Arty at 80

Arty at 80

Octogenarian Vani Mohan believes in making her twilight years beautiful with her artwork.

Vani Mohan with some of her artworks

When you turn 80, the natural instinct is to sit back, relax and merely enjoy the twilight years. But for octogenarian Vani Mohan, withdrawing from work and watching the years pass by does not feature in her concept of spending time. Not surprisingly she has a wide body of artworks to display at her age, starting from vegetable carving to bottle art, dry flower art and many more.

Interestingly, all her artworks emerge from the mundane elements picked from daily life, be it the waste bottles, the leaves and flowers from her garden, the flour used for cooking, the vegetables and fruits laid out for making a salad. “Collecting beautiful leaves and flowers has been a practice that began as a student of Botany, where I would dry them and preserve for later use. In my seventies I revisited this habit and started collecting flowers and leaves, especially Tulips and ferns as they do not fade even after drying”, says Vani.

Crafting cards and bookmarks

When her collection grew, she decided to put it to good use and what better way than by creating stunning greeting cards and bookmarks. “I started folding these dried tulips, ferns and leaves and pasting them on handmade paper, with a bit of design and painting in the background such as birds, butterflies, river, to create interest. I learnt the technique of sealing the dried flowers after pasting so that they do not fall off. This was especially for the bookmarks I created as they would be used continuously unlike a greeting card”, Vani explains.

Decorating with bottles

While the greeting cards and bookmarks held her interest and time during her sojourn in the United States, Vani had also dabbled in bottle painting much earlier which further gathered momentum during her stay there. “I noticed that bottles in different shapes, sizes and colours were being discarded and these could instead be turned into a piece of art to decorate an interior, especially at Christmas, Diwali and other festivals. This prompted me to start collecting empty bottles and with acrylic colours, created designs on them.”

The bottles incidentally reveal a range of designs and artwork, starting from Warli painting to beads, stones, gold and silver thread work, with tea lights and string lights placed in the bottle. “The technique can be perfected only with practice and experience”, warns Vani, smiling. Given her love for cooking and mindboggling varieties of dishes and cuisines she has mastered, one wonders loudly if similar experimentation and art went into food too.

Edible art

Answering in the affirmative, Vani points to the multiple vegetable and fruit decorations she has tried and perfected, besides the mouth-watering chutneys that constantly feature on her table, inviting one to indulge. “The experimentation with food décor is not confined merely to the table but extends to creating idols and Rangolis during festivals”, adds Vani with her mischievous smile. Incidentally, one of her Rangolis made of pulses and grains to depict Goddess Durga during a Navratri festival competition earned her the first prize.

“For the Ganesha festival, I never purchase the clay idol but make my own every year using rice flour”, she states proudly, showing a picture of the same. While Vani attributes her love for art and artistic skills to her extensive travels and her work with children when she taught briefly at the primary level, she is quick to add, “You lose the charm of life if you stay in one place and also do not venture to experiment and learn new things.”

Literary venture

If you thought Vani’s expertise is confined to art alone, you are far from the truth. For, she is also an accomplished Carnatic vocalist, with Lalitha Sangeeth being her favourite, having perfected it without formal training. Vani has also translated multiple children’s books from English to Telugu besides having herself penned several books of short stories for children.

Vani wraps up with a fine message for the ‘younger generation’. “It is never too late to learn; likewise it is never too late to indulge in your passion and work. Age is not the criterion to hang the boots, nor is your health. It is the mind that drives you to work, pursue your interests, not the body.”

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