Shyamala Aunty

Sometimes, when we’re in a thoughtful mood and look back into the past, we end up regretting a few things. Especially the fact that we came across some interesting and wonderful people, with whom we could have developed and maintained friendships, but did not do so due to various reasons – being busy, lazy or just not being friendly enough. One such regret is Shyamala Aunty.

She was one of our neighbors, unmarried and a very unique and strange kind of person. She had been around on our campus since I was a very small child. I remember that all of us kids would be in awe of her and always stare at her whenever she passed by. Not only was she very tall and beautiful, but also wore make-up (none of our moms wore make-up), she threaded her eyebrows (none of our moms did that), she had short hair (our moms had long hair) and she even wore trousers sometimes (our moms only wore saris)!! Besides this, she never ever smiled at any of us or stopped once in a while like other aunties and uncles to chat with us and ask us what we’ve been up to. She was indeed quite exceptional.

A few times I overheard my mom talking with some of her friends about her and say that she’d been jilted by a lover long back and that had turned her into a recluse, and then she’d go on to say that it was foolish to be so sentimental and hang onto the past for so long. After I heard this, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for her and thought that I somewhat understood her strange behavior.

Meanwhile, my most favorite hobby since kindergarten was drawing and painting. I could spend endless hours with drawing books, color pencils, and paints. Most relatives and friends who visited us regularly knew this and would frequently bring gifts of drawing books or box of paints/color pencils, and I would jump with joy at seeing them. My mom used to think that I have exceptional talent but I was just above average, she thought so because my brother had no talent whatsoever in drawing.

I used to draw mainly two pictures over and over again – a peacock and a pretty girl in a long frock and a huge hat. Each time, I’d color the peacock, the frock and the hat in different hues and never ever tire of it. After some time my mom must have got tired of seeing my peacocks and hats, so she decided I need an art teacher to guide me and help me draw other pictures. Shyamala aunty was supposed to be an exceptional painter, so she decided to ask her to spare some time for me.

And surprisingly, she agreed! But, I wasn’t so enthusiastic about these classes because I’d never spoken to her before and she’d always been aloof and hardly approachable. However, my mom forced me to go and one day I picked up my drawing books and pencils and knocked on Shyamala aunty’s door.

I was quite surprised to see her when she opened the door because she looked very different. She had no make-up on and was dressed simply in a loose kaftan. She smiled at me and asked me to come in. Her living room was also strange just like her. There was very little furniture and there were a few striking paintings (canvases) around the room. They all had vivid colors and forms, unlike anything I’d ever seen before. I couldn’t restrain myself and went to look at them one by one without asking for permission.

One painting was that of a huge orange hibiscus in a green leafy background and there was a tiny woman in a white gauzy dress sitting on one of the petals! Another painting was of a woman and a man dancing on a huge flute and so on. They all seemed to be the extraordinary illustrations of some unheard of fairy-tales. Quite mesmerized by all that I sat down once again, and she gave me some marble cake that she said she’d baked herself. It tasted awesome, and I looked at her with a new found affection after I realized that she could bake great cakes.

After the cake, our lesson began, and she asked me to show her my drawings. I did and she remarked “Oh! So you love drawing pretty girls, nice.” Then she started to tell me how the face/figure of people we draw should be more “proportionate” and explained some complex rules on how to divide the face, the body, the arms and so on. Not only was this tough to understand, it also seemed quite dishonest to me since she didn’t seem to follow it in her own paintings. Her painting had a really huge Hibiscus flower with a tiny woman on it – would you call that proportionate?! It was another perfect example of grown-ups preaching things they don’t practice themselves.

But she was nevertheless very sweet in her manner and the way she talked to me, so I listened in silence. After some time, she said the lesson had ended and asked me to practice what she’d taught, and come back whenever I wanted my next one. She seemed quite enthusiastic about meeting me again. However, I never went back. Maybe it was the complexity of her lesson, or just the fact that I was too busy playing with my friends and with fooling around. But, I sometimes wonder what it would have been like if I’d continued my lessons and got to know her better. Hibiscus flowers sometimes remind me of her.

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