Kattanam near Kayamkulam is as idyllic a village as you can get with its endless paddy fields, lush greenery, rolling hillocks, placid water bodies... a picture postcard for serenity and for quaintness. But underneath the veneer, Kattanam (and every other village in Kerala, for that matter) has changed with time and globalisation.
To a Kattanam native like artist K.P. Muraleedharan, the changes are “heart-felt,” permeating the land, the old-world way of life and even love, evoking “nostalgia for the good old days.” Muraleedharan has captured his memories of the golden days of village life in a series of 34 untitled paintings titled ‘The Village Clippings.' The paintings were on display at the Suryakanti Art Gallery.
“Villages like Kattanam were once – until the late 1980s – the mainstay of life and culture in Kerala. Sadly, our villages are fast disappearing. The very concept of village life has more or less become obsolete and the new generation are not aware of how wholesome life was back then,” says Muraleedharan, a freelance illustrator, animator and concept artist, renowned for creating an animation series called Paddy's Pages. And right from his first work on display – an untitled acrylic in black and yellow depicting a night scene in the village, with traditional lamps and cycle-lights the only illumination in the all-pervading darkness – each painting simply reels you into the artist's memories of growing up in Kattanam.
That the artist is an illustrator and animator is quite evident in the works, each of which appears to have a deceptively child-like simplicity thanks to innumerable doodles with ball point pens, felt pens and the paintbrush that dot the paintings. “Illustration comes naturally to me and it's no surprise that it is a recurring feature in my works,” explains the artist, a graduate of the Government College of Fine Arts in the city. And quite a number of the paintings have that quirky touch of an illustrator. Among these are a series of paintings on typical village characters – “now rarely seen” – such as the grinning toddy tapper with his coir-rope and sickle all poised to climb a coconut tree and the buxom fish vendor with her vessel full of fish carefully balanced on her head. Another series of paintings depicts animals – a crow, a dog, a cock and so on – mourning “their shrinking space.” Among these, particularly interesting is one of a beady-eyed, angularly-drawn crow, perched in anticipation that the lady of the house will throw scraps of leftovers its way.
The artist also has recurring images, most notably paddy fields, painted in green, in red, in grey... For instance, one painting features a paddy field with a lone Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSTRC) bus in the background. The field is painted in the distinctive red-yellow colours of the bus, seeming to suggest that it was once (and perhaps still is) a life-line for the villagers. Red is also a “favourite” colour, appearing in many of the works, the most notable one being a decorated ‘kettukala' (ox) representing village fetes.
One of Muraleedharan's arresting works is that of the local tea-shop – once the de facto meeting place of the villagers. There stands the emaciated vendor pouring tea in the customary ‘metre style,' while his customers sits on benches reading the dailies. A poster for Bharatan's film ‘Aaravam' stuck on the shop's facade gives an inkling of the period. The artist has also chosen to depict young love circa 1970s and 80s, with a number of paintings featuring young men in dhoti-shirt and young women in the then typical pattu-pavada enjoying stolen moments of romance – in the safety of a tapioca field, on a hillock in the night, reading love letters and so on.
Keywords: Government Fine Arts College