Of Beads and Red Robes
In the last 7 years, I have visited an exhaustive list of Buddist monasteries and I have a longer list of them to visit on future. For reasons unknown, I have been drawn to these monasteries and the small towns they are surrounded by, as if, these institutions radiate peace and tranquility through the landscapes and it’s inhabitants. The first time was at Bylakuppe and then Mundgod, Tibetan settlements in South India. I followed the trail of robes to Bhutan and it’s neighbour, Sikkim. The reverberating chanting within the prayer halls, the lingering beats of percussion instruments and the bright colours of the murals heightens all your senses yet instills a calm and content state. I miss that external assurance from those surroundings while treading through such uncertain times.
No matter how much I try, I have not been able to look past the dots. It’s always stippling that comes naturally than anything else with a pen in hand. As time stretches endlessly, I dive into the time gone by and dig up the ghosts of experts in the natural illustration. The first person that came to mind was Ernst Haeckel. This piece is more a tribute to his work but in only form of art that I could remotely do justice to his.
“When you find yourself cocooned in isolation and you cannot find your way out of darkness…
Remember this is similar to the place where caterpillars go to grow their wings”
One fine morning, we noticed the hordes of butterflies migrating. For some reason, I had never paid attention to this phenomenon but these slow months under enforced lockdown has made me more aware of the surroundings and this sort of migration was new to me. A friend, also a crazy butterfly enthusiast, told us stories behind it. His eyes lit up talking about these delicately beautiful creatures and his birthday happened to be around the corner. So what better gift than something to do with these winged wonders.
For a few months now, I have been thinking of working on a concertina, only thing missing was the subject for it. And here I had few butterflies to draw. Both put together became a butterfly concertina. My apprehensions of using any kind of colour has been dominant as ever but what fun would be butterflies without colours. In the process of research for what species to draw, a whole new section of the natural world opened up for me.
Needless to say, most of us are going through a tough phase in life dealing with the pandemic and the roadblocks that come along. All of us cocooned in our houses trying to stay safe yet that doesn’t mean the confines of the walls doesn’t affect us mentally. Nature comes to rescue again! Cocooned for a while until we emerge out of it with wings.
Birthday in lockdown
A lot of people (family and friends) that have had their birthdays during these lockdown months have wished this year away. But this man is one of those individuals who has found his love for nature once again, in different aspects of nature, apart from wildlife during this period of isolation – the skies – clouds, stars, moon, storms are a few of them. In between the sunrises and sunsets before the stars shine brighter in the sky, the animal diversity gets some attention. I attempted a timeline of his day, during the lockdown era, as a birthday card for him.
Life during a pandemic
I was approached by one of the science communicators from the team of Indian scientists who have gotten together to spread awareness and bust myths around the CoViD-19 pandemic. They have been working hard to make the presentation of facts and precautions to be taken in creative ways to appeal to the public. They have also added in as many languages as possible to increase their outreach. I illustrated one such story. https://indscicov.in/for-public/popularization-resources/going-out-and-returning-home/
Abdul goes shopping for the family
Abdul woke up in a panic: Arre! I am going to be late for that strict Ajit Sir’s class again! He’s definitely not going to let me sit for the final exam now!
He then sleepily realized there was a lockdown; college was closed and he was at his parents’ home. He turned over to try to go back to sleep. The one room house was already bustling with activity—Ammi had started making tea for everyone, Dadi’s knitting needles were already click-clacking, and Abba was doing his namaz. He might as well wake up, he thought, as he couldn’t sleep through all this commotion!
As he brushed his teeth, Abdul thought about how much he missed the hostel room that he shared with Satish – a room which was probably bigger than his parents’ house. He thought of the endless conversation about politics he would have over chai with friends. And the general sense of independence he felt when he was at college. They closed the college and hostels almost three weeks ago and he had to take two jam-packed trains and a three hour shared jeep ride to get home! It was a tense few days for everyone, and for a moment, he tried to relive the happiness he felt when he finally got home.
“Abdul, it’s so late. I told you I need mutton and tomatoes from the market today. Go get them soon! The shops will start closing,” shouted Ammi. “But be careful. Wear a mask. Don’t touch anything. Stay away from people…” Ammi had already started with her long list of precautions and instructions.
“I am almost out of my BP medicines. Can you check if the medical shop has got stock yet?” Dadi added.
“OK OK I’m going. But I am not going tomorrow. Or even for two more days after that. So tell me everything you want now!” Abdul replied.
“Beta, buy me a newspaper, no? Buy me tomorrow’s also if you can find it!” Abba added with his usual humour. Everyone, including Dadi, groaned. But they all know that his silly jokes were what was making this whole situation feel slightly normal.
Abdul’s elder sister was out of the country, but would call every night and give them new instructions. She was the one who had designated Abdul as the person to go out of the house and get essentials. “Everyone else is old and is at a higher risk” she had said, adding “What else are you doing at home anyway?” Most recently, she had instructed him to wear a mask whenever he goes out.
