EXPERIENCE Soaking in the atmosphere of two santhes — one, small and intimate in the neighbourhood, and another, large and full of art, BHUMIKA K. gives you a glimpse of what she saw and heard

ASunday that packs in two santhes is not to be resisted. It’s for people who revel in being part of a mulling multitude, standing and staring, not going anywhere in particular, soaking in the sights, sounds, and smells, indulging in irresistible impulse buys.

And so it was this Sunday that the annual Chitra Santhe beckoned one to Kumara Krupa Road with its promise of a sea of endless art, as did the annual Malleswaram Santhe on Malleswaram 17{+t}{+h}cross, with its friendly neighbourhood charm. Even as Bangalore becomes home to a host of multinational stores, there is that much of a tug in the opposite direction. The sudden growth of smaller markets where people bring in recycled products, or homemade products, with a very intimate human interface has simply shot up. And events like the Chitra Santhe bring people of a kind together, opening up and making art more reachable to everybody.

The Malleswaram Santhe is first on my day’s agenda. Stepping in amidst the fragrance of akki rotti and bisi bele bhath , and the warmth that comes with seeing familiar faces from the neighbourhood, I start a tour.

Designer jewellery and clothes dominate. I also see sandalwood powder, cucumber face cream, magnet-and-aloe vera eye mask, hot chilly coated cashew, chatnipudis and pickles, instant home-made breakfast mixes, kodubale, and I’m giddy with the choices on offer. Hand-knitted shawls and ponchos rubbed shoulders with colourful toys for kids, and readymade rangolis, hand-embroidered patchwork razais for babies. Two interesting nooks has ideas for upcycling, and recycling household waste.

Most of the people selling wares are small-scale home industries that operate out of their living room — many of the aunties string the jewellery themselves. They don’t have a shop. OK, so maybe not everyone with a stall is from the neighbourhood. Yet, the essence of the santhe is fulfilled – manufacturer/producer meets customer. No middlemen, some bargaining, some good humour.

After a quick recce, I’m zipping in Sunday late afternoon traffic-free roads towards Kumara Park Road. These may be two different kinds of santhes, but what links them together is the almost festive coming together of people, of a proud display of talent, some expectation, some give and take, human interaction… The atmosphere of a fair is all set. Under the shade of the canopy of trees, hundreds are already walking about, staring at colourful paintings propped up on the fence of the golf course. Innumerable on-the-spot portrait artists are armed with their sketch book, and pencil, with fidgety children sitting opposite them on plastic chairs — portraits are in demand. Face painting, nail art… the interpretations of ‘chitra’ seem to be many.

Landscapes, portraits, many mediums, many hues, pen paintings, water colours and acrylics, students and professionals, amateurs and folk artists – they were all there. A portrait of M.S. Subbulaxmi made of coffee-bean powder, a portrait of Amitabh Bachchan structured entirely of cut-up colour pencils, Che Guevara fashioned out of colourful electric tape. One is a student from Gulbarga, one is national award-winning artist from Coimbatore, one is a fifth-timer at the Santhe from Hyderabad, Madhubani artists, there’s a hearing-impaired lady selling her exquisite batik greeting cards…

As the crowds steadily pick up numbers and all you can see is a sea of heads bobbing on the road; I’m worrying if I can see even half of the stalls in the Santhe. I feel terrible skimming over some of the stalls — what must the artist, sitting with his hands crossed resignedly over his chest by his works, be thinking when I don’t even stop a few seconds to look? Is he hurt that his effort of perhaps an entire year is dismissed in the blink of an eye? Or is he the seasoned Santhe artist now familiar with people’s attitudes. Some offer a tired smile, some hand out their business card, one says, ‘Why don’t you buy this? It’s only 100 rupees…’. The mind begins to numb taking in so much. And there’s the constant announcement on the microphone.

The ubiquitous cellphone cameras click endlessly, a steady trickle of foreign tourists is encouraging to see. There are many professional cameramen clicking away. Distressed artists put up signs saying “please don’t take photos” but to not much effect. Fresh cucumber, boiled groundnut, ice candy, and spicy chururmuri beckon those already weary from the day’s walkabout. A huge dancing doll bang in the middle of the road directs you to the place where the idea took root; the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath. On the way I meet a metallic camel sculpture. A giant Mahishasura is where everyone’s heading, in the CKP campus, to be photographed. There’s a rush to buy paints, easels, and paints. “Cute”, “Wow, beautiful”, “Pretty…”, “Bah…too much kitsch!” are words and phrases I overhear around me as people exclaim seeing the works. Some of them have a large newspaper-wrapped painting tucked under an arm. And are hungrily scouting for more. I overhear a woman complaining: “I didn’t like the colours in that painting.” Another dilemma — how do you decide what you want to buy? What will go with the colour of your wall, or what is good art? How do we judge what is good? What aesthetic do we apply?

Dusk sets in, and the orange glow of the streetlamps is cast. It’s winding up time. Last minute bargains, wrapping up precious works in newspaper to cart back home, exhaustion.