Riot of Colors

“Akka, I need 10 days leave at the end of this month.”

“What! Only last month you took fifteen days off. This won’t do.”

“I am sorry, Akka. But we have Balu’s exhibition in Delhi. Ramani Sir says it would be a great occasion.”

She rolled her eyes. She was used to all kind of innovative excuses the maid servants came up with for not turning up at work. But this was the weirdest yet.

“What art exhibition?”

“Didn’t I tell you, Akka? My son is a talented painter. His paintings will one day sell for Lakhs and Crores of Rupees all over the world. You know like those of that guy M F Hussain. That old man with white beard who died recently.”

The audacity of it, thought Sarita. Her maid servant was telling her who M F Hussain was. What next? Would she be lecturing to her about Rembrandt and Van Gogh?

“Does you son…er… learn art somewhere?”

“Yes. His school focuses on art. The art master Ramani is very fond of Balu. He is the one who insists Balu put up his works in these exhibitions.”

School focusing on art? “Was she really a maid servant or an heiress to a fortune masquerading as a household help?” mused Sarita. Even her own daughter’s school had a drawing class only for namesake. The real focus was on the board exams. And the school the servant’s son went to focusing on arts? What was the world coming to?

“Wouldn’t such a school be a bit expensive?”

“Yes, Akka. But my son has got an art scholarship. An NGO conducted a talent search amongst children from slums and my son was spotted by them. He was sponsored to the Shristi Academy for talented children. There, ever since Ramani Sir saw his work, he has literally adopted him. He even does extra classes exclusively for Balu free of charge. He is such a kind man. ”

“Ok. Nice to know. But ten days off is too much. One or two days is fine. But ten whole days I can’t manage.”

“You are right, Akka. I will send over my daughter when I am gone.”

“Daughter?”

“Yes, Akka. I have two sons and a daughter. I have trained my daughter in all the household chores so that she can fill in for me if required.”

“And your daughter? You don’t send her to school?”

“Of course I do, Akka. Not to the same school that Balu goes to though. They go to that old corporation school Balu used to attend earlier.”

                                                                     * * * * * *

“Get up, my dear? It is already 5.00 am. You need to get ready and go to school. Ramani Sir will be waiting for you.”

“No, ma. Let me sleep for some more time.”

Poor boy. How she wished she could let him sleep. But she could not afford to. The exhibition day was nearing and he had to complete that special piece he was working on while continuing to keep up with his lessons as well.

“Get up dear. Get ready. I am making dosa for you with your favorite paya curry.”

Soon the boy was ready and she made him sit on the cot, handed him a medium size stainless steel plate and placed a hot dosa on to it with some paya curry to go. By the time the boy was finished, the next one was ready. She scraped up all the remaining meat pieces from the curry and put them on his plate.

“But mother… If you give everything to me, what will the rest of you have?” he protested

“We will manage dear. It is you who must eat well and keep your strength. You have lot of work to do. We can’t afford to have you become weak and fall sick.”

He ate silently. She stood in the distance and gazed at him lovingly. How lucky she was to have a son like him. Her other children had to suffer a bit. But they would understand she was doing this for all of them. When Balu became rich and famous, he would take care of them all. Then they would all thank her for her foresight and wisdom.

As he got up to go, she handed him two jaded hundred rupee notes. “Here, Balu. Don’t struggle in crowded buses. Take an auto.”

“But mother…”

“What did I tell you earlier?”

“I need to keep my strength. I have lot of work to do,” he repeated in a flat monotone.

“Yes. You would be doing a great favor to us by focusing on your painting rather than trying to save ten rupees and hundred rupees here and there. Is that clear?”

“Yes, mother.”

She sighed. Sometimes she wondered if she was doing right. Because she was spending so much on Balu, the other two -Vasanthi and Senthil had to go to school walking. She could not even afford the bus fare for them. But they were good children and they did not complain. In some ways things had always been like this for them. Earlier all the money would go to their drunk father. Now instead it was going to their artist brother. But with her drunk husband, there was no hope for the future. The outcome from the money spent would only be beatings, abuse and demand for more money. It had indeed been a relief to all of them when his liver finally gave way and he died. But with the artist son, it was completely different. A bright future loomed ahead of them all. They just had to grit their teeth and manage for a few years. Then all their problems would be solved. They would leave this slum and go and live in the posh gated community where she performed household chores. She would be a neighbor to that arrogant woman, Sarita.

Her reverie was broken by Balu’s voice, “Bye, mother. See you in the evening.”

As he stepped out, she noticed he had left his school bag behind.

“Wait, take your bag.”

He was lately becoming very forgetful. He always seemed deep in thought and kept forgetting something or the other. He always had a deep frown on his face and she could not remember when she last saw him laugh or smile. She hoped it was only tension about the exhibition and not any unwanted distractions. Tension was good, Ramani Sir had said - it pushed one towards excellence. He was a very wise man and knew everything. She was sure he would ensure Balu would make it big. Such a noble and selfless man! At least she had a selfish motive of wanting to benefit from her son’s fame and fortune later on. But Ramani Sir had nothing to gain. He still strove so hard, spending hours together with Balu, working with him patiently, helping him perfect his technique as if he were his own son.

