Art – Elementary and Intermediate

September 27, 2010

The leftover tablets in the gaping color box were enticing me. I had to find a way to use them. Some had been consumed during my tryst with sculpting clay idols of Lord Ganesh ( But the black, the turquoise, the yellow ochre tablets had remained untouched. I tried using them, but I got tired of peacocks and tigers. How many can you paint? The drawing book was already full of these. Yellow ochre could not be mixed with blue or red to produce a new color, because like the ochre itself, the resulting mixes would seem equally muddy. I had started wondering about why this color was included in the box in the first place.

“You are fond of peacocks and tigers?” The new drawing teacher clad in stark white pajama and bush shirt asked.

“Not really; just trying to finish my ochre and turquoise.” I replied.

“You have a good feel of the form” he said, leafing through the entire book. So what?

He must have told Grandpa about it, because I was cajoled to stay back every day after the school to attend his special drawing class. The new teacher was turning out to be a headache.

“What is your aim in life?” The drawing teacher asked the special class of five. Two of us five were asleep after the day’s hard work and three were clapping at the cricket match that was in progress outside. Our teacher tried to get the answer, but nobody really cared about life.

“If you wish to become a Drawing Teacher when you grow up, you must pass the two basic drawing exams; Elementary and Intermediate… We will be preparing for the Elementary, this year.”

“This year?”

“Yes, the class will run for a year.”

I stopped going to the class the very next day.

However, upon his arrival on the weekend, Grandpa intervened and told me to try out the drawing class for a few days. I did not agree.

“What is your aim in life?” Grandpa inquired.

“What aim in life? I have none.” I said.

Hearing my answer, he became a bit serious, and I was more than sure that my evenings were going to be spoilt by the drawing class. I complained to Grandma. She, instead of supporting me, spread the gossip everywhere that I was appearing for the drawing exam.

“How is the new teacher?” Our neighbor Nilootai asked. She was a school dropout, waiting to get married, was excellent at embroidery and had a number of wall-pieces, pillow covers and blouses to her credit. “I hear he is Muslim.”

I was surprised. There were no Muslim teachers in our school as yet.

“I don’t know, but I will find out…he has no beard though..”

“Find out. And ask if outsiders also can attend his class.” She said.

I found out. His name was Rustom Pathan, and he had cleared the Drawing Teachers’ diploma along with Intermediate exam recently.

Nilootai then visited the class, said she had an ‘aim in life’ to become a Drawing Teacher, and if Rustom Guruji would help her. He said he had no problem. It looked like Nilootai had developed an instant fascination with the Teacher’s art. She came to our house a few times, discussed with Grandma, gathered courage and started attending the class. We were six now. To my disgust, Nilootai remained by my side full-time. I could not understand if she was keeping a watch on me or was taking shelter from Rustom Guruji.

We practiced symmetrical figures for a month. Rustom Guruji would give us the left half and we had to complete the other. He said if you are Righty, drawing the right side is difficult than left. This was true for others. For me, even the left side was a nightmare. For Nilootai, both brains seemed to work seamlessly. She came out to be extra-ordinarily gifted and became Rustom Guruji’s pet student in no time.

Out of six, three were driven out by the teacher the next month on the pretext of the sticky fingers and their asymmetric brains. Now we were three. Walmik was the third. He was from the nearby village, had come from his village only to attend the class and was even better than Nilootai. Rustom Guruji started paying less and less attention to me. Whatever flair with form I had, started to lose form. On the other hand I was becoming overjoyed with the thought that I may also be dropped in a few days. But I had an added value as Nilootai’s escort and I remained.

The progress reports started reaching the Grandparents via Nilootai. Grandma said,

“Once you finish your charcoal and erasers, you can drop out…No need to venture into colors…Who will spend for those?”

“I joined the class to learn coloring, not sketching funny shapes.”

“See what happens and we can decide later.” Grandpa said.

The lessons started coming at brisk pace since Nilootai and Walmik would learn the skill instantly. We started the nature drawing. These were not the usual landscapes of sun, the hills, a path, a hut, a lotus and swan, but the painting of a twig – a Custard Apple or Oleander twig.

The coloring part finally arrived. To Grandma’s annoyance, I was asked to buy a box of tubes. The old tablet box was useless for Elementary Grade coloring, according to Rustom Guruji. And who used those tubes in our town? And for that matter who in the town painted or appeared for exams or wanted to become Drawing Teacher? None! Rustom Guruji therefore imported three boxes, one for each of us. The lessons in primary colors, contrasts and mixing started. Rustom Guruji’s skill was such that he did not need to sketch anything. Lines, curves, leaves, stem and the eyelets on the twig would just flow from his hands. My interest in the class started flowering at last. However, the teacher had given us strict instructions not to attempt flowers in exam.

Guruji used to paint with such thick and opaque water-color layers that his painting would appear just like oils, albeit replica of life. In contradiction, Walmik would paint very transparent. Guruji was not very happy with this, but did not stop him, because Walmik’s paintings sometimes turned out appealing than the Teacher’s. Further Walmik started painting the backgrounds which was not the requirement, as per Guruji. Walmik also had discovered a trick. He used to polish his painting with a conch shell after coloring. This polish would give a terrific glaze to his paintings.

