A portrait of the ‘Artist’ as an old man

Keerthik Sasidharan in The Caravan:

The air in Edappal, the town of ‘Artist’ Namboodiri, was dense. The heavy humidity of spring encourages lethargy, as was even the case for Namboodiri. Submitting to precisely what the weather demanded, he sat shirtless, with his lungi folded up to the waist, relaxing in a reclining chair. The tiles beneath our feet were cold, a reprieve from the heat, so I decided to sit on the floor, by his side. My companions Majeed and Madhu, the second of whom is Namboodiri’s nephew, sat on chairs facing him. He had agreed to meet us, despite not being in the best of health. His voice trailed when he tried to speak loudly.

Madhu asked him about the recently-released documentary on his life by the award-winning director Shaji N Karun, considered one of India’s greatest filmmakers. “Ah yes. They are doing something… ” he said. Karun’s debut film Piravi won the Caméra d’Or at the 1989 Cannes International Festival. Unprompted, Namboodiri added, “He has a great visual sense.”

I could not help but smile at his observation. The ‘visual sense’ of a filmmaker was clearly what appealed to him. Once, while Namboodiri was on a sabbatical from his drawing and painting career, he worked with iconic director G Aravindan, and in that short career won the Kerala State Award in art direction. He never really pursued that line of work, and soon returned to his first love: drawing and painting.

My cup of tea had gone cold. I decided to take a photo to remember this evening with Namboodiri. On seeing my camera, it seemed like he was suddenly reminded of some unspoken code of sophistication. “Should I wear a shirt?” he asked.

His 86-year-old body is surprisingly well kept: his muscles are still taut, his skin is leathery and has worn well with age, his luxuriant silvery hair was tied up into a ponytail, and his spectacles dangled off his neck.

“Let it be. Unless the mosquitoes …” I had vocalised what he instinctively knew. He smiled and shrugged. He knew these mosquitoes. He was yet to draw them on paper, as far as I could remember from his work, but, he was watching them flit by, just as he watched my friends, me, our conversation, the cup of tea, the changing light in the skies and the children running behind cars on the street. So shirtless it was. I wandered about and took photos while they continued to talk. Noticing my lens focus on him, he sighed, and said, “What an astonishing thing. It might just rain in February!” More:

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