                                                                    * * * * * *

Shankar Ramani was a sparse man nearing forty. He paced up and down the room restlessly. Where was that boy? He was usually quite punctual. In fact he would be there fifteen minutes before time. But today it was already five minutes past seven and still there was no sign of him whatsoever. He hoped the boy had not fallen sick or something. That would be a complete anti-climax. The last painting for the exhibition was going to be a complete master piece. They had discussed it a lot and the boy had made the initial outline. But still they were deciding about the colors and the other minor details.

“I am sorry, Sir. I was leaving from home when I ran into an old friend. It had been quite some time since I had seen him. So had to talk to him a bit. So I got delayed.”

“That is ok, my boy. But you always need to keep your priorities in mind. All these petty friends will come and go. Even if you lose one today, hundred others will coming flocking to you tomorrow when you have made it big. But if you don’t pay sufficient attention to your muse, she will leave you. If she leaves, she will never return.”

“Yes sir, “he replied meekly.

“Let us then get started on that painting we were studying from yesterday. Van Gogh is one artist whose paintings you must study closely. His themes are very similar to yours. Now see this potato eaters painting. It depicts a family not very different from yours.” He went on to lecture to the boy about the various elements in the famous painting. While the boy was listening keenly, he somehow could not see the old shine in the boy’s eyes. He wondered if something was wrong. He remembered how the boy would so eagerly pore over every word he uttered when he had come to him initially. The boy has been a natural with keen observations skills and a way with colors. But still he had been like an uncut diamond when delivered into his hands. He had at once spotted the boy’s talent and took upon himself the task of polishing the boy’s talent and bringing forth that most dazzling gem stone the world has ever seen.

The boy had started to work on one of his practice pieces. Ramani watched him as he swept across the canvas with his brush. The boy just went about it with ease, with the confidence of a master. The picture was coming out almost blemishless. The boy had definitely improved by leaps and bounds since the time he had come. But still something was missing; he could no longer see that old riot of colors that came through as he had in the boy’s earliest paintings. It felt a bit too labored. He hoped the boy was not following along his own tracks.

But his case had been altogether different. He had never had that spark even to start with. He had always been a plodder. But that had not been enough. So it came about that he had never made it big and ended up as an art master at a school. The boy on the other hand had talent. He hoped through the boy he could achieve all that he had missed in life. If he could not be an Arjuna himself, he at least wanted to be a Dhronacharya to an Arjuna. It would be a pity though if they boy’s spark was extinguished and he ended up following along his teacher’s footsteps.

Maybe this was just a phase while the boy was learning the craft. His internal genius would start asserting itself again once he mastered the craft. As far as the exhibition was concerned the boy was a sure winner as it was. But he would need the right blend of raw genius and carefully honed craft if he had to reach those dizzy heights he hoped for the boy to achieve. There was still lot of time for that. Right now they had to focus on the exhibition.

                                                                              * * * * * *

Hari was returning home from his cricket match. He wished his old friend Balu had joined. His friend had changed so much. He remembered all those good times they had had together. Now he no longer had any time for him. At first he thought Balu had become a snob after going to that school for rich kids. But it had turned out he was still the same old Balu when he had met him the previous day morning. They had talked so excitedly of those old times. Balu had been as nostalgic about those old times as Hari.

“I so wish I could come back to our old school, Hari. The boys at the new school are all stuck up spoilt princely brats. They don’t even look at me far from talking to me or playing with me. Not that I have any time to play. What with trying to adjust to the ways of the new school and the English medium and my painting lessons. I don’t even get full five hours of sleep on a daily basis,” he had said

Hari had felt pity for him and all his apprehensions had taken to wind. “You look so stressed, Balu. Maybe you need a break. Why don’t you join us for the cricket match tomorrow? All our old friends will be there. You will find it refreshing.”

Balu had agreed so eagerly without a moment’s hesitation. But then that morning Balu had told him he would not be able to join as he had painting lessons and he working on a painting for some exhibition. He could not afford to take those precious two to three hours off. Hari wondered where all this was heading. What was this obsession with painting all about? Was his friend even happy? Or was he being pushed by his mother and that art master at his school – what was his name? Yeah – Ramani Sir. Hari’s parents were poor too. He too wanted to do something for his parents. But whatever Balau had told him about his life seemed too overwhelming.

He so wished Balu had made it. It would have been so much fun. His thoughts were interrupted by the sudden screeching sound of car breaks. He turned in the direction from where the sound had come from. A car had hit someone and a crowd was forming. Hari made his way through the crowd. He was soon in the front. His eyes fell on the victim - a small boy about his own age. Splattered all around him were pieces of his organs soaked in crimson blood mixed with blue, green, yellow and various other colors that had spilt out from the broken bottles. His friend Balu lay dead amidst a complete riot of colors.

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