He would take a look, start erasing things, and would redraw things for me. I still remember I had to draw a mouse one time, and he drew such an animated version of it, all dark and hairy and real, that one look and mom had almost thrown up- Yuck ! Even the tail looked so real with the rings that one would feel like swinging it by the tail.
So dad bailed me out through my torturing drawing assignments while I earned goods and very goods. But I never really learnt how to draw. It’s not that I never tried. I tried emulating simple sketches, carefully noticing the way dad held the pencil and made strokes. I also realized that I was not that bad in seeing something and exactly replicating it. But I had no imagination, no creativity. You ask me to draw something as simple as a caravan and I would end up making something that would look like a cow without a tail. With time, I told myself that there are only certain things I could master, and I had to live with the knowledge that I could not excel in everything. But then I would look at a certain painting in wistfulness, marveling at the brush strokes, the paint and the water color, with the signature of the artist scribbled below illegibly, and wonder if I could ever learn to draw something as simple as sketches showing different facial emotions. I looked at the art teacher in school with all jealously, amazed at the way her hands moved with speed as she drew fruit baskets and vegetables and flower gardens for the kids. One visit to my friends home and I gaped in amazement at the huge paintings she had drawn and hung on the walls that gave her house such a “rich person’s house” feel to it. A simple flower vase with flowers. Faces of different women waning into the background colors. The plumage of a multicolored bird.
So what reminded me of this? I was at the hospital earlier today for some bill settlements, and while I waited for someone to attend to me, I looked at the different paintings on the wall with the same feeling of wistfulness. What caught my attention particularly was a certain framed picture that had dozens of hearts, each unique and drawn differently from the rest. Every heart had a different color, a different pattern, and I was amazed at the creativity and the imagination of the painter. For a while, I wondered about the idea of making a life painting and hosting art exhibitions instead of studying cells and molecules. Perhaps I could use my creativity and learn to draw different patterns on the DNA, draw weird looking cells with star patterned cell walls, and weird looking red blood cells and mitochondria. I think I will give it a try tonight by sitting with my pencil and paper again, trying to replicate simple patterns of shapes and emotions and moods. But something in me tells me that I’ll again end up drawing vegetables that look like lamp shades. And just in case people can’t even understand what I was trying to draw, yohoooo !! I can always call it modern art.