On Saturday afternoon I visited the Madras Literary Society. The day was gloriously sunny to spend inside the library. Soon after I found the books I wanted, I sat outside the old building listening to the birds call out sultrily to each other. The traffic of College Road seemed distant, the offices in the DPI were closing down for the weekend. I made several quick sketches of the building and marked one in particular to develop into a watercolour. I took a few photographs to aid me catch the sun as it soaked the building. Here is the sundrenched window of the library.
This is Babu’s shop on a dusty and quiet road off Rajiv Gandhi Salai. Babu is a muscular young man capable of carrying his small shop on his shoulders. Yes, his shop is very small with crudely built walls and coconut fronds for roof. He does not believe in investing in infrastructure because he has been evicted twice by the Chennai Corporation. He says he packs his stuff in a couple of wooden craters and lets the Corporation officials do the dirty job of demolishing the shop.
The name of his shop is written with black paint on a wooden board. The bricks of the walls have been cemented by clay, they may weather another monsoon. Babu does not see his shop surviving beyond that time period. He has obliged a friend who has a xerox shop to put up a hand written poster on the crumbling wall.
I liked snacking on pink sugar candies. As a child I remember my visits to Fairs for the large pink floss candies that I ate there. I was amazed at the way they melted in my mouth, was more amazed at the way the large floss could be pinched to a small ball.
Another snack that was my favourite for its taste and the tactile pleasure it offered was sonpapdi. The sonpapdi karan visited in the night. My ears were trained to pick the bell of his cart. I rushed out to see the large monster shadows that the lantern on his cart threw on my wall. I loved the grainy feel of sonpapdi that he generously filled in a cone of paper. A night’s dessert those days cost only 20 paisa.
I walk a minimum of 5 kms. everyday, I do this on my way back from work. I love the sights and smells that a walk on a busy road offers. I walk past the Amman koil in K K Nagar every evening, the temple, shops, busy traffic of vehicles and pedestrians offer rich tactile, olfactory, visual and auditory stimulus. The rains have made the soil squishy and my shoes breathe through the ooze of the wet soil. The line of garland and flower shop is a visual and olfactory treat. I halt to take in the heady smell of roses, jasmines and rajnigandha. I stopped here one of the evenings to make this sketch.
Bhoobalan graciously offered me a stool to sit and sketch his fruit shop. He went about his business of polishing the apples, speaking on the cell phone, removing fruits from the plastic crate. When I was done I showed him my sketch which I was embarassed about because it was just squiggles, I had scribbled some notes of details. I doubt if he saw his shop in the sketch, but he still remained polite talking to me about his business. He said that he earlier sold watermelons and tender coconuts at several places and on handcarts before opening this shop on the busy junction in Ashok Nagar.
In his shop apples, oranges bananas, papayas and tender coconuts are neatly arranged. Colourful canopies protect his shop from the sun and the rain. Chennai is experiencing some gusts of unseasonal rains and on that dreary grey afternoon the blue, orange canopy brought me some cheer.
I completed my painting that evening and took it to his shop the next day. I asked him if I could take a photograph of him holding my painting. Now I visit him very often and show him my paintings of other places. I have found a new friend in Bhoobalan.
This tea stall on the tree-covered Greenways road is a favourite haunt for auto drivers. The smell of kadak chai and hot samosas fill the air. The drivers take respite between savari with masala chai and crisp samosa, and they are in no hurry to resume duty. I do not blame them. I drew this when I waited for a driver to finish his tea to give me a ride back home from work.
There was some event at the Island Grounds – a Trade Fair, Industrial Fair, political party tamasha? Large tents were set up with a mushroom of small colourful tents. These dwarfed the huts and life teeming there in the foreground.
The sky was washed a luminous blue after the rain, the evening hung like a turquoise pendant when I left home. I walked past the slushy streets of Virugambakkam market to a quiet lane colonized by sleeping dogs. A truck pulled in and unloaded bananas before a row of wholesale shops. The shops were empty, the floors were covered with dry leaves. I sketched the bananas stacked outside these shops before they were taken in. The sleeping dogs did not mind my company, one of them cheerlessly looked up and curled back to sleep as I mixed colours in my palette to paint the very blue day.
His morning is not rushed. He gets up late and spends a couple of hours getting ready the potatoes, spiced paani, tamarind and mint chutneys . He has a bath at two in the afternoon, tucks wads of paan in his mouth and leaves for work humming a popular Bollywood song. He wheels in his shop at about three in the afternoon to the gate of the school. He sits on the pavement and chats with the boy who has come to sell spiced peanuts for the school children. A woman spreads her wares of dexterously sliced raw mangoes sprinkled liberally with chilli powder. The business for the afternoon will begin as soon as the school closes for the day.
I am awed by the undaunted spirit of small entrepreneurs and small time traders. I shall begin a series of sketches on such small enterprises. The first one is the petti kadai or the roadside bunkshop.
I found this sunshine shop under a large shady tree on a quiet road leading from a village as it intersected the highway to Bangalore. I think this shop moves because I did not see it on my drive back to Chennai from Bangalore.
The shop was meant to cater to the needs of the villagers who waited for bus at the bus stop closeby. The shop offered cookies, bananas, scented betel nuts, cigarettes, shampoo sachets, water bottles. There was also a cheerful blue telephone booth that I saw a few people use.
I bought some coconut and butter cookies stored in large glass jars, my husband bought a few honey flavoured lozenges. The shop keeper allowed my son to pick his toffees from the glass jar placed on a rickety wooden table.
I wonder why the shop moved: did it move into the village or to a busier junction on the highway? The astute entrepreneur would have had his reasons for moving.