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Monday, 29 June 2015

13 Until I Die! [Chapter 10: The Long Way Back Home]

There is nothing more cooler than to be able to change a job when you wish to. In India you could. Probably you still can!

It was in the summers of 2005 that breaking news made no more sense to me. TV newsroom can do this to anyone after a few months there. Constantly gaping at three oversized screens - to never miss a headline/deadline/place line/state line/blood line. At a 'soon-to-be-fully' Hindi desk, everyone addressed each other with ji- suffixes (ji in hindi is just like san in Japanese... to address with respect). I had enough of aiji, oji, loji, sunoji… I could no more stand TV especially after they announced that Star News will be a full-time Hindi news channel. [Murdoch pulled out fully and Star News lost its stardom and become ABP... I have no special interest in that channel or Murdoch... but I clearly did not like the new logo or name - sorry no specific reasons].

Banyan Tree Kurtas

Back in my apartment in Mumbai, I was not so happy. Watching TV entertainment that lacked production quality bugged more than the fact that I was not enjoying the Hindi belt. I would lock myself up. Mostly to paint without the TV's background noise. When I got no time to buy canvases I painted the tables... then my clothes. 

That is how it happened. 

Banyan Tree Kurtas were born out of the blue, without any business model. I got a fresh batch of kurtas stitched and painted them. They were loved/admired/borrowed/taken/and soon out of stock before I could sit down and comprehend a plan to scale it up. 


eda and eddie pups_oil & coffee_b'lu

Thank you Rajivji of Domain-b for gifting me two of your pet Lahsa Apso’s when I left Mumbai. I named them Eda and Eddie. Eddie passed away in the February of 2015. She was 10. 

home far away
poster/invite to my first art solo in 2005

First impression of Dubai was made by its impressive skyline... soon after this became a regular sight from my work desk
A friend volunteered to initiate online marketing for the kurtas and thus www.banyantreekurtas.com was launched in 2003. Social media was not so viral nor its business platforms so developed. And I did only what I could when I was bored of boredom. Did not think or handle the designer kurtas project as a business. But I enjoyed painting and embroidering. Being a news producer for the most popular channel in the nation was not a cake walk... that I could prep up my models for a cat walk. My model was my room mate Anahita Alfred - very pretty and equally patient. She gifted me a thimble looking at the needle bruises on my finger. She was happy to motivate me between preparing her papers to travel to the silicon valley.

I denied clients who came back for copies of the same because it would then not be unique in the sense I wished. Few friends nudged that I must meet market demands just like any start up would. But bending backwards was something I could do only for yoga sake!

This is not what I wanted. What did I want really? I was searching every where. Lost focus on kurta business. [It was never a business just a creative outlet... I think.]

Meanwhile, I left Star News (after 2+ years) without making a noise. I was their youngest producer. I did not even fill the forms to claim my provident fund (PF)... because I resigned over an email while I was travelling. The pine trees of Jammu whispered the soon-to-come winter chills as I travelled down to Delhi, the only place I truly belonged in spirit.

Freelancing

I reconnected with WFS (features agency) and got some assignments. I found time to paint more and travel without the pressure of getting back on a certain date to work. My PF came months later allowing me to travel a bit more.

I had found home… rather surprised to know that 'this' was it. 

Travelling opens eyes like no other exposure. It forces you out of the comfort zones and thus help find home no matter where you are. And I found true love too. It was experienced while holding a palette knife fully loaded with a knob of fresh and shiny oil paint… ready to be slapped and stretched on canvas. I did not know if I was limited to just my body or to my canvas... I felt a bluvian overflow of emotions and calmness at the same time. Time stood still. It was empowering.

I had not visited folks back home for almost two years now and was busy doing nothing in particular according to them. Art is a burden to everyone who doesn't live in an artist's shoes. So that was understandable.

Finally that had to happen - I started craving for a slice of 'family'. I was hit by nostalgia like never before. I suddenly missed my late grandfather and re-imagined the crisis that dated few years back when he left us all of a sudden. I was finding reasons to go back home. I knew they missed me and wanted to see me even though they did not interrupt my choices since I stepped into adulthood and independence. 

Home is where your heart is 

I thought of travelling home and came back to my flat in Mumbai to pack some clothes to leave. That is when I saw an offer letter from a news website. I carried a nagging nostalgia into domain-b.com's office in CBD Belapur. But chucked going home for a bit longer and joined the new place as one of their consulting feature writer-editors. My job here was to produce business features. I got my first regular column. In Freepress Journal I was reporting human stories in changed business environments. I could file stories from wherever I wished to. Domain-b was a happy place for most writers. But I was kind of lost. The job, despite the freedom and my own voice, couldn't hold my interest.

Domain-b's owner and editor Anjali Mathur was an evolved soul [don't we always know who is and isn't?]. With her I could converse about life. Here I could wear my favourite blue bandana to work too. I introduced a daily column - Bulls and Bears – a daily stock commentary. [Thank you Rex Mathew for doing a good job on that and for having stayed on as the columnist with domain-b long after I left the team.] 



