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The art of life

When I rushed into the Artists Paint Store in a quaint little corner of the busy market, it was meant to be business as usual. I loved a good painting, but could barely stand the geometric patterns. Blame it on my humble upbringing, but the first time I heard of Picasso was when we had to deliberate on the artist in an English lesson in Class 7. But it was not cubism which caught the fancy of our young minds. We could not fathom why the stress was on “c” in his name when the poor twin “ss” were left without a punch to them.

As I blurted out the names of various shades of colour from the scrawny handwritten piece of paper handed out to me by my teenage son, marvelling at the exotic nomenclature, I could see the elderly gentleman standing at the counter straining his ears and twitching his brows. He was tall with a slight hunch. He must have been around 70, I guessed. He had a serene, composed look on his face. There were no attenders. Probably the pandemic had left him to handle the shop alone. He was the one picking the wares, packing them and handling the cash chest.

To call him regal would be an overstatement. But there was something arresting about the senior gentlemen that piqued my interest. He exuded an old-world charm. Someone who had seen it all… Someone who was in no hurry. He languidly walked up to the shelves, carefully examining the labels, picking his wares at his own pace and placing them back on his glass-topped counter with not so much as a click or a thump. He kindly explained the singularity of each colour, the gamut of permutations and combinations one could create mixing them, elaborated on the variety of brushes, their strokes and concluded with the potential of a chosen few who created masterpieces. His voice was calm and measured and it had a soothing lilt.

Will I be as composed as he is when I turn around 70… I dare not guess that. I had already shuffled my purse a hundred times as I looked for change, clumsily dropping a packet on the counter in the process. And how could I not accidentally poke my umbrella on the poor chap awaiting his turn while I bargained for a free plastic bag.

“Madam, please take your time.” The gentleman on the other side smiled benevolently and chided me for the haste. True, some people just get it right... I was always in a hurry and here was someone going about his life in his own terms. No time checks… no deadlines… As I flashed a sheepish smile, I saw his long deft fingers gently placing the assorted items in a brown envelope, gently tapping the former so that each piece glided to the bottom. He folded the sides of the cover to ensure that no sharp edges spiked out, delicately folding the mouth before stapling it. “Don’t be in a hurry, madam… You only live once,” he said as he handed the envelope over and bade me goodbye with a smile.

As I came out of the shop, I was certain of two things. The first, well.. I knew for sure now that I was woefully inept at appreciating a painting. And two... I wanted to age gracefully with no regrets, no remorse. I wanted to live life in an unhurried way relishing each moment, just like the senior whom I had met at the art shop. Time stood still in that small shop. It had a pace of its own. One could dismiss him as laidback. But are not the thoughts in laidback moments that nurture our souls? I may or may not recollect the conversation, but will always remember the chance encounter.

mayasudha@gmail.com

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 12:50:30 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-art-of-life/article33948100.ece

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