Abdul picked up one of the washed masks that dadi had stitched out of an old dupatta. “Wear that shawl I’ve kept near the door for going out.” Ammi pleaded. “It’s too hot Ammi! I am not doing that anymore. I will just wash the clothes I am wearing out as soon as I get home.” said Abdul as he put his slippers and left.
Abdul waited in line in the round chalk markings, first outside the medical shop and then the vegetable shop. Good thing he still had an unlimited phone plan — at least he could catch up with his friends from college while he waited.
He finally got to the butcher’s shop where there didn’t seem to be anyone else around at the moment. As Karim Chacha was cutting up the mutton, he shouted questions at Abdul from the back of the shop: “Everyone OK at home?” “When do you think this lockdown is going to end? You must be reading all the news on your phone, no? What are they saying?” Abdul put his phone away. It was nice to talk to someone in person outside his family, even if they were shouting across the shop and the conversation was muffled by their masks. “Ya ya, everyone at home is well. Just a bit worried, that’s all. I don’t know about this lockdown Chacha: seems like this is going to go on for a while. Not sure what the plan is!” Abdul replied. He lingered a few minutes and chatted with Karim Chaha about the current economic scenario.
When Abdul got back home, Ammi had left a small mug of water, soap and a dry cloth outside the door. He removed his slippers, washed and wiped his hands. He then dipped the cloth in soapy water to wipe off the cardboard box of medication. She had also left a clean handkerchief and bottle of hand sanitizer which he used to wipe his phone. (He had got a good scolding from Ammi last time he came back and forgot to do this. She had proceeded to threaten to take away his phone altogether.)
He came in and handed the mutton and vegetables to Ammi. She started washing everything thoroughly before storing it away. He placed the medication box on a table, and then went to take a bath and wash his clothes and mask.
Abdul came back to the table, carefully opened the box of medication and transferred the pills into a small glass bottle. His Dadi was old and he was very worried about her getting COVID-19. He threw the cardboard box into the dustbin near the main door. He then washed his hands and the outside of the bottle with soap to be extra careful to get rid of any remaining viruses before handing her bottle: “Here’s your medicine Dadi. Stock came yesterday.”
As he was hanging out his clothes to dry on the common balcony, he realized that he had forgotten Abba’s newspaper. Never mind! “
Dia de Muertos
The Mexicans celebrate Dia de Muertos sometime in November to remember their dead. Loved ones lost. A few years ago, the movie Coco, was based on this Day of remembrance. In our traditions, I am not aware of any such specific day assigned to remember the lost family members but we definitely delve into our memories deeper on the day we lost them, year after year.
It is understandable when you have lost somebody and you miss them. But I hadn’t ever heard wishing the presence of someone who they have never met. I somehow, fall into that category. After I had completed my earthly presence for three decades, I married into this family. Father-in-law was long gone. Almost a decade by then. Any and every member of the extended family and friends, that I was introduced to, told me the same thing – ‘that man would have pampered you to bits’, ‘The daughter he never had’, ‘you missed meeting a good man’ and many more that I chose to ignore beyond a point. Because each time I heard something on those lines, there was a sense of deep regret, as if I should have met this man way before he was gone. As if I delayed in getting here. Survived by his wife and sons, and millions of friends, there wasn’t a person who spoke any other way but fondly of him. Evenings were full of his stories and how he added life to the room full of people. Everybody’s eyes lit up when he was mentioned and there were always more stories to be shared.
As months passed by, I started seeing the void that his absence had left in the family. I wished more and more that I had gotten a chance to meet him. As I went through the old family pictures, I started forming an image of the kind of person he might have been. With all the stories that I have heard about him from specific corners of the house- what his favorite spot was in the living room, how he loved spending the evening in the bar, his early morning cooking endeavors, his routine through the day- for a long time those particular parts of the house made his holographic self show up to me. It was haunting but in a good way. As if he would start a conversation with me right away. And I would lament away the evening in more regret of not knowing my Father-in-law. I miss never having met him.
If his holographic image in my head had suddenly communicated with me, I am not sure how I would have reacted. If I should introduce myself or does he know that I exist in the family already. I don’t know and I will never know.
A fine gentleman I indeed, missed, meeting!! So I did what I do best. A sketch of him shall do unless I am allowed to be ferried to the Land of the Dead for a day. Until then, may he live long in the hearts and memories of his near and dear ones.
After looking through a lot of pen drawing of reptiles, I was sure I wanted to work on one of them but coming across a picture that would fit the bill took a long time. I came across this image on Instagram and knew I have found the perfect reference image. Little did I know, the amazing outcomes of a pen drawing of scales is as tedious as one can imagine. It was a slow process but a thoroughly enjoyable one. I hope to make more reptile sketches in the future.
As eye catching these male antelopes are, they can be difficult to put down in dots. I loved the final effect of the dotwork for this antelope despite my reservations against handling such a beautiful subject in stippling.
Chambers deep in the waters
A dot at a time with a Rotring 0.1mm Isograph.