With Domain-b's flexible work arrangement I participated in art shows all over Mumbai and Goa. I realised that I evoked more responses as an artist than a journalist. This was also the time I learnt that majority of Indian contemporary artists did not really paint for themselves. A lot of them could not comprehend their lines and would weave up a story out of helplessness. Those were not impressive! I did not support commissioned public art which was almost always a flimsy political propaganda. It was only recently that I could trace an answer to this by learning art history and stories dating centuries back in Italy to the Medicis. I wished artists could be stronger in India. I always thought it was a better place for art just like spirituality.

But as all things come to an end. It was time.


I was 24. Indian Standard Time to get married. I knew it was inevitable. But not ready!

I contemplated again on visiting folks back home. But it was easier not to decide and go with the flow... and let days... weeks... months pass by.

Detours - Reiki, Yoga, Pottery


It was a rainy day when I saw that poster. Peeping at me from behind a wall of fellow travellers waiting for the local train at Kurla station. 


The poster read - Learn Reiki. Call so-and-so number. Instead of taking the train to follow the links to my column, I called up the number and met Sangeeta, who taught me Reiki. We travelled to learn more to find a cure for her child who had multiple sclerosis. After completing Usui school of reiki's master levels we met a hatha yoga master and during this course I stumbled upon pottery too. 

The warmth of mother earth - the smooth wet clay taking form on the potter's wheel has healing effects. I was now travelling a lot with and without my reiki teacher.

[Thank you Rajivji of Domain-b for gifting me two of your pet Lahsa Apso’s when I left Mumbai. I named them Eda and Eddie. Eddie passed away in the February of 2015. She was 10.].


Way back home

I came to my ancestral home in south Kerala with more canvasses than clothes normally my age-group would have. Along with the luggage I held two newborn wiggly Lhasa Apso puppy dogs tightly in my arms. My grandmother was happy to see me as well as the puppies. 


But she confessed how she is worried for me [the usual grandma bonding time]. In her eyes I was already a bit weird with a bandana and without makeup or jewellery - happy with dogs and 'sooo many paintings!' [as she had exasperated]. My family of Hindus followed Shiva and are of Tamil origin though they live in Kerala. More than grandma her maid seemed concerned as I came with luggage! Maid's worry was what if I may stay for long. She had served the family for 15+ years and now since grandpa was no more, ran the house. But it was not a dramatic housemaid's insecurities that drove me away from my ancestral home in Punalur. 

Going to any place you call home is a terrible mistake especially when you have more energy than what the place can burn. I was bored after just a day of vacationing here. My family is not particularly demanding. They don't curse or swear to run my life as per social dictates. Life is pretty simple and thus unaffected back there... frilled with good food and lot of nap times. It was unimaginable to simply sit pretty at home [and be married off for all you know!]. 

I wish I could rewind and rescript my life. But I regret nothing. I convinced my anxious family of few, that I will come back for more drama. I left for a short-but-near-by-break. 

Kochi days

Indian Express was looking for ‘new blood’ [and I was ready to give it and explore a new city while I did the job]. It must have been the rains, or Fort Kochi's vintage French/Portugese cottages or the beautiful sap green and the rain-drenched prussian blue hues of Gods own country's waterbodies. These colours made me think deeper on being just B'lu [B'lu, the short for my pet name Babloo… now became my official artist name].


I spotted myself first time in a magazine's 'people in news' section in January 2006… soon after my debut solo in Kochi.

Kochi was a good experience except a few local interaction here and there. God's own people can be a curious lot. Thanks to my roots in Kerala and stint in the Gulf, I have come a long way from trying to understand the state's collective head spread all over the globe now. I realised art is a better topic to dig deep into than few people who may want to question your existence.

My solo was called the Tree of Life. My art sold! It was a first. I was the happiest person on earth.

Another first was that I was not taking an interview but giving one. 

Turning B'lu

Thanks to everyone who had the faith in me turning B'lu. Most of them were just strangers who loved my work and helped unconditionally. I was surprised to receive a note from my ex-employer - Star News' then CEO Uday Shankar - who spotted me in the news. The letter stated... 

'pleasantly surprised to know that there was an artist in you that wanted to break free… and now that it has… wish you the very best.'

Some choices you make in life redefines everything you hold on to. Life changed drastically after I traded the serene sap greens and cool prussian blues for the retina burning ochre hues of the bare dessert. It uncovered a new world. 

In the Gulf both personal and professional lives happened in its own specific spaces while being B'lu was not easy. 

The new land that drove everyone indoors because of extreme conditions outdoors... new people who made no eye-contact... new food that was frozen and imported from other continents - a brand new medley of confused/frustrated young and old expats who were unhappy with work laws. This culture hemmed me in for the next few years. But being B'lu... though it was in small print... saved me... for the best. That... the best is yet to come! 

… to be continued

General disclaimer: Any resemblance to persons living, dead, or reincarnated is not a coincidence. No animals were injured during the making of this novelog although some monkeys may have their feelings hurt. Sorry.

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