I grew up with two painters. My mother is a painter and so is my sister. I never had the artistry of the hand. I have spent 40 years saying things like, “I can’t even draw a straight line without a ruler.”
It’s amazing how an idea sets in your mind about who you are because of some experience you have had and then it’s difficult to shake it.
Once, when I was six-seven years we were living in the Himalayas, in Manali and my father was working on the Rohtang Pass. It was not our first time in the mountains we had been living in Pouri close to Simla for a couple of years. But this was different. Rohtang Pass is at an altitude of 4,114 m. It is a high mountain pass on the eastern Pir Panjal Range and about 50 odd kilometers from Manali. It’s an important mountain pass and a treacherous one with unexpected blizzards and snow storms. Daddy was responsible for clearing the pass in the summer so that trucks could pass through before the snow started to fall again.
We were living in Madras then without Daddy; who had what they call a “hard posting” in the army where an army officer’s family is not with him. We came for the summer and we went up to Rohtang Pass. This is one hell of a visit Daddy’s office visit. Daddy’s office was basically a shed as he oversaw the clearing of the pass. And it was bleeping cold.
It was photo time and I was standing next to my sister, my mother and my father – and wouldn’t you have it, I just passed out. It was decided then and there that I was averse to high altitude.
So when Søren and I moved to Utah, I told him about my high altitude problem and we quickly realized that I didn’t have a problem with high altitude. This was just an isolated incident that became part of who I am.
Søren had a similar experience when he was sailing as a child with his family to England in rough waters. He was standing in line in the ferry restaurant – it was hot, he was hungry, there was the smell of food and he threw up. Next thing he knew, he was someone who got sea sick. Søren has sailed plenty in row boats, sail boats and cruise ships since – no sign of the sea sickness. This was an isolated incident that became his reality.
So coming back to the painting – I decided that I can’t paint. I mean in front of two accomplished artists, my hands could just not make any magic. No one told me I couldn’t paint, I told it to myself. This was part of who I am. You know how we decide things about ourselves? I can’t sing. I can’t hold a tune. I can’t draw a straight line. I’m short tempered. I have a short fuse. I’m overtly emotional.
These things carry on with us and even as we grow and change, we hold on to these some old and some imagined realities.
A few weeks ago my sister was visiting and she insisted that I try to paint. I told her, “Come on, I can’t paint.” I mean, let’s face it compared to her…compared to anyone who can hold a brush I was a complete amateur and this wasn’t my thing. Also, I just wasn’t interested. Painting gave me no pleasure at all.
But my sister pushed and she even bought me a painting kit. A water painting block, paints, my own brushes – and she said get started.
I started under duress. I started because I just wanted to show her that I couldn’t do this and I had no desire whatsoever. I am 40 years old – I’m not going to suddenly learn how to paint any more than I’m going to grow taller by four inches.
But something happened. I got hooked. There have been some unprecedented pressures at work in the last quarter and I loved coming home to paint. I would draw something and then see what comes out of it as the paints settled onto the sketch.
It is like knitting, a hobby, only better. I am experimenting with colors and just enjoying myself. This isn’t art for me…I know what it means to produce something that comes from within, this is superficial but by god it’s more fun than anything else I have tried in a long time.
I can’t stop. I paint every day. It got so bad that I had to make a deal with myself. I have set up my “painting shop” in our large office next to the treadmill. So I get on the treadmill for 20 minutes and then paint for another 20. Usually, I would watch a TV show when I worked out, but now I’m on YouTube watching “how to paint xyz” and when my 20 minutes are up I can’t wait to try whatever it is I learnt.
I keep waiting for Søren to say, “Seriously, woman, get a grip. You have a life outside of painting.” But he never does. All he says is, “Why should you stop doing something that makes you so happy? Keep doing it.”
So I put brush to paper and suddenly it’s two in the morning. I’m exhilarated by this new release of creative juices. My sister told me, “Keep painting and a channel will open.” I don’t if it will or if it won’t but for now I’m enthralled by what comes out and I can’t wait to paint my next painting.
I never expected to find something inside me at the age of 40 – but here you have it; this is now a part of me too – just like my stories and my inability to hold a tune (this one is true – even my kids request me to not sing along with a song on the radio).
As I start a New Year I’m making just one resolution – let the preconceived ideas about myself go – I’m going to explore whatever comes my way. Because if I hadn’t listened to my sister – I would never have found this amazing gift; this peace that comes up with stroking a brush dipped in paint onto a canvas and see what happens.