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Satheesh Kumar

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Occupation: Road side artist

Did you know I was once a well known artist? I was featured on various regional channels as I was one of the first to caricature people within a set time frame. After meeting with a severe accident last year, I now have nuts and bolts on my leg and can’t walk far without the aid of crutches.

A falling out with my family led me to move out and fend on my own 14 years ago. Even now after my accident, I am on my own. Although the accident and the hospital expenses have created a dent in my savings and pocket, I refuse to seek alms for a living. That is why I am here daily by this footpath on the PMG-Nalanda road. I sell pencil sketches. In fact, I only do pencil sketches as it is difficult to move water colours or oil paintings if it rains.

While most people prefer portraits of Gods and Goddesses and sceneries, there are “seasonal” buyers too. Like during the Good Friday-Easter week, many picked up my pictures depicting the Way of the cross. Likewise during the Sabarimala season, people tend to buy pictures of Lord Ayappan and during Christmas, images with ‘Christmasy’ motifs. I manage to make ends meet with my sales. My customers are usually office goers. Quite a few ask me to do their portraits and caricatures too.

See, this portrait I am sketching? This woman’s husband wants a sketch of hers to frame. He also wants portraits of himself and his daughter in pencil. People who go by this road know me as I have become a more or less permanent fixture here. I am usually seated on the footpath from 8 a.m. till 8 p.m. with a sketch board, papers and a pencil in hand. A string strung beside me carries my pencil works.

A self-taught artist, I was always doodling, even as a child. I recall my teachers chiding me for drawing on freshly painted walls of my school, St. Augustine at Murukkumpuzha. I remember copying a picture of Nala and Damayanti on the school walls. That was how I began drawing, by copying images from books on walls and paper. My parents used to scold me for spending more time doodling rather that studying. They gave up when they realised it was futile.

Although I did reasonably well in school, I had to drop out while in class 10, following the death of my father. I became the breadwinner. I started off small by designing banners and doing graffiti for walls. I also worked as a painter and did a bit of sculpting. I later trained under a graphic artist to hone my skills.

Although I have been offered posts as an art teacher, I am turning down the offers as I am currently without a permanent roof over my head. I do not want my students to pass by and say, “Hey, isn’t that our teacher curled up by that footpath?” But things will get better; there is always a silver lining somewhere.

(A weekly column on men and women who make Thiruvananthapuram what it is)

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