A soulful of art –tribute to Yusuf Arakkal

It feels like a million years ago now that he gave me a lesson in art appreciation, and this gift has given me immeasurable happiness in the best museums across the world. He also taught me how to enjoy my favourite tipple without getting tipsy.

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“Art is my soul”

Others far more qualified than me have spoken about Yusuf as an artist, this is my personal memorial to an old friend.

I got the news of his death very late. I had slept through the day, after a long travel. That night, I lay awake remembering the many ways Yusuf impacted our lives. On a Monday afternoon, nearly 20 years ago, when I went to pick up my son from Lumbini play school, Gayatri Rao who ran the school, showed me a wondrous sight. After weeks of refusing to colour any drawings, Aditya had spent the whole morning colouring. Realisation dawned as we looked at the many colourful pages.

I was then a columnist for the Times of India, and the previous Saturday had gone to interview Yusuf (in their old home in NGEF colony). I had taken the little fellow along, and while Yusuf and I chatted, he was left to explore the studio and had been obviously inspired by the world of colour.

My interview was about a new series of nudes that Yusuf was going to show; those were days before digital cameras and I needed a visual to illustrate my piece in the column. Yusuf picked up paper and pencil and quickly sketched a small version. I handed in the sketch with my article and retrieved it from the press after the page was made. The lovely little sketch hangs in my drawing room, along with a few other artworks that he took pleasure in gifting us over the years.

Afternoons that stretched to evenings at the iconic Victoria hotel, which used to be his home away from home (where Bangalore Central mall stands);  impromptu Sunday lunches in their new home, the travel tips that both Sara and Yusuf offered (he was a great one for travelling – “Only when you see the world, will you grow”, he told Allen when the latter complained about my wanderlust).

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Yusuf Arakkal, me, SG Vasudev & G Subramanian – catching up after many months at Galerie De’Arts in 2014

It feels like a million years ago now that he gave me a lesson in art appreciation, pointing out what makes SG Vasudev’s work special. And this gift has given me immeasurable happiness in the best museums across the world. He also taught me how to enjoy my favourite tipple without getting tipsy.

He turned out dapper in beautiful jackets picked out by Sara, and good naturedly preened about his likeness to Col Gaddafi. A gregarious soul who loved serious debates as much as unabashed flirting, he was completely at ease with himself.

He didn’t call or visit when Allen died, and it pained me. They were as close as brothers; Yusuf had taken it upon himself to play counsellor to us, advising us about relationships (and me about clothes). And for a long time, like with many others, he too had forgotten me, and Aditya. Many moons later, the phone rang late at night, and the familiar teasing voice spoke. He gave some reason for not being in touch earlier; they were out-of-town when they got the news. Now, he had more pressing matters to speak about; in his usual outspoken way, he was up-in-arms about something, and prodded me to carry on working with the same ideals that Allen had.

We spoke and met a few times over the last few years, and as it is with old friends, the undeniable warmth and easy banter resurfaced. He had attained great fame but he allowed me the privilege of chiding him.

The energy of his paintings is a tangible presence and I was enveloped in it as I sat on the couch with Sara, two days after he died. The world mourns the passing of a great artist. For Sara, it is a loss of a person who sculpted her life. Forty three years is a lifetime, and yet it is not enough. It is going to be a long, hard walk ahead for her. One that I know well, and my heart aches for her even as it does for Yusuf, whose warmth and friendship I cherish.

What a man, what a life. I can’t say adieu as some one this larger than life can’t be forgotten. In a quote in BEST OF BANGALORE (Raintree Media), Yusuf said, “Creativity is God’s gift to mankind, art is my soul”. That is the measure of the man.

Under the Raintree

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Enlightenment is often found under a tree

I visualise Under the Raintree as a quiet, cool pasture of creative pleasure. Under the nurturing canopy of the Raintree, interactions are a sparkling composite of artistic expression and flair.          

It is a place for writers, poets, painters, playwrights, musicians and other artistes to share their ideas, styles and techniques through personal interactions.

Under the Raintree meetings are fairly informal and happen with the help of friends and well-wishers who share similar interests in the Arts. Meetings happen at different places – gardens, living rooms, hotels  and galleries.

I started Under the Raintree  a couple of years ago as, after my husband Allen passed away, I sorely missed the conversations  we had about books, movies, plays, music, art and more. With this non-profit initiative I hope to facilitate dialogue about the Arts.

Under the Raintree has facilitated:

1. The dramatised reading of Anita Nair’s play ‘Nine faces of being’ when it was a work-in-progress, directed by Arundhati Raja of ART.

Arundhati introduces the ensemble

2. A variety entertainment progamme by Madras Players featuring Mithran Devanesan, PC Ramakrishna, Vishalam Ekambaram & Sharanya Nair.PC Ramakrishna, Vishalam, Sharanya Nair

3.  Discussions on ‘Art & the City’ with Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, CMD, Biocon & UA Vasanth Rao of BMRC, and a panel discussion on ‘Artistic Connections’ with Ravi Kumar Kashi, Vikram Sampath, Arundhati Nag, Madhu Nataraj, Pramila Lochan & Arshia Sattar as part of the launch of ‘Vriksha – the life and times of SG Vasudev’.

4. A mehfil of Hindustani classical music featuring an interactive session with tabla maestro Trilochan Kampli & vocalist Kumar Mardur.