My UTHRAATAPPAACHIL with 651 CARICATURES in 12 HOURS on 22.08.2010
I had mistimed my memoirs on the most memorable caricaturing experience of my life here . Now one more Uthratam has come and gone without event. But, some of the people whom I know expected me to come up on the Onam eve with a ritualistic supply of caricatures in a temple precinct. I still do not rue the choice of Thrikkakkara temple last year for the feat. But there were friends of mine who softly suggested a secular spot.
Uthraatappaacchil is metaphorically the frantic rush made by malayalees for making the final purchases for kitchen for the great next day- ONAM. Connected to a work , it connotes a prolific production of a ware. Hope, no further intro is needed, in the present context of caricaturing.
But before revealing my Uthraatappaachil experiences, I thought I would share with you how I grew up with lines.
I had a rather colourless beginning as an art-friendly child. There is no childhood memory for me to flaunt before the reader like of a recluse but exceptionally imaginative fat child lost in meditation on fluffy clouds of exotic and untested colours, sitting amidst a mishmash of scraps of white paper and crayon stubs. No, nothing colourful was there, of mine alone.
But there is one I always remember. That is of my mother proudly but playfully showing me the tracing paper with the impression of a sparrow printed on the back cover of a 100 page notebook of my class III. The job had been assigned to my mother as I was too mesmerized by the magic of the tracing paper to try my hand and also as I must have been too enept to do it myself. Thus, my mother was the first artist I met in blood and I adored. Artist Madhava Menon and his nephew, Muralichettan were the next men with colours I chanced to meet during my summer vacation at Tripunithura, the small town of temples and music. But that was an year later.
The small red plastic watercolour paint box , my father bought from Trichur was the second wonderment. I was just past 11. My Guru Shanthanu had not yet invaded my dreamworld full of broken black lines to reign there for ever. The plastic box did not significally discover the artist in me. But , the man who gifted it did. I still wonder, if there would be any father like mine , who would have allowed an unskilled boy dreamer of lines to doodle on the long whitewashed walls of an ancestral house with broken stubs of charcoal from the hearth, daring displeasure of his siblings. My father was prophetic, gifted with an eye to spot the exotic out of the pedestrian things of the village life, a gift endowed only to those who desperately cherish their kids would some day, weave meaning out of their most beautifully dreamt dreams. He had constant failures in life, which, however, did not diminish his trust in dreaming for me. He died like a withered flower, unsung and not so gloriously as he deserved. And here, now, I keep on completing each drawing as a tribute to my fallen hero.
Then, the Emergency came. The daily news that littered the morning verandah of our century old house - Indian Express, Illustrated Weekly, the local barber, the villagemen as such, all reeked of an impending disaster. Per capita cartoon percentage in my college with the solitary cartoonist doubled with my arrival and I was lost to long hours of experimentation with different styles of drawing. Nampoothiri of Kalakaumudi Weekly was the eternal wonder with my being constantly prodded by his faces finished with flourishes of the slender lines to even guess name and vocation of the character. Nampoothiri, at that time, meant to me the height of characterization. For a few months, I tried accentuation of the shade alone and cross-hatching. Some undiscovered local characters had already been ‘immortalised’ as caricatures.
That habit stayed. Months disappeared before dreary years. A series of personal failures and phobias followed. I desperately clung to the only ‘thing’ I had – the belief that I had something to contribute. Deep frustration made me impatient. My drawings began to be finished without warnings. The essential grammar was squandered away. My life drifted with the lines I created. Some disliked them. Many strangers began to smile at me.
July, 29, 2010. It was lunchtime at the neat dining hall at Kerala House, New Delhi. I had hectic evenings the previous two days. The 170 caricature in three and a half hours at the AIFACS gallery and the 120 haul in two and a half hours at the Delhi Press Club had in a way redeemed the cartoonist lost in the characterless corridors of the North Block, deep inside where one of the decisive patrons of my art held court majestically- Shri S.S.N. Moorthy, Chairman, Central Board of Direct Taxes. I was seeing Delhi for the first time, invited by my own Department to perform my art on invited dignitaries in connection with the celebration of the 150th year of the Income Tax in India.
