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.