Friday Review

Painted words

MULTIPLE WORLDS An art work from Mimi's Lavangalatika series  

Mimi Radhakrishnan is an artist and a writer as well. She straddles these two paths with ease and they meet once in a while. “The Tale of Lavangalatika” is one such example. She wrote the book in Bangla and felt it warranted a visual exploration. And created a body of work around the story in Kolkata in 2013. The artist has now got the book translated into English by Sreejata Guha which Mimi is launching on November 4 at Ojas Art Gallery alongside an exhibition. The artist explains the process that went into the creation of Lavangalatika.

Edited excerpts from an interview:

How was Lavangalatika born?

Quite a few years ago, a publishing house from Kolkata wished to publish an anthology of fairy tales. They contacted me directly by telephone and requested me to send them a story written in that genre, if I had one ready or otherwise, if I could write a new one. They mentioned how they would appreciate it if I could send a story of so-many words within such and such date. True to my nature, I paid no heed to the second and third conditions, and responded only to the first request with an instant and prolonged ‘Ye—s’!

Perhaps the reason for not paying attention to the deadline was a feeling that there was plenty of time in hand and the word-limit was of course, well within my hands. I could extend it or curtail it at will, couldn’t I! After all, when my son was a child, I’d made up so many such stories as per his demands: from dacoits’ tales switching to kings’ legends which turned in one bound to a tiger’s story which then drifted into the land of ghouls effortlessly – this I could do with my hands tied backwards! Besides, from the days of my own childhood I had heard so many fairy tales and read a fair amount of them as well. What was so challenging about this? It was nothing but fairy tales. It would have to be a little peculiar, a trifle fantastic, mostly a surreal world with a bit of the known familiar here and there – that’s it!

But in reality, when I sat down to write, it was a Herculean task. One step forward meant three steps back. The deadline came and went, the urgent summons came over telephone, ruefully I asked for more time, and was graciously given some too. But ultimately even that didn’t suffice.

Left with little choice, finally the passenger-laden mail train set off for its destination; and just as the railway guard’s green flag vanished into the distance on the vacant platform, I let out a shout and started writing this genuine – but unconventional – fairy tale that was witnessed by life, mirrored by life, that would have been wonderful if it came true, but it didn’t. What did happen, would have been best if it hadn’t happened and many other such inauspicious as well as propitious happenings go into the makings of ‘The Tale of Lavangalatika’.

When I completed the writing of it, I felt unfulfilled, as if I had not been able to express it fully. Therefore, I painted it as well. The book came out in print and thereafter it was translated in English too.

Have any more paintings got added to this body of work since you exhibited them in Kolkata in 2013?

The original Bangla book was also released then alongside the exhibition. No more paintings have been added since I feel it is full. Also I got involved with other stories and found myself evolving with other paintings as a practising artist.

By training, I am a printmaker and a painter and I studied printmaking in Santiniketan under Sri Somnath Hore and did my masters in M.S University in Baroda under K.G Subramanian.

When I was working on the story I felt the necessity of exploring the medium that I am comfortable with and started painting depicting the characters with the kind of sensibility which could support the story and to reach out to the readers.

Since you are an writer as well, what comes to you first, image or a word?

I divide my day painting and writing. Whenever I am ready with a collection of stories, it goes to a publisher and when I have a good collection of paintings I exhibit. But my works are very time taking which require detailing in writing and painting. My paintings are independent and all the stories I write are not supported with paintings but in this case I felt I can come up with paintings since the story is woven around me like the way my paintings are... Normally I design just the cover of the books. Now another book, a collection of short stories called 'Atindriyo' has gone to print. Its cover has been designed by me.

How has your art practice evolved over the years?

My art practice has evolved over a period of time with indirect method of working on lithographs to direct paintings on large canvases.

(The exhibition is on at Ojas Art 1A, Qutub Minar Mehrauli Road, New Delhi till November 13.)

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2021 9:12:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/Painted-words/article16091769.ece

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