Kerala Cartoon Academy Secretary Sudheernath and resident organizer in Delhi of a hundred initiatives back home, sat across me, haggard. He urgently needed somebody to volunteer to present a programme at Thrikkakkara Temple, the most beloved destination for the devout during Onam. I casually suggested a marathon caricaturing session, say 1001, non-stop. Sudheer, the incorrigible experimenter that he is, immediately got scent of decent mileage to grace the ailing KCA through a first-time exposition of a truly hilarious art to the milling non-initiated temple devotees. Still, I stood aloof unsure.
In hours, Sudheer contacted the Limca Records office in Delhi and became more emboldened. My plan was to finish 1001, the quickest- in any case, it would take 18-19 hours. As the Limca norm was said to be i/6/12/24 hours efforts, I stuck to 12 hours, though bit too risky with my urinal and spinal problems. Now, it was decisive- drawing superfast without pause for 12 hours from 7 am to 7 pm. S/Shri Pramod and Sunilnath, Convenors of the Thrikkakkara Mahakshetra Committee were put in charge. Sudheer’s local lines and KCA members were put on alert.
The stage was the main concern for me. I desired a quiet kingdom in the centre-stage where I and my each subject co-existed in peace for a minute undisturbed by any courtiers, jesters or high priests of doodling or mainstream art. The, Pramod, a seasoned campaigner who hosted his own event management concern assured me of a design which I could visualize immediately.
A day later, when I was asked by Shri K. Madhavan Nair, my Chief Commissioner in the Income Tax office at Ernakulam to be part of the discussion on prospects of holding an art exhibition at Kochi for a few days under a professional curator and with decent honorarium to the artists, I innocently suggested the marathon caricaturing. Sponsoring that would guarantee huge publicity to the Department at minimal cost. Also, the drawing card, thick 300 GSM as usual, bearing a cartoon and messages of the IT would also be sure meat for mention in the press. The sagacious CCIT immediately sensed cost-effectiveness. I was promised support then and there - Stationary support by the Income Tax! I stiil doubt if my Department has ever before condescended to sponsor an individual’s effort till date. If not, this is phenomenal thanks an empathising and world-wise bureaucrat at the helm. The modestly worded slogan on the banners to happen later ‘Income Tax Family presents our own Cartoon Express’ was his brainwave.
22.08-2010, 6AM. Thrikkakkara Temple ground. I was seeing the stage where I was to perform for 12 continuous hours under the spot light, infront of the audience, for the first time. It was red carpeted, expansive enough for a professional drama troupe. The KCA banner formed the backdrop with the Income Tax felicitations drawn tight in the sides. I was not in friendly terms with easel, having adopted the desk & chair posture since the beginning. But, an easel with paper stuck on it was erected apparently for adding gravity. I was a bit uneasy. The speaker’s podium in the corner suggested another avenue for non-stop activity if my bottom becomes hopelessly flatter due to prolonged sitting in the customary chair. But where was the chair ? And the table ? Soon, Dinraj and Prashobh were found hauling in a huge wooden table onto the stage. Great effort ! Soon, a fitting chair would appear. Then, the one across me and an array of plastic chairs to support my lighter KCA colleagues. Santhosh from Trichur, a member of the Team Caricature-Kerala breezed through the bundles of printed paper affixing sl.nos. in his impeccable hand. Dinraj, adolescent looking Anuraj and Prashobh complemented him in the side chairs. The bearded ex-journalist turned govt-servant Jayaraj Vellur added maturity to the last two on seat no.4.
The air was expectant – but only to us the KCA team, Pramod, the temple committee Convenor and his deputy, Adv. Sunilnath. It was already 7.00 am , the scheduled time. Start was coolly refixed at 7.30. From the centre stage, I looked invitingly at the circumspect senior citizens and the cynical-looking housewifes about to disappear into the temple. The mahouts of the same coloured elephants and the sunken-eyed, wiry-framed Melam (percussion) artistes who moved closer and closer to the stage displayed more readiness to spot native humour, probably having travelled far and wide along with the pachyderms. One of them simply glinted his innumerable teeth at me ! I began to think in terms of these Ambalavaasi ( temple-dependents) line. But their number was hopelessuy small ! At a distance, sat a group of youngsters half-hearted to volunteer. It was 7.20. We were still in shock. A steady flow of subjects was out of question. Meanwhile, I had beckoned two grey-bearded gentry spotted at a distance, both wonderful specimens finishable inside of 50 seconds. But they perfectly enacted physical disability- 80% & above sight and hearing impairment. They too had a slant to get tested. But, something held them back. From the corner of the backdrop, my wife and son looked at their hapless fatso sadly.
