Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Finding Your Self

I participated in my first group show this year at Lalit Kala Akademi. I was nervous and excited. It is understandable. I am not a professional artist with a degree in Fine Arts, but an artist by spirit whose hobby became a passion; but only after a long battle of battling my insecurities as an artist. When your works become public, you never know which way the votes will swing. 

I was lucky in that sense. 

My teacher and my fellow artists were of immense support. The senior artists who are also professionals, were encouraging and the opportunity to showcase my work alongside their beautiful paintings was a wonderful privilege. It was a lot of hardwork and a race against time. I had taken a ten-day break to go for the Hampta Pass trek in Himachal Pradesh right in the middle of all the prep work. It was a good call , though till the last minute I was torn about going for the trek with the exhibition coming up around the corner. 

Sometimes, you need to listen to yourself, your inner voice and just flow with it.

I cannot resist the call of the mountains. It was a fantastic trek and I came back tired, but absolutely refreshed. I picked up from where I left and put a stop to my guitar classes, so I could focus on my paintings. 

In the end, everything turned out well. My work enjoyed positive reviews and I also had the opportunity to interact with a variety of people and accomplished artists who gave their insights. I have taken their feedback and revisited some of my paintings. 

The journey was important. The experience changed me as an aspiring artist. When I look back, I realized it was a combination of hard work, trusting your gut, and taking chances.

Painting: Watercolor, wet-on-wet, Fallen Leaf by SNatz, copyrighted.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

A Trekker's Essentials

 My recent trek to Hampta pass in Himachal Pradesh was quite the adventure, not just for its tough terrain, but also because every essential item that any seasoned trekker generally carries on any trek became a necessity. I did not realize that every trek is different and has different needs, but the trekking gear needs to be complete. 

I had left behind a few of the items based on my experience at the Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Sahib, and Badrinath trip last August. That was the dumbest thing I could have ever done. The mountains are wicked. They love to mess with you. So you better be prepared.

The seasons were such. In the five days that we walked and pushed our feet through cold rivers, sunny days, rain and windy weather and add to that a few landslides, I re-learnt how to pack my trek bag, balance the weight on my back, ascend and descend the pass by applying the right pressure on my toe and heels, walk at a consistent pace, and adapt to every changing conditions over which you have no control. You are absolutely at Her mercy. I came back completely tanned to the brim. With the drastic weather change from high altitudes to the plains, it took my body a few days to readjust to the heat. 

Here are the trekker's essentials from my limited experience - these are the most basic things you can carry on your trek, easy and moderate ones. 

A Trekker's Absolute Essentials:

1. Trekking backpack: A good trek bag like Quechua/Forclaz or any other brand you may prefer, that supports your back; Decathlon is everyone's favourite place to shop for all your sports gear. It is a one stop shop for all your sports and outdoor needs and you have qualified help to walk you through all the essentials.

2. Sunscreen with a good SPF: you can tan very quickly in the mountains and the proximity to ultraviolet rays is harmful; I looked quite a sight without my SPF!

3. Sunglasses and a Hat: Remember the weather changes every second; when the sun hits your eyes or if you have to navigate snow covered areas, a sun-glass can protect you from getting blinded by the light; the hat keeps off the stinging heat.

4. Chap stick/Lip balm: Carry it in your jacket pocket and keep your lips moist from time to time. You can pack it into the front zip pocket of your trek bag belt for easy access. This will avoid painful blistering. 

5. Trek Shoes:  Usually people pick up Hunter boots possibly from Woodlands or you also have a good selection available at Decathlon. Some may prefer ankle support for more comfort, but that is completely up to you. Walk with the shoes once you buy them so you do not suffer shoe bites when you wear them in the mountains. Shoes need to be tamed, just like people.

6. Hand sanitize/Toilet wipes: Consider these two your best friends in high altitudes and areas where you have to use the open places or if water is provisioned or not available at all.

