There is a famous Malayalam author called Gabriel Garcia Marquez who famously wrote about a Kerala village called Macondo. This is what a lot a of Malayalis believed when they read One Hundred years of Solitude, whenever they did, though everybody said the author was in fact a Nobel prize winning Latin American from Columbia and Macondo was not really a place in Kerala.
I grew up in a village called Pulpally in Wayanad, Kerala. My generation and the adjacent ones saw this rural hamlet quickly developing into a small town starting from paved roads, shops, bus services, cinema, electricity, phone etc., in a relatively short time span of our childhood. Things grew abundantly in this fertile land. There were forests all around. It poured endlessly during monsoons and was misty and cold in winters. Almost everybody lived in thatched-roof houses and were cautious of elephants in the nights. A lot of my school mates walked more than ten kilometres in the morning to school and walked back in the evening; they helped their parents in the farm when they were not in school. Their daily commute brought fresh stories of adventure every morning. We grew up much like happy farm animals who left home in the morning and came back by sundown.
My father taught at school; mother cooked, washed and raised us; brother did biological experiments on me and friends. Sister was studying away from home since there was no college in the vicinity. My brother, eight years older and currently a journalist in Kerala was a curious character. He bought exotic newspapers and magazines to tell us stories from them from local shopkeepers who brought them for packing groceries they sold. He herded me and a bunch of neighbourhood kids to pluck bird chillies that grew wild in the land and sold it in the local market to subscribe to Science today magazine and watch Tamil movies. He drew well and I also started drawing thinking that is what everybody does.
Later we developed a reputation as kids who drew and won prizes in school competitions and later, that followed even at college and university. Thousands of kids grew up like this and there was absolutely nothing exotic about any of these unless you were narrating it to a bunch of kids from the metros who became my classmates and friends in the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad where I later ended up. A place like NID in your formative years can change your notions of life, as it did for most of us. This place and its people gave me an invaluable exposure to the world and profoundly improved my view of it.
The importance of drawing was drilled into our heads incessantly. So was photography as a tool for observation and recording. Photography was expensive and that limited our experiments with photographic truth somewhat. We always carried some sort of a sketchbook during the student days and imagined that I would continue to do so forever. Drawing makes you look at something a little more carefully than when you are just looking at it. How skilfully you reproduced what you see is only secondary. Today, caught in the struggles of professional life, we often hear ourselves regretting not sketching enough almost like how people regret not exercising enough.
Today, I run a small design studio partnering with another NID graduate, in Mumbai. We do space design, production design aka art direction for movies and commercials. That is an exciting profession where you get to design a range of things and meet a lot of interesting people.
“BUT ULTIMATELY, THAT’S WHAT LIFE IS: THAT LITTLE BIG THING WHERE YOU KILL TIME IN INTERESTING WAYS BEFORE IT EVENTUALLY KILLS YOU”
Meanwhile, changes take place around us and within us faster than ever. I am not sure if it’s called progress or development anymore. We all fondly retain memories of more innocent times. There is a deep sense of loss about it. This is the main ingredient of nostalgia. Unexpected things trigger these forgotten images. A sharp afternoon sun, smell of cooking from the neighbour’s or a piece of music from a passing auto, a bird’s call…Nostalgia is pathetically and helplessly personal; yet there are many common strands in the shared past of a people of a place or time. My generation lived and experienced life on both banks of the great digital divide making the exotica of our nostalgia exceptionally rich. We have witnessed an overwhelming range of extinction of all sorts. The list of extinct mechanical and chemical processes and the required skill sets replaced by digital processes itself is a long one.
Today I mostly sketch digitally but I can draw my childhood memories of writing on a notebook with a leaky fountain pen in the glow of a tiny kerosene lamp and share that in Facebook and Instagram with friends who did the same things or with another generation who might think of it as fairy tale illustration.
I think, one needs to do a certain amount of things without a brief to balance all the professional stuff done to a brief. My Facebook album called Timepass is a place I share my digital sketches done for the sheer joy of drawing. I wanted to collect images and materials reminiscent of the times when we were kids. That led to sketching people and situations that now exist only in my memory. I have other albums on Facebook of my photographs, a general record of places and life as I come across them, vaguely thinking of it as something to browse through in old age when there is more time to kill. But ultimately, that’s what life is: that little big thing where you kill time in interesting ways before it eventually kills you.
K K Muralidharan