Frustrated, I suggested 8 o’ clock but relented to come down to 7.45 seeing Sudheernath going into usual tantrums. Then, Prasannan, the KCA Chairman bargained to chip off 5 more minutes as 7.45 was known to be notorious for non-starters. Soon, the decision was flashed. Pramod screamed into the god-knows-where mike- The programme will start at 7.40 bang !
The traditional lamp appeared from nowhere. The KCA office-bearers and the local organizers lined up as if in a national integration tableau. For the first ever time in my rather timid life, I lighted up a lamp, first. The Temple Committee senior, my singer wife ritualistically hand-touched by my son Siddharth and finally KCA Chairman, Presannan lighted the other wicks, in turn. It was finally 7.40 am. From behind, Lekha sang an auspicious couplet , while Siddharth sat across me with shy trepidation unable to bear the importance bestowed on him by the spot lights and my friends. In 25 seconds, the compassionate little round face that I had kissed a thousand times was finished.
My son, Siddharth sings a song his Guru, his own mother taught
A small train of temple committee members chugged on towards me as if responding to my silent SOS. A couple of mahouts and unemployed youth trailed them. But I was feeling uneasy. I had not yet fallen into that rut of self-sure ease. After the first ten subjects, suddenly I began to feel my confidence ebbing away. Do the faces of the cartoonists zooming in above me reflect disapproval of my usual flourishes with the chiseled marker ? I could not at all read cartoonist and parttime snake-catcher, Surendran Vaarachaal whom I used to glance when in tight spots. My God! Where are the caricaturist’s delights I spotted in the crowd ? Was I losing grip over the situation ? Moments later, Surendran pepped me up with a short soft word I now do not remember. I decided to go on a binge, come what may.
Now, looking at the photos of those subjects posing with their caricatures, I feel that Surendran’s assessment was correct. There was no major cause for concern.
The first hour produced exactly 60 caricatures. But I should have been taking only 40 seconds per caricature. My idea to shorten length of the body, which was for me, one and a half times of the face could not be worked as the body language would have been terribly compromised. That never thrilled me. I decided to stay put. Nothing at the cost of below the face. But then, I got scent of the result to come. It is not going to touch 675 even as the later hours would find my grip strainful. This was the estimate given to the Chairman and Secretary, KCA , as well when all this kicked off. That crowd-puller 1001 had come up when it was decided I would pull on beyond 12 hours. The number was flashed in a hurry. In the press conference, however, I took bail that I would not be and none of you (pressmen) be dejected if I don’t touch 1001. Only one paper carried the plea.
Intermittently, small nuclear families came and passed me in minutes, with at least one in each lot, posing a caricaturist’s eternal terror. Featureless men and women , sometimes even families as such kept on terrorizing me frequently. Then, a punkish boy or a senior citizen would all of a sudden appear as if to jazz me up. Down the queue, one more Mr. Plainface whom many a caricaturist and artist cursed away over the years to eternal perdition would then be glancing at me with suppressed mischief.
At times, a VIP, Sudheernath cleverly and magically too, tugs along would grimace at me from across the table. S/Shri Benny Behanan and P.Babu, MLAs as politicians, Janardanan, Vinu Mohan, Govindankutty and Ponnamma Babu from the film formed this category and of course added more sparkle to the stage. Of this Janardanan and Ponnamma Babu had not yet spoken to Sudheernath but only heard him so far, only once in their lifetime- that too just half an hour back ! Such a magnetic pull which sometimes provoked Sudheer to contemplate setting up an Ashram within the GCDA limits.