All of a sudden, we were sent for exams at the district place. Nilootai accompanied me in Hapton bus ( . All the three of us had our relatives there and we camped at our respective ones. Further Nilootai convinced me that it was my responsibility to take her to the exam venue. I had to oblige.

The Symmetry question paper was alright. In nature drawing, I tried to polish the painting of my Oleander twig with a Conch Shell forgetting to check if the painting was dry. The paint was wet, spread everywhere, I had to throw away the completed drawing and hurriedly paint a second one, just before the time ran out.

The Still Life paper was also fine and I could complete the shapes and shading of the deliberately disarranged cones, cylinders and a jug to my satisfaction and in time.

The fourth paper was a bolt from the blue. Just before the paper started, Rustom Guruji apologized that there was a new exam format and a paper on human figures and groups had been introduced. He said he was sorry he did not teach us the complete syllabus. It was now up to us to use our memory and imagination. That was the title of the paper any way – Memory Drawing. I selected ‘Market Place’ as my subject and drew whatever vegetables I could with a lone vendor’s human-like figure. I had no practice in anatomy and the vegetables and the human figure were indistinguishable from each other. In disgust, I handed over my paper when there was a good one hour left for submission. I glanced at my mates. Walmik had drawn a colorful market place and Nilootai a marriage ceremony complete with fireworks, brass band and all.

I bundled my clothes, did not inform my relative of my departure and came back to our town alone. There was mayhem because of my disappearance. Grandpa had to go to the post office and wire to our relative that I had reached home safely.

Nilootai and Rustom Guruji arrived in the bus the next day. Walmik went straight to his village. I totally shelved my drawings, color tubes, the box and my painting abilities as soon as the exams were over and concentrated on field games. Although she tried on several occasions, I stopped talking to Nilootai altogether. She was an accomplished painter by birth. What business a novice like me can have with her?

The results came straight to our Head Master. He came to our class room and announced that the only student that appeared from our school has cleared the Elementary Grade exam in first attempt, albeit in C, the lowest grade. I had no emotion. I knew what I had drawn and wondered why somebody was so lenient as to pass a pitiable painter like me.

Rustom Guruji came to my Grandfather and told him the news, saying triumphantly, “Indeed the boy can become a Drawing Teacher if he wishes to.” Grandpa smiled and brought sweets.

Nilootai was married off immediately by her parents, without much fanfare. The news of her travelling on bus in company of our drawing teacher was getting undue attention. Nobody paid heed to the news that she had scored A Grade, neither to her request to let her complete the second exam. Before she left for good, she came and told me not to dislike art, because I had scored C grade. She also said that she felt so happy painting, she felt so good and safe in my company, cherished the last year, and finally, there were reasons for which she will one day become a Drawing Teacher, come what may. Her husband had no employment.

Walmik came to our school the next year. He had scored a B. He said, “It was wrong on my part to color all my drawings, The Symmetry, The Still Life, The Nature and Memory, everything. I should have painted only the Nature, as the examiners would have expected. Rest should have been in Charcoal. It was fun, anyway, to paint and fool the examiners.”

We both were experienced campaigners now. The next year, we had freedom from the Guruji and all we did was draw whatever we liked and paint whatever we drew. We painted hoardings for the school, decorated the school notice boards and also beautified the blackboards. For still life, we used the buckets, mugs, cups and saucers in the house. The majority of the drawings we did were of Zinnia and Periwinkle twigs and flowers which was the subject matter for the Nature Drawing. And yes, we bought us each a new box of tubes. We did not attend the class, although it had now a sizeable population and popularity. We inquired with Rustom Guruji what the subjects and lessons were, took his summary guidelines and went straight to exams. Walmik this year stuck to the basics of the exam, did not color everything and scored a high A. I scored a moderate B, because the Memory drawing ditched me once more. Nobody, including myself or my Grandparents had any concerns with my B score. I guess they were happy and relieved that they did not have to supervise me twenty-four hours and I spent most of the spare time of those two years in solitude with the colors.

Rustom Guruji never tired of asking whether I had any aim in life and I kept saying ‘no, I don’t’. He must have expected to hear from me at least once that I would like to become a Drawing Teacher. In retrospect, I feel I should have said so. Guruji also used to say that it was a pleasure he had his first students like us, especially Nilootai, because he himself had to appear for the Intermediate Exam a couple of times to get a respectable grade. But that must not be true. He was simply great as a teacher and a class apart, just like Nilootai and Walmik were.


2 Responses to “Art – Elementary and Intermediate”

  1. Hema P. Says:

    I, along with some friends and my siblings, attended a similar drawing class (that’s what we used to call it) for quite a few years at a children’s club. Your post brought back wonderful memories of the times we all spent together. Thanks, Rajeev!

    • PeACEMAKER Says:

      Thank you very much. This post could have been very long and I had to restrict myself from blurting out too much. You cannot forget those formative days unless you write about them.

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