I walked from my house to the academy with a portfolio in my hand. It comprised of sketches of my father listening to Ravi Shankar, my maid watching TV, Ma cooking dinner and my brother who had posed for half an hour only after I gave him my breakfast sausages. They were drawn on my mother’s old Art book, the one she had acquired from overseas thirteen years ago. I was bored in the new city of Kolkata and had few friends, none of who stayed close by. I had heard that the Academy of Fine Arts held classes for wannabe artists and I was going to check it out.
I met a very distinguished gentleman who did not fit into my impression of a Bengali artist. He was Rathin Maitra, the Director, and I did not know what an eminent artist he was for I was all of sixteen years of age. He smoked a pipe and looked more like a debonair Satyajit Ray. He looked at the portfolio and gave me a lecture on how I should learn to view objects from the heart and not through my eyes. I had to learn to create art which was unique, different and had a soul. He spoke of Isadora Duncan and how she had re-interpreted dance. After a while he looked at my poker faced adolescent enthusiasm, sighed, and said he would take me to class.
The class room was a big hall with sun light streaming through the glass paned roof. Students sat with their legs straddling a small plank of wood which had two feet and another plank connected to it at a right angle on which rested their easels. In the middle of the class, on a platform, stood a beautiful tribal girl with her hands extended upwards holding on to a metal bar, her hair flowing down her back and adorned only by her jewellery. The sketching class was of the nude human form and everyone was drawing her with charcoal in pin drop silence. Rathin babu kept telling me about how I should discover my talent when he chanced to glance at me. He saw my flushed face, eyes popping out like gold fish and my gawking mouth. He curtly asked me my age. When he heard it was sixteen, he told me I should attend the junior class on Sunday evenings instead of the senior class and dismissed me.
The junior class was fun but definitely not soul searching serious. It was held between four and six pm on Sundays and was usually a meeting ground for romancing couples. Those who did not have a partner were frequently propositioned. I have good memories and friends from the class and created some average work.
Two days ago I requested Paresh Maity, the eminent artist, to autograph a book on his works which has been recently released at Lalit Kala Academy. Since it was my birthday, I asked him to write Happy Birthday on the book. Being the amiable and wonderful person he is, he drew a sketch on the book for me. We got talking and we realised that in 1981, the year that I was gawking like a gold fish, he was sitting in the same class as a student. His talent was soon appreciated and he started to teach the class from 1982 onwards for several years. His teacher was Rathin Babu. He recollected the beautiful tribal girl, laughed and said she used to pose for the academy for several years.
If only I had kept my mouth shut and looked suave instead of stupid, if only I hadn’t turned the colour of beetroot, if only I had been placed in the senior class as was planned.........