Ammu Nair’s A Brief Hour of Beauty resurrects the life and works of Edmund Thomas Clint, the artist who died young

‘Clint’, in childish hand, the granite name board announces. The signature belongs to the child prodigy Edmund Thomas Clint, whose life ended abruptly. “Clint hasn’t gone anywhere. We feel his presence all the time,” says M.T. Joseph, Clint’s father. He takes out his son’s works, lovingly and with much pride shows them.

The timing of this ‘exclusive show’ seems ironic. Outside everybody is celebrating Kochi’s art extravaganza, the Kochi Muziris Biennale. Artists from everywhere feted and their works celebrated. Here, one was looking at stunning work by a young child.

The living room is, literally, filled with memories of Clint. There is an enlarged photograph of the child; there is a painting of Clint, a sculpture showing him. To Joseph and his wife Chinnamma, their son hasn’t gone away. A Brief Hour of Beauty, authored by Ammu Nair, which will be released soon, will train the spotlight once again on Clint.

Often referred to as the ‘Prince of Colours’, Clint died when he was six years and 11 months old. He made a name during his lifetime with his prodigious talent as an artist. He won several prizes at drawing competitions. He was due to participate at Shankar’s drawing competition in New Delhi when he died. His output was prolific, there are close to 25,000 works by Clint which survive, lovingly preserved by his parents.

There have been other books on Clint, but this book is special because “we were able to contribute. Ammu would come, spend time with us and we would talk about mon. It is not as if someone just culled information from other sources and wrote a book. Here we were part of the process,” says Chinnamma. The book is an unceasing flood of memories. With this book, the couple hopes that an entire generation of youngsters would get to know Clint.

This book, initially, was meant to be an English translation of a Malayalam book on Clint, Nirangalude Rajakumaran by Sebastian Pallithode, brought out by the Kerala State Institute of Children’s Literature. “Sebastian asked me to do the translation. But I told him I couldn’t do it for it was going to be printed and read by people,” Joseph reminisces with a smile. Joseph suggested the name of his good friend, P. V. Nalinakshan Nair, known for his linguistic skills. He translated a couple of chapters and then suggested that his daughter, Ammu take up the translation.

“Nair sir told me ‘Ammu belongs to the new generation…let her do the translation.’ That’s how Ammu came on board,” Joseph says. That is when Ammu really got to know Clint. That they were family friends helped, she says. While growing up she had heard stories of Clint, she had seen his paintings and even been a subject of one. But those were hazy childhood memories.

“As part of the translation, I watched Shiv Kumar’s award winning documentary, Clint. I spent time-hours in his house, with his parents, with his works…it wasn’t needed for the translation, but I did and that’s when I realised it could be an independent book on Clint,” says Ammu, over phone from Bangalore, where she lives with her family. She reiterates that she has not sensationalised the subject.

Ammu Nair is a post-graduate in English Literature from Maharaja’s College and is the editor of Society Dharani’s souvenir. During a short stint in the United States, she did her M.A. in English from the San Francisco University. She freelances as a content writer.

Each episode in Clint’s short life has been narrated with photographic clarity. “Memories of Clint are fresh in their minds. His parents still feel his presence,” Ammu says. His parents were enthusiastic about the project. They were eager to share every little nugget about Clint. Some known details; some little known about him. To which Joseph says, “Clint was the kind of person that if you spent a day with him you would remember it for the rest of your life.”

Besides his parents, Ammu spoke to people who had interacted with Clint, such as family friends and teachers as part of the seven month research that went into the book. Joseph made himself accessible throughout the day except from “2.30 a.m. – 3. 30 when I get some sleep.”

Clint’s parents are looking forward to the book. And the author, Ammu, is left with a sense of why someone so young had to die so soon.