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Tuesday May 17, 2022

Impressions

story about death and artist
Illustration: Rajendrani Mukherjee
The Riverbend at Eventide

 

That is where the riverbend is. 

An island of flowers. The shiny white and the acacia green strokes. The orange splashes. Done with the thumb. And the yellow mellow sunshine. The green flecks for branches. Daubs of purple clouds with golden tinges. Reflecting their splintered bodies in the rippling water beneath. A few strands of poplars on the other side of the river. Disjointed. Disengaged. The distant haystack, and the windmill across it turning viridescent with the arrival of the rain.

Whose dinghy is moored under the flowerless Apricot?  He cannot tell. Sunlight, when strong, dapples the grass around it.

Not far from there the artist lives in a house that has a small, handsome garden. There, in one of the rooms that overlooks the garden, and the not-too distant river, his beloved model Amélie lies dying.

There could be a storm hidden somewhere in the folds of the night. The artist thinks. A lull that he dreads. There is buzzing of insects. Trilling of a bird in the treetop. From behind the rickety thickets. That is when the day breaks. 

Over the riverbend.

The artist stoops over and watches Amélie’s forehead that looks strangely dislocated – oblique to the mount of pillows meant to support her limp head, and covered by the shroud. Whose right side is awash with the golden light coming through the window. He is wont to use gold splotches for that. On the greyish ashen blue of the shroud. There will be no white. Why should there be? Although the shroud looks immaculately white, he will introduce grime and dust in it, because his eyes now hurt terribly from its whiteness. The by-now constant lump in his throat tries to smother the artist. He rebels. He gulps the lump to the extent lumps can be shovelled down. Deep inside. And takes up his brush. The shadows on Amélie’s face – the green, the amber, the grey have to be captured. And the blue. The blue, in particular. Like fireflies, they are glowing on her face. Coming down to the toes. Crossing her inert torso. Then moving toward her lips – shrunken, blackened. Much like those deserted tree twigs afloat in their village river.

There is a priest. To solemnize their marriage. A marriage that nearly fell apart. But never fully ended. The other woman was staying with them. Trying to help them get out of their ruinous situation. Physical. Financial. Emotional. Her entire family had moved in with them. That was one hell of a tangled  kinship they all endured.

Amélie was eroding. Visibly. Her haemorrhages scared him beyond belief. These would happen suddenly. With no prior warning. Even while she was carrying the baby, and after their youngest was born. She had bouts of pain when her abdomen – the whitest part of it – seemed to burst open. The flow would come then. Of that raw vermillion hue. Clotted, thickened. Her eyes would be still open, but one could see that she looked at nothing.

Nothing at all.

Last year remorse made him paint her afresh. All over again. And it was not like how it had been for the past thirteen years. Like the countless portraitures of Amélie he had made. She in a red cape, standing outside the door on a snowy day. Her undefined face bearing the marks of the most terrible sufferings. She and a cherubic child in the artist’s garden on a sunny day. Riotous flowers and tall plants all around. She and their elder son taking a stroll –a green parasol upon her head. This time he wanted to draw something different–to capture her change. Amélie was holding a posy of Violets in her hands, her hair arranged in a neat chignon on the top of her head. Three scarlet hollyhocks – many whorled that they were – sat in its front. Wearing a blue gown, she was eyeing him wearily. Emaciated, paler than usual, her finger was half-hidden in a ring that looked ornate, and yet indistinct. The resplendent curtains, upholstery, and throw-pillows, adorned with crimson, blue, and beige rhombuses, stood in contrast with her pallid lips. And her ever-mystifying kohl rimmed eyes. That was the last painting he had of her. 

The one year-old boy tugs at the hem of his mother’s gown. The maid comes in and takes him away. The artist gestures at the older boy who seems stunned, almost awed by his mother’s stillness. Made to sit on his father’s lap, he stops moving altogether.

The artist tries to memorize the pallor Amélie’s body is fast assuming. Should her head be swathed in bandage-like material? Should he make her robe diaphanous? As a hint of water? Should her lips be protruding? Should they be parted? Burnt wooden texture. Incarnadine and beige. Beige and yellow. Yellow and Fawn. Fawn and Flaxen. Should he bring in the September colours outside? The Autumnal palette?

He needs to use his sweeping brushstrokes. Broad. Bold. Flickering. Sometimes to hide her features, sometimes to heighten them. Bringing them to sharper relief. Maybe. Maybe.

The artist tries to memorize the pallor Amélie’s body is fast assuming. Should her head be swathed in bandage-like material? Should he make her robe diaphanous? As a hint of water? Should her lips be protruding? Should they be parted? Burnt wooden texture. Incarnadine and beige. Beige and yellow. Yellow and Fawn. Fawn and Flaxen. Should he bring in the September colours outside? The Autumnal palette?

He needs to use his sweeping brushstrokes. Broad. Bold. Flickering. Sometimes to hide her features, sometimes to heighten them. Bringing them to sharper relief. Maybe. Maybe.

After the burial is over, he reaches the riverbend. A bird seems to arrive from nowhere, its wings flailing the water. When a westerly wind blows, he knows it is sundown. With him is a whispering poplar copse, a bunch of wild flowers perennially in bloom, and the steady burble of distant waves.

Something else too. When the soft, dying light begins to shimmer on the water. A sense of desolation he knows he cannot forsake again. 

Impressions - Art by Rajendrani
Illustration: Rajendrani Mukherjee
The Woman Gestured to a Cat


I forgot where it was placed in the museum – an old woman with a cat. Someone told me the woman was actually young. Poverty had made her features so shrunken. She wore a sullied gown that did not quite reach her ankles. Something like a tattered apron hung loose around her swollen stomach, and the thumb of her right foot dug deep into the pile of desiccated leaves. Everything about her reflected the colours of the brooding meadow, and the verdant pasture somewhere beyond the frame. The cat was poised in front. At the receding background was the sea with its black wooden jetty. She gestured the cat to come to her, straining the wrinkles of her face. 

It was like a fluffy ball sitting in front–largely bemused, looking intensely at the woman’s left foot that was half-tilted, its own tail defying everything that the term gravity stood for. 

I dreamt about the painting years later. By then the woman had disappeared from the frame. I could now see her tumble-down cottage. The wooden frame was all rotting. Unkempt, untrimmed, knotted grasses had grown knee-length all around. The old reeds were slowly swallowing up the rest. I saw the distant range of mountains, and the overcast sky clearly. The thick wooden support of the decrepit boundary of her house – halfway between a paling and a stile –  stood frigid. Uneven.

The cat was still there, with its black and grey gravity-defying tail. So were the white wildflowers on the sparse hedgerow. Both seemed to be waiting. For the one who was no longer there with her not-quite-reaching-the-ankle, moss-hued schmatte gown. 

Once the flowers swung violently in the gale coming from the side of the sea. The cat looked at the horizon, its gaze so fixed that one could decipher a vague longing in that.

For a hand that once gestured to it – withered, shrivelled, and a little tender too.

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Rajendrani Mukherjee
Rajendrani is a graphic artist and, an illustrator by passion and talent. Her post-graduate degree in Psychology makes her art cyclopedic and adds layers to her creation. She is an avid movie buff, and is now immersed in the world of web series.

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