04 October 2014

When Robertalokaya illuminated Anuralokaya

Anuralokaya is the name of an exhibition featuring the varied work of Anura Srinath.  Anura does all kinds of things with brush, color and line.  He paints portraits and landscapes, has drawn comic strips, creates book covers, designs greeting cards and is so well versed in politics, things cultural, art and literature that he draws from a storehouse of knowledge, all of which gets encrypted into his work.

A couple of years ago, I chanced on a notice about ‘Arunalokaya’.  I found Anura Srinath and interviewed him for ‘The Nation’.  He spoke about his life and his work.  It was a fascinating story.  What struck me most about this soft spoken man was his humility.  His achievements are many.  His work is familiar to thousands of people but few really know him.  That’s the tragedy of the byline.  The story is known, the story-teller remains a nonentity.  That’s another story.

This is about Anura and Anuralokaya.  It is about a poster and a three-wheel driver. It happened in Punchi Borella not too far away from our office.  I had noticed the poster a couple of times as I walked past it to get lunch from a nearby restaurant.  It was a notice about ‘Anuralokaya’.  One day, I crossed the road at a point which brought me close to one of those public notice boards which get plastered with anything from tuition classes to exhibitions to theater to political campaigns.  I had seen the poster before and would have walked on if not for a middle-aged man who was looking closely at the board with a look on his face that could only be interpreted as unadulterated awe. 

He had the unlikeliest name of Robert Nelson.  I asked Robert Nelson what he was thinking.  He didn’t have words and Robert Nelson admitted the fact: kiyanna vachana naha.  I probed further.  Which of the images did he like best?  He said ‘everything’ (hema ekakma) but quickly revealed he had a favorite: an out-of-this world suspension bridge over a ravine but not in the best of conditions.
‘What can you say about this painting?’ I asked and got the same answer with the same awe-struck expression on face: ‘no words’. 

Who can tell what in that image robbed him of words?  Further inquiry was meaningless.  I left it at that.
He has not seen ‘Anuralokaya’.  He has not read any of the comic strips that Anura created and which were extremely popular at the time.  He would not know that Anura designed the ‘cut-out’ announcing Asoka Handagama’s film ‘Vidu’.  He didn’t know that Anura fantasizes about a different world made of just good people or that he produces line drawings of wonderful creatures, insects included, to depict that Utopia he would ideally inhabit. 
Robert Nelson had no words.  He said a lot, though. As for Anura Srinath, if he can render anyone speechless and especially through a poster (poorly) depicting a painting, he’s said a lot too. Again without words. 

Anura illuminates. Robert did too.

Anura has a world, a changing world which he captures even as he does not do injustice to the fluidity. Robert Nelson has a world too, I am sure, although I don’t know the first thing about it.  He doesn’t paint it. He hasn’t given it a catch-all title. He doesn’t name it.  It’s as if he stepped out of one of Anura’s illustrations for he is a fascinating man.  Watching it all I wondered, though, whether it was Robert Nelson who drew a world and if Anura was just one of his creations that jumped out of the canvass that is Robert Nelson’s life. 

Both, together and separately, made that corner of my world a little softer, my fantasies more real and prompted me to sing.  And that is what I just did.  

[For Anura Srinath]

Which world is this
of line and paint
curve and smile
abandonment and play;
these children
who are they
that run over page and heart
tickling memory
pointing finger
turning page
from yesterday
to today and tomorrow;
do the creatures and portraits
come alive at night
dance in fairy rings
and are they wrapped
kept safe
within an unnamed flower
and a tender petal embrace;
is what's being saved
our yesterdays
or the delightful tomorrows
of children yet to come
and adults whose hearts
refused to grow?

*Anura Srinath’s world