Two times Presannan hissed in my ears to speed up perhaps he too much believed in 1001 as he did me. The non-stop doodling had, by that time, already set my standard. Body length could not have been shortened. Speed was fair enough. So, 1001 will be the sure casualty. Presannan, more mature and my fellow-traveller in cartooning since the cartoon kalari days of the early 1980s laughed softly. A few steps away, Sudheer was already smelling 1001. To my Siddharth, how many times have I referred Sudheer as the paradigm of perseverance in spite of not so great resources in hand ! I am sincerely concerned about the future of this man as an artist and otherwise, who always baulks to recommend himself for a safe landing before the heavyweights he knows in Delhi.
In the side desk, Santhosh, Dinraj, Prashobh, Anuraj ,Surendran and Jayaraj beside me were doing great work silently and without recess, skipping lunch to declare solidarity with me. They were doing the cardinal work. A team like them should be the benchmark for support team on stage for any future attempts by anybody in the KCA.
At times, cartoonists themselves posed before me. If Santhosh and Dinraj did that to save me from face-drought, my gurus Toms, Yesudasan and Seeri did that as anugraha on one of their finds in the 1983 Kothamangalam camp. Yesudasan Sir’s grandson, just past his second month on earth was the youngest I drew and the oldest was….
and the youngest, Cartoonist Yesudasan 's granddaughter
The oldest had floored me at first sight. Here was the caricaturist’s eternal delight and the primer on facial features ! A very short, thin framed, toothless lady sporting a big Rudraksha chain had been appreciating my drawings from behind my back for more than 10 minutes. Sometimes, she would speak out her observations on my performance too loudly for endorsement from Surendran and other cartoonists. She had come on her own, pulled in by the casual gaiety happening on the stage. The lady was allotted next chance, out of turn. In less than 50 seconds, she was finished. Then happened the breathtaking action. The 94 year old lady laughed at the card loudly and broke into an ecstatic dance in full glare of the audience below. This lasted for 5 minutes ! After the programme, I suggested to Presannan that her video clipping posted onto the websites and blogs of all members should serve as icon of the success story that is KCA. She was Ananthalakshmy, the Carnatic vocalist who had performed minutes back in the other stage, once a co-singer of the legendary MS Subbalakshmy !
Another memorable occasion was when the jubba clad bearded young man came. I asked- Artsit ? No, a farmer from Muvattupuzha. No way you are an ordinary farmer… An organic farmer, he chuckled. Here, I added some grass around his naked feet. The man disappeared without event. But when the show ended, Thomas was waiting for me with 3 meter long mullappoo garland and a prolonged hug. Only a farmer like him could have come up with such an expression! Thanks my dear friend, for adding to my faith in living.
7.40 pm, 12 hours after the word ‘go’, the last subject (651th)
poses relaxed - my own singer-wife , Lekha.R.Nair.
Came night. 7.40 pm. Amidst mike announcements, the show ended on time. No clapping was there let alone lifting me up by admirers, which was unthinkable as most of the younger breed of cartoonists like Jayaraj and Prashobh were dangerously underweight due to reasons other than malnourishment. I got up. I was not tired at all but for difficulty in stretching my fingers of the drawing hand. My good cartoonist friends on stage shook hands with me. Amongst them, Baluchettan who too had guided me in the 1983-84 camps. Behind me and the cartoonists stood my wife who added grace through mellifluous rendering of a few Onam songs. That was enough. I felt immensely fortunate. By my Guru’s grace, thought of record had never tainted my mind during my performance. I was my usual self, always aware that I was fallible, prone to the silliest of mistakes.
For 12 hours I did not feel hunger or desire to visit toilet in spite of an aggravating urinary complaint. My old masters of the 1983 KCA camp S/Shri Toms, Yesudasan, PBV Krishnan, Seeri, Nathan and Balu were present almost throughout the show. I always amused silently at the great luck that these masters and their disciple remain healthy and alive after close to 30 years to smile at each other. Only, a long-promised engagement by Sukumar sir at Trivandrum affected me and Chirivarayarangu which had to be aborted in the absence of this deadly cracker of a story teller. Otherwise, everything went off like clock work. All were happy , even silently jubilant. I could feel Thrikkarayappan’s pervading Grace…
In the end, 651 was The number. 1001 was slowly receding into oblivion.
IMAGES of THE day HERE
IMAGES of THE day HERE
Photos courtesy: KERALA CARTOON ACADEMY