*** By Charu Ramesh of Quills n’ Ink ***
The man stood in front of his easel, a brush held loosely in his right hand, staring at the blank canvas. Once, he indecisively brought his hand closer to the canvas, let it hover, and, a couple of seconds later, let his hand fall back. Setting the brush down, he picked up his cup of tea from the stool next to the easel and took a sip.
The man was in his late sixties, had a lean build, and his head had a bald patch surrounded by greying hair. He was of average height, and his black eyes now contemplated the canvas thoughtfully. Setting down his cup of tea, he reached for an old battered folder sitting on a chair on the other side of the easel, opened it and caressed the first painting he came across.
The folder was his own, back from when he was eight years old, filled with his paintings. This folder had almost all his work from his childhood. For a second, he closed his eyes, and saw an eight-year-old boy’s nimble hands at work, copying an image in his head onto paper. He remembered the smell of colours, how it felt to have his mind focused only on the image. He remembered the stroke of the brush across the page, creating something out of nothing. He opened his eyes. He had it, brushes and colours. The blank canvas was in front of him, waiting to be filled. It was just before sunrise, and the hues of dawn spilled all over the horizon. Why, then, was his mind as blank as the canvas; with no stroke of inspiration, no image for him to bring out on paper?
Putting down his brush wearily, he sat down on a chair facing the easel. It had been ages since he had held a brush; he couldn’t remember the last time he painted. There had actually been a time when he couldn’t go a single day without his brushes and colours. A small sigh escaped him as he thought back.
At the age of eighteen, his dream was to join an art college and go on to become a famous artist. It had seemed ridiculously simple then. Before starting college, though, he decided to take a year abroad, traveling and painting.
That was the year he met Her. She was on holidays before she went off to college to study engineering. She met him in a bar, after observing him doodle a bird on a paper napkin and thought it was rather fascinating. They ended up talking until the bar closed down, he narrating his stories from different countries and their cultures. She went home with him that night, where he showed her his best paintings. She had been enthralled by his work, and they spent two glorious months together. He had been somewhat of a recluse all his life, and now tremendously enjoyed the attention she gave him. Just after two months of courtship, they were married.
He never gave up on his dreams. They just made new plans, again, simple ones. While she went off to college to study engineering, he worked odd jobs, waiting tables, making coffee, cleaning apartments. He also spent time people-watching, and those were the days he created some of his most inspired work.
Once his wife finished her degree and started her well-paying job, their plan was for him to start art college, but only the first part of their plan materialized. Within a couple of weeks of starting her new job, she was pregnant.
They were thrilled, of course. He put his dreams on a seemingly short hold again and went back to working odd jobs. When the baby arrived, he stayed home to take care of it, and did the same when the second baby came the following year.
Once the children started school and his wife was back at her work, he broached the subject of painting full-time or going to art college, but things had changed. She was no longer supportive of his dreams, and wasn’t willing to spend her hard-earned money so he could spend time tinkering around with brushes and colours. Also, he, as a father, wouldn’t be setting a great example to their children, sitting around painting all day. They had mortgages and school fees to pay, and he should pull up his socks, find a decent job and support his wife instead of spending all day making peanuts serving coffee to strangers.
That was what he had done. He somehow landed a clerical job and helped his wife run the house. He had a meal prepared when she arrived home, did the cleaning and laundry, and drove the kids to and from school. Those years were now a mere blur to him. He didn’t think consciously of painting, and when he caught himself thinking of it subconsciously, he chided himself and reminded himself of the job at hand.
When their children were independent and well settled, he suggested to his wife that they move to his childhood home, a large, currently unoccupied mansion in a little village. She wouldn’t hear of it. Why would she want to leave her beloved city and go live in the middle of nowhere, she asked him.
About ten years later, a couple of years after his wife passed away, he did move to his old village. The mansion was torn down, and a little house was built instead, and the rest of the space was devoted to a large garden.
It had been a couple of years after he moved here. He had bought the easel a year ago. He had been putting off bringing it out. He was busy working in the garden, he had told himself. He had finally grown a beautiful garden, overlooked by the living room windows. He was, in fact, afraid to face the fact; that he might not have any inspiration to paint; he had been afraid of this very moment.
It was in the living room of his home that he now sat, thinking about what could have happened but didn’t, not painting, but absent-mindedly doodling.
As his eyes drifted nowhere in particular, they landed on the folder in his hand. He had been doodling while staring out of the window, lost in his musings, at the beautiful rose in his garden. A beautiful rose that had been exactly replicated in a corner of the yellowed page of the old file.
He got up with a flourish. It didn’t matter, he thought, if he hadn’t painted in all those years. He was here, and he was alive. He had his canvas, brushes and colours. He realized he was the only thing holding himself back. Inspiration would come, and as long as he was inspired, he would be happy.
He reached for his brushes, mixed his colours with vigour, and, in a glorious moment, his brush was reunited with the blank canvas.