7. Waterbottle: Carry sippers which you can keep in the side storage area of your trek bag. Sometimes you may also have to conserve water during long distance treks. Water filled bottles add to the weight but cannot be compromised.

8. Clothing: Keep your pack light. 1 kg in the mountains is equal to 10 kgs as you go uphill. You may not be able to bathe for a few days depending on the trek. Carry three pairs of socks, a 3-1 jacket that works as a windcheater, rain jacket, and has fleece. One pair of clothing for change, and bathroom slippers should do it.

10. Digital Camera/iphones and Power Banks: If you are not keen on lugging your DSLRs or professional cameras, then a digicam or a good phone will be practical. You can keep it in the front zip pocket of your trek bag in the straps. Carry a power bank or a battery charger. Absolutely useful when you are cut off from just about everything.

11. Other supplies: A good torch, face wash, wipes, mug, plate, and spoon should suffice. You can also carry raisins, energy bars to keep you going when fatigue hits you.

While trekking, ensure you keep sipping water to keep your body hydrated. Remember, listen to your body. Once High Altitude Sickness hits you, there is no other choice but to stay put in your current location. Sometimes you may not have the option of returning or it is possible that you may have to make your way back alone. 

Fitness has no bearing on mountain sickness, but that does not mean you can trek without proper training and conditioning. Without such preparations embarking on a trek can be fatal since your body may not be able to cope with the limited supply of oxygen at such altitudes. 

Research your trek, prepare for it, and stay safe.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Calvin's CLoud

A day without laughter is a day wasted.

Charlie Chaplin

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Artist's Soul Series: In Conversation with Nartaki Nataraj

I had watched Nartaki Nataraj perform a few years ago at Kalakshetra. It was a mesmerizing performance. That memory stayed with me and I hoped to meet the artist in person another day. How was I to know I will be meeting her in person soon in the next couple of years. As part of the Artist's Soul series, curated by AVIS Vishwanathan, it featured Nartaki Nataraj, the superstar among the third-gender. 

Apart from her grace and humility, she speaks candidly about the atrocities and hardships she faced way back in the 80s when such gender issues were repressed and considered abominable. Both Nartaki and her friend, Sakthi who has been with her through thick and thin come from extremely influential families, but were rendered penniless when they came out of the closet. While the morning woke them up to the harshness of life, ironically, the nightfall gave them freedom to escape to the fields and dance away their sorrows. Their village had one shack where the films were played. So they grew up watching stalwarts in dance like the Travancore Sisters and Vyjayanthimala Bali. Who would have thought that destiny had greater plans for both these outcasts? We forget life pretty much has the last laugh.

Both friends decided to pursue dance and found out that the great dancers of those time learnt under Guru Kittapa Pillai. Not knowing his greatness, these naive, but sincere seekers found themselves at the Guru's refuge to learn dance. The Siddhapurusha as Nartaki refers to her teacher, made them wait for an year to determine their seriousness and finally accepted them not just as his students, but into his household. He was well aware of the stigma and insensitivity his two students will continue to face and even put away a small portion of money towards their future. Such was his grace, kindness and humanity. During her dark days, Nartaki plunged into Tamizh literature. Her command over the language and expression completely bowled me over. Most of all, her kindness and devotion to her art reigns supreme. She has also started a Trust to give back to her community through the very art that saved her life and changed her destiny forever.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Vikram Vedha (2017)

The film opened on July 21st and I managed to get a movie ticket at a theatre nearby. First, it was the title that intrigued me. It was an extension of Vikramaditya and Vetal, stories that have captivated children and adults alike. Second, Madhavan looks great on camera - a perfect destresser on a Sunday afternoon over butter popcorn and cheese. Third, Vijay Sethupathi is a natural actor. I have been following a few of his movies, favourite among which, is Naduvula Konjam Pakatha Kanum and Soodu Kavvum. With such a potent combination of a strong story line and actors, it was bound to be a delectable treat.

