Thursday, April 16, 2015

Best Friends Forever

COLUMN: Spouse's Turn 

Prerna Sharma talks about life with the artist Gigi Scaria

By Shevlin Sebastian 

Photos by Ravi Choudhary

One day, in May, 1995, Prerna Sharma was standing near the Art Faculty section of the MS University in Baroda. She had come to give the entrance examinations for the arts course.

Gigi Scaria, whom Prerna had met the day before, with a group of Trivandrum College of Art students, saw her. He invited Prerna to have lunch with him. She accepted. They went to a small Malayali hotel inside the campus. Communication was difficult between the two, since Gigi did not know Hindi, while Prerna did not know Malayalam. They used a few English words.

It was the first time I saw somebody eat so much of rice and curry,” says Peerna. “In Chandigarh, where I grew up, we ate chappatis.” But during the meal, Prerna had a strange feeling. “I noticed that we felt happy together,” she says. “Gigi was intelligent and charming.”

In the end, Prerna did not get admission at Baroda. So, she tried her luck at the Jamia Millia Islamia at New Delhi and got through. Gigi and Prerna went out of touch. When Gigi also did not secure admission, at Baroda, he came to Delhi, with his artist friend, PS Josh, and got admission in Jamia, a year later, in 1996.

One day, both of them came to see me,” says Prerna. “Gigi had brought a cake, and a bottle of mango pickle which his mother had made. Thereafter, we would meet often at the Lalitkala Akademi at Mandi house. We would talk for hours together at the library. I enjoyed the friendship so much. It was so natural.”

But marriage was not going to be easy. While Prerna is a Punjabi Hindu, Gigi is a Malayali Christian. But this was how they worked it out: Gigi took Prerna's parents to Kerala, where they stayed at his parents' house at Kothanalloor for ten days. After a fortnight, Gigi's parents went to Chandigarh and stayed with the Sharmas for five days. “Both families liked each other,” says Prerna. “So, in the end, it became a love-cum-arranged marriage.”

There were two marriages. The first one, on April 26, 1999, took place at the Sanatan Dharam Mandir at Chandigarh. The next evening, a Christian wedding took place at the St. Francis De Sales church in New Delhi.

I will never forget how I got ready for the church wedding in Gigi's house,” says Prerna. “It may be the first time a bride and groom got ready in the same house.”

Unfortunately, the couple did not have any money to go for a honeymoon. Instead, they went to an aided school at Bhiwadi in Haryana. Both Gigi and Prerna held a fortnight-long workshop for art students, at the invitation of the principal, Vijay Bhandari, who was known to Prerna. “We taught during the day and in the evenings we would wander about,” says Prerna. “I remember we talked a lot about art.”

When they were leaving, to show their appreciation, Gigi made a Shiva statue for the servant who cooked for them, and a bust of Buddha for Vijay.

Asked about his plus points, Prerna says, “Gigi is always laughing. He makes the atmosphere charged and happy. He is very helpful. If a relative wants to construct a roof or a toilet, Gigi will provide the money. All the workers, our neighbours, family members and relatives love him. He is the most marvellous person I have met.”

Like all creative people, art is his first and permanent love. Not all women can adjust to that. “I don't have a problem with that,” says Prerna. “For me, it is his creativity that comes first. I married him because I admired his talent. I wanted a man like that. The moment an idea comes to Gigi he will immediately tell me. I always feel that I am participating in his creations.”

Before making the stainless steel bell, Gigi's popular work at the Kochi Muziris Biennale, he kept telling Prerna, “What to make, what to make? I want to make something very big.”

Then one day, it suddenly clicked: what about a bell? “I said it is a superb idea,” says Prerna. “Then he started doing the drawings. Then we did research together on the Net.”

Watching all this was their 13-year-old son Aviral. “As a father Gigi is really close to Aviral,” says Prerna. “They crack jokes and laugh all the time. Both are foodies. It is a great relationship. We are like three friends who are living together, all positive-minded.”

But Gigi has an unusual negative attribute. “The moment he comes home, from the studio, he will switch on the TV,” says Prerna. “Gigi watches Malayalam movies for hours together. Even when my son's exams are going on, he is unwilling to switch off the TV. That is the only time I get angry with him. The reason is that he has a passion to make films. I am sure he will become a director one day.”

Finally, when asked to give tips for a successful marriage, Prerna says, “You should always be friends with each other. It is the friendship that keeps the spouses together. You should also give space to your husband. Lastly, you must know your spouse's aspirations and offer full support for that.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvanthapuram)

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