Miniature artist Gunasekaran Sundarraj says how his Lilliputian world grew from doodles on paper

If Newton had merely mulled over the edible qualities of the apple that hit his head, there would probably be no theory of gravitation. If the likes of Gunasekaran Sundarraj had simply swept up rice grains spilt on the kitchen floor, then miniature art on food grains would be unheard of today.

The first time her son stooped to gather the rice she scattered, Gunasekaran’s mother remembers, he disappeared into his room brooding, only to emerge a few hours later with ink markings on the grain that on closer look revealed an Eiffel Tower. In the Lilliputian world Gunasekaran inhabits, mustard, sago and poppy seeds are not just ingredients to season a meal, but a medium for creativity.

In the terrace of his house painted in hues of sunset orange and lemon yellow, 30-year-old Gunasekaran sits in the shade of thatched eaves, black gel pen in hand. He sets to work until various diminutive figures around a Taj Mahal cover the core of the sea shell. The software engineer is upbeat. He recently won the Sardar Patel Award for 2011 in the sand sculpture and fine arts category. The award, bestowed by the non-profit Sardar Vallabhai Patel Foundation, honours national and international achievers.

Not just another painting

As a child Gunasekaran there were some hints of his talent. “My grandfather, popularly known as Photo Balu in these parts, used to paint portraits,” he recalls. “When he left them aside to dry, I used to sneak up and retouch them.” But it took an art exhibition in school to turn his attention to miniature arts. “My watercolour sketch was displayed in the school hall, but visitors dismissed it as just another painting in the room.” Not content with being one of the mob, the 13-year-old decided he would come up with a crowd puller the next time. “I used to doodle often on the corners of charts. I was struck with the idea of converting all my paintings into miniature drawings.”

At the next expo, spectators were always huddled around one work — Gunasekaran’s post card with 700 sketches that took him 45 days to complete. “All those who asked me why I was wasting time were the first to appreciate.”

To reproduce microscopic work routinely requires intense concentration. When Gunasekaran is at work, his world is contained in the rice grain between his fingers. “I need to work in complete silence and lock myself in my room. Nobody disturbs me,” he says. Not surprisingly, he admits he is a bit of a loner.

Gunasekaran also has covered a visiting card with 700 pictures and a post card with 1,800 infinitesimal sketches of flowers, natural scenes, gadgets, national flags and personalities. “I can draw up to five drawings with the naked eye, but for my recent project that had 64 sketches on a single grain of rice, I had to use a magnifying glass,” he explains. And it takes a magnifying glass to fully appreciate those pieces.

He worked on in spite of severe eye strain in the initial stages, and now he wears glasses for short-sightedness. He takes them off only when he draws.

Experiments

Patience and resilience are lessons that he has picked up on the way. “I took up the task of inscribing 1 lakh drawings on a tube light, imagining it would look beautiful when it was lit up. When I reached 25,000 I displayed it at an exhibition. While returning, the tube shattered and broke into a thousand shards. With all my hard labour gone, I was frustrated to the point of depression.” Though he abandoned the experiment, he continued to perfect his rice drawings.

Gunasekaran is now trying his hand at watercolour sketches on hair and hopes to inscribe on metal and gold, when he can afford it sometime in the future. Though he has set his cap at the Guinness Book of World Records, he feels that the recognition he has won from government bodies such as the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Youth Development will take his art to more people. He is keen to initiate interested youth in what he does best.

Living as he does at the foot of the city’s gargantuan symbol, Rock Fort, Gunasekaran’s ambitions are centred on a larger canvas. He dreams of setting up a museum for miniature arts in Tiruchi. He also wants to make a documentary of the city, for which he has been browsing private photo albums of residents of Srirangam and Tiruchi. “So many buildings have disappeared that nobody remembers today. We don’t care what will happen in the future unless we know the past. I want to show people how the city was.” With quiet determination, he bends down to conjure more shapes on his white shell.