This cat-and-mouse chase is a cerebral game to enjoy, atleast once. R.Madhavan as the Encounter Specialist Vikram, opens the scene to a slew of whistles; a chase ensues, and the man is cool; he slays it. He is the good cop who is justified in killing criminals in encounter style killing. He is able to sleep peacefully inspite of shooting a few no-gooders. Shradha Srinath, who plays his lawyer-wife whose paths cross often, has no real value on screen and so does Chandra portrayed by Varalakshmi Sarathkumar, girlfriend of Pulli, the only educated chap in the locality and brother of notorious gangster, Vedha. 

The latter is a dreaded criminal wanted for 15 murders, portrayed beautifully by Vijay Sethupathi. If Madhavan comes across as a cool cop with a penchant for guns, Vijay Sethupathi is even cooler, just with his dialogue delivery. Just his swagger setting the tone for his entry had the theatre drummed up in excitement, howls and whistles.

The scripting is well thought out and beautifully layered. We are so blinded in going after what we want, we miss the most obvious things. When you stop to think, then it gives you an opportunity to make sense of the situations and put the pieces together. The eternal moral questions every individual faces boils down to situations and perspectives. In this case, is the one who ordered the kill the villain or the one who killed, the greater villain who needs to be punished?

Madhavan's shorter punch lines were excellent and well-timed. However, he still needs to bring out the depth of character. Vijay Sethupathi plays an understated role, bringing in different shades to his criminal persona, which elevated the chemistry with Vikram, a notch higher. 

Though predictable in parts, it makes for a great watch.

Image source:

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Calvin's CLoud

When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.

Jalaluddin Rumi

Monday, June 26, 2017

Wandering Artist: In Conversation with Rehane

Poochi Venkat invited me to join him for the program curated by Avis Viswanathan at The Wandering Artist. I was not sure what to expect, which was great. All I was told was the place is an interesting spot for hosting workshops including programs that I was attending that evening. Avis Viswanathan also hosts a monthly program at Odessey called the Bliss Catchers. It features conversations with folks who have taken the road less travelled and have made it their own. These interactions in my opinion are very important to help us stay grounded, stick to our dreams, and plod on inspite of the pressure to be materialistically accomplished in life. 

Rehane's journey in the fashion world, one would consider is a privileged one. Her father was in the Indian Foreign Service and that enabled the family to become a global citizen since they travelled a lot. Rehane herself was born in Paris and educated in Rome, and now married and settled in Chennai. However, she did not have it easy either. Her parents divorced when Rehane was 15 and she made the decision to live with their father, which also included her youngest sibling Saba. It was a lonely period I gather to grow up without the love of your mother, but it was a conscious choice and she went through with it. At the most important juncture of her life, she received the news her mother had been murdered in the most tragic circumstances and this made international headlines. When she was asked about how she coped with the loss, Rehane matter-of-factly says that she never had any bonding with her mother after their separation. So while she felt sad, it did not emotionally wreck her. 

In the world of fashion, she had to make her mark. One of the most important takeaways for me in this conversation was her response to tailoring fashion to different regions. Chennai is considered conservative, Bombay and Delhi, probably more fashionable and so on. So how does she manage to make it work in Chennai! She makes an important point about being a global citizen. Since she has lived everywhere, making a move to Chennai was like any other city. It did not hinder her thinking nor did she think the city had limitations. Instead she worked with what she was offered and what she could find. In keeping fashion relevant to the times, her answer was bold and hard hitting. She said, "Your work should be relevant to you, not to the world. Everything has a market. Everything."

In my own journey as an artist, I am sometimes consumed by self-doubt about my work. Are oils more commercially accepted than watercolors? Is realism still relevant? I am not ready for abstracts. I love art. So it shall be. I continue on this journey of self-discovery as an artist, on my own terms, at my own pace.