Sunday, August 31, 2008

Brush strokes of life

(A series on childhood memories)

Meeting a famous Muslim politician and killing a duck were some of the unforgettable memories of painter C.N. Karunakaran

By Shevlin Sebastian

“In our house, at Brahmakulam, we were vegetarians, but for visitors we would provide chicken or duck,” says painter C.N. Karunakaran, 68. One day, when some guests came, all the workers near the house had gone out for work, so there was nobody to cut the duck. “My mother asked my brother, Bhaskaran Menon, and I to do the job,” he says.

So, the duo took the duck to the back of the house and placed it on a stone. “I held down the duck, while my brother cut the neck,” says Karunakaran. “The head landed in my hands, while the duck slipped to the ground.”

The headless duck jumped about all over the backyard, spilling blood, and flapping its wings in a terrified frenzy. In the end, the duck died a painful death. “Ever since that incident, I have always avoided non-vegetarian food,” says Karunakaran.

One night, another brother of Karunakaran’s, Janardhan, took him to see a film at the Sree Krishna theatre at Guruvayoor. When they were returning home, his brother took a different route. “We walked beside a pond, and, suddenly, in front of a house, we saw a man reading the newspaper.”

Janaradhan, who was a member of the Communist Party, had a long chat with the man. “Then he came along with us and started talking to me,” says Karunakaran. “He said he knew that my teacher was Krishnankutty master, and the teacher had told him I was a good student. We spoke for a long time. Near our house, the man went off in a different direction.”

Later, Karunakaran came to know that the man was none other than famed Muslim politician, E.K. Imbichibava, who, years later, became the Transport Minister in the EMS Namboodiripad ministry in 1967. “He was in hiding, since the Communist Party had been outlawed,” he says. “My brother had been assigned the job of protecting him.”

One day, Karunakaran’s mother complained that rice, vegetables, and pickle were missing from the kitchen. Nobody could figure out who was the thief. Finally, the truth came out. “Just near our house, lived a poor family,” says Karunakaran. “Imbichibava had taken shelter there and Janardhan was taking the food items to him.”

At this point, Karunakaran smiles, as he sits on a sofa at his just-renovated one-room studio at his house at Mamangalam, Kochi. He slaps away a mosquito and the tales about the past continues.

When Karunakaran was in Class five, he was laid low by typhoid. “I was bed-ridden for days,” he says. “When the fever left me, my right leg lost its movement.”

For the next several months, he had to undergo Ayurvedic treatment. “The massage was done in the early mornings and I would be free by 10 a.m.,” he says. “After that, I would pass the time doing numerous drawings in my notebook. When I returned home, I told my father I wanted to be a painter.”

His father, T.P. Sekhara Menon, who had a keen interest in the arts, allowed Karunakaran to join the Government School of Arts and Crafts, Chennai, at the tender age of 12.

“My father was a officer in the panchayat,” he says. “Often, he would come home late from work.” Next to their house lived a bachelor, Padmanabhan Nair, who would tell Karunakaran that the reason his father was late was because a frog had eaten him.

“I would start crying and asked what would happen now,” he says. “Padmanabhan told me not to worry. People from the village had already set out to cut open the frog’s stomach, so that my father could come out.”

His father, whom he idolised, loved dogs. “We had a dog called Tiger,” he says. Apparently, one day, the rope which was used to tie Tiger, had come loose. The dog jumped on Jaanu, a neighbouring girl, who had come to collect milk. She ran screaming around the courtyard, the dog on her back. “Finally, my mother pulled Tiger away,” says Karunakaran.

In the evening, when his father was told the news, he took a stick and beat the dog. However, the next morning, the dog undid the rope, and ran around barking ferociously. Then it bit Janardhan and Kunjumaalu, a woman who had come to sweep the courtyard.

Finally, a neighbour took a huge stone and smashed it over the dog’s head, killing it instantly. “Ever since that time, I have been afraid of dogs,” he says. Meanwhile, his brother and the maid had to take 14 anti-rabies injections over a fortnight.

But Karunakaran has some happy memories. When he was in Class three, he had drawn a picture of the Ashoka Chakra on a large piece of paper. “With apprehension, I showed it to Bhargavi Teacher,” he says. “She liked it so much she put it up on the wall of the class. This had a tremendous impact on me and I became deeply interested in drawing.”

(Copyright: The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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