An unsung talent

That the outstanding artistic skills of certain people who lived in the bygone years earned no recognition due only to lack of their awareness among people then cannot be gainsaid.

Kamalamma lived in one of the three spacious, four-room houses, each nestling amidst a cluster of trees, more than an earshot away from one another within a vast compound. While the other two houses were a little interior in the compound, hers was just about 50 steps away from the main gate.

An enterprising lady in her early forties, she converted the barren area of land flanking her house into a kitchen garden and with her green fingers grew almost all sorts of vegetables and flowering plants in it. Her eldest son, doing his graduation then, was staying with her husband, a Research Assistant in the department of archaeology at the Madras University during the 1940s.

Kamalamma, a regular member of the ladies club in the neighbourhood at Salem Extension, a sparsely populated residential colony, would be on the go during vespertine hours playing badminton, cards or other indoor games. The lady had a phenomenal talent for drawing rangoli. Eye-catching images of Hindu gods and goddesses, in various colourful powders, sequins, spangles and other glittery materials, would adorn the vast, open space extending from the front of her house to the road skirting along the gate.

Devotees from bhajan mutts in the neighbourhood, out on processions carrying idols of gods and goddesses, would unfailingly stop for a while in front the house to feast their eyes on the gorgeous rangolis drawn by her on a short stretch of the road and be mindful not to tread on them.

The multi-talented lady would stitch all the clothing for herself, her two daughters and as many of her sons on her sewing machine and what’s more, she would arrange the large number of attractive dolls stored mothballed in four big wooden boxes and steel trunks in the house on a makeshift flight of steps built with long, thick wooden planks before every Navaratri. Her array of the dolls would be so fetching that none from the neighbourhood failed to visit her during Navaratri to delight in the display.

Every year during Navaratri, my mind wings back to the memories of those years when the artistic talent of the woman manifested itself in her exquisite drawings. The pictures she drew on the ground would be so mindblowing that people passing by would stride over them, their inconvenience in doing so notwithstanding. Her fabulous fine arts as also her lush kitchen garden that used to make a splash for most of those in her neighbourhood never got the woman any prize albeit they were admired by many. Sadly, those days there was no trend of selecting the most luxurious kitchen garden from residences and awarding it the first prize as is the fad today.

Kamalamma was none other than my mother and she was more fond of me than all my siblings. They were all elder to me but I was the one who observed first hand all of her artistic endeavours.

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An unsung talent

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