Letting the light in…
This narrative is not about the pandemic. The only part it
played is that of a sound-proof door that shut out the noise of
the outside world. The silence created shock and anxiety
initially, and then, gradually settled into stoic acceptance. The
sense of urgency vanished with the world coming to a
standstill. Staying alive became the only agenda.
Amidst the relief at staying healthy and the despondency at the
suffering of so many, thoughts found their way into my head.
Thoughts that probably had been trying for a while to make
place for themselves in a mind occupied with matters of
routine. Most of which, as it turned out, were not essential to
existence and hence the vacant space.
I paint and write. For a few months I continued to do the kind
of work I did during pre-Covid times. The number of paintings
created, brought joy. At this rate, I felt, I will have a large body
of work to exhibit when normalcy returns. The enthusiasm did
not last. I began to slacken and wondered at the point of it all.
I thought I had it figured that writing fictional short stories was
a genre that I could grow into. With reality becoming stranger
than fiction, that fascination seemed to fade.
A relook at the recent paintings did not thrill me. In fact, it
made me realise that I needed to slow down or even totally
stop – to think.
I needed to have an answer to just one question –
‘Why am I doing this?’
‘I like to paint and enjoy the process of being alone with an
idea to create something from nothing’ did not wash.
The childhood dream, to draw and paint to the exclusion of all
else, had become my reality and yet, I did not quite feel the
elation. I decided to step back and ponder.
Doing nothing is difficult. To completely come to a halt felt like
a tremendous waste of time. The devil was beginning to set up
workshop in my head.
I recalled moments of insecurity that had happened during art
fairs. Seeing the work of others had made me wonder if I had
put my best foot forward.
Weren’t some of them just winging it? Maybe, but did I want to
be yet another ‘also ran’?
What is it that made the works of say a S Ramachandran or a
Thota Vaikuntham stand out? ..Aaah, their unique life stories
played out on their canvases. But there is nothing unique about
my life story – I have lived a cosmopolitan life in a metro city.
Despite that, is there a distinctive quality I might have? Do I
have ingrained tastes, preferences and beliefs that makeup my
Gradually I realised that my question had changed. It was not
‘why do I paint?’. It now seemed to be ‘Why do I paint what I
paint?’ I needed to arrive at a subject that makes me feel that
it was worthwhile to create or maybe recreate.
This thought in itself was liberating. It lifted the burden of
creating something that was supposed to please the eyes of
viewers. The unconscious baggage of wanting to be like the
much admired Master artists, fell aside. As did the doubts
regarding whether what I was doing was original.
After all, mankind has been engaged in creative pursuits for a
few thousand years now. Just about everything has been done
before. What I create has to be a reflection of me and I have to
believe in it. This reasoning, that I can only paint or write my
reality, is appealing.
As I look for my voice, the clarity helps me choose subjects
with a little more thought. The message in my creative
endeavours has gained significance. This progress in itself is
It has felt somewhat like peeling the wispy layers of an onion
before finding the useful portion within.
Hindsight has brought home the wisdom, that sometimes doing
nothing at all is the best thing to do. Quoting Leonard Cohen,
the Canadian singer, song writer, poet and novelist – it can be
the crack that lets the light in!
I do not claim to have reached any destination. All that has
happened is that the journey has become a little more
Shobitha Hariharan paints and writes.