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Author : Aparna Nair
Company : ICON Clinical Research
Email :

My Mother’s Portrait

  This incident happened around 15 years ago when I had just finished my 12th standard’s board exams and was gearing up to spend some quality time at my grandmother’s place at Trivandrum. We were a close knit family of four settled in Bangalore and amidst the hustle bustle of the city life the only solace I found was such yearly trips to my lush green hometown in God’s own country. So every time I visited Trivandrum, I made sure that I spend a whole month at my grandma’s place which by the way was at the outskirts of Trivandrum, a hilly area with scenic beauty at its best. My mom and my elder brother used to go back to my Dad’s home at city after spending some time with my grandmother but I always insisted on staying back little longer at my granny’s home. I was my granny’s favourite grandchild. No wonder I was so attached to her and I used to simply love those holidays spent with her.

“Look Ishi, granny is aging now, don’t make her run after you for little things. Do help her at the household chores.” My Mom instructed while she packed my cloths.

“Ya Ma…I know. Last time I helped her in planting those banana trees at the farm. I also accompanied her to that temple nearby” I told her.

“Hmmmm…Okay and what is this?? Why are you carrying this short skirt? Ishi this is not Bangalore. Here people ogle and pass nasty remarks. No sleeveless and no above knee length pants or skirts. And also no roaming around, alone after 6.” She chided.

“Ma you have become so uncool after coming here. You are not that cool Mom anymore” I mocked anger.

“Ishi beta I realize I am not as cool as I was before but you should understand that I am not a regular mother now. I am a 16 year old girl’s mother living in this filthy generation where being a parent I can’t even trust my own shadow. You can relate to these apprehensions of a mother when you will have a daughter” She explained.

“I get it Mom. You don’t worry. I will take care of myself.” I said and hugged my Mom.

My mother was weird. In Bangalore she would be this urban fun mother actively involved in being an accomplice in my all crimes but the moment we set foot at our native place she suddenly turned into this typical Indian mother. The newly puberty hit  soul of mine wanted to explore a lot, fly like a bird and just have some great time away from my parents for a whole month. My mother on the other hand was hesitant to send me to my grandma’s place for such a long time. Finally I managed to convince her by using a trump card.

“I don’t understand why you want to learn Portrait Paintings in Kerala when there are better Painters in Bangalore itself” She asked.

“Ma as if you don’t know?? I have inculcated this painting talent from you. Today whatever painting I know is passed on from you. The other day when grandpa told me that even you have done portraits, I was shell shocked. You never told me, neither had you showed me any portrait work of yours” I reprimanded.

Yes painting was my biggest hobby. In fact back at Bangalore I had held many exhibitions of my oil paintings. They were very well received and appreciated. I wanted to pursue painting as my career and my family was very supportive to it. It was my mother who saw this spark in me and pushed me further into this field as she herself was a very talented artist. She was the biggest fan of my paintings and also my biggest critic. So after my boards I suddenly developed an inclination towards this portrait sketches. Since I was very observing person I loved to capture various emotions of human face and catapult it on my canvas. When I expressed this desire to my grandfather on phone, he suggested me to come over and stay with them for a month as there was a very renowned portrait artist near his home who by the way was my grandfather’s student, a middle aged man of around 48 years.

“Ishi it is true that I used to attend portrait classes when I was very young but honestly I have never made a portrait in my life though I can show you one which I have”. My mother said and smiled.

She went inside and got a sheet which had a very worn off exterior as it was untouched for many years. As she unrolled the sheet, my eyes popped out seeing the portrait. It was a side view of a very beautiful girl with big eyes and curled up lashes, sharp nose and a dimpled smile.

“Ma you were gorgeous. Thank God you have dimples. At least one feature I inherited from you” I beamed.

“You have inherited everything from me darling and if you want to learn portraits then I won’t stop you but just take care of yourself.” She hugged me.

“By the way Ma, who did this portrait of yours?” I asked.

“Issssshhhiiiiiiiiii are you coming or shall I leave?” My grandfather screamed from the drawing room.

“Coming Grandpa. Bye Ma…Miss you” I said and rushed to leave.

My grandma was obviously beaming with joy when I reached her home. We spoke for hours and ate my favourite tapioca and fish curry. I slept off early as I had an early morning class the other day.

Next morning.

“Ishi meet Aravind Nair. Aravind this is my granddaughter Ishika” My Grandfather introduced.

“Hello uncle…nice to meet you” I said.

“Dear you can call me Mr.Nair. You see I am one of those men who refuse to believe that they are getting old” He smiled.

Mr Nair was a very attractive man of a 6 feet tall frame. He was clean shaven and could give any middle aged men of Hollywood run for their money if it comes to the salt & pepper look he carried. Mr Nair was an example of a person aging gracefully. Unlike the cliché painter look of sporting long hair and wearing long sleeved kurta, he was brilliantly dressed in a crisp cotton white shirt and denim blue jeans. Now I understand why he asked me to refrain from calling him an “uncle”. He was so not an uncle. He was a gentleman who was still a young boy at heart.

“Ok Aravind since we have spoken about this earlier I will take a leave from here. Ishi I will come to pick you up after 2 hours ok?” My grandfather said.

“Ok grandpa” I said and bid him goodbye.

“So Ishika, why portraits at this young age?” He asked

“I love to express human emotions through the portraits. Be it the innocence in the eyes of a child or the wrinkles on the forehead of an old woman, sensuality of a young woman or ruggedness on a man’s face, I want to draw it all.” I was exuberant while explaining to him.

“Ohhh but Ishika I feel you are too young to comprehend what a person is going through by mere looking at them, let alone drawing that face and capture the right emotion” He said.

“Mr.Nair  I am 16 but I am actually way ahead of my time. I can read faces and decode the emotions by looking into the eyes” I said.

“Ohh really?? Then read my face. What do you think is going on in here?” He points his index finger on his face.

“Well I think that there is some pain which you have been hiding inside this cheerful persona of yours. There is some agony behind these wrinkled eyes.” I said while looking into his eyes.

There is an awkward silence where we looked into each other’s eyes and didn’t say anything for a while.

“You remind me of someone Ishika… really do” He said and smiled.

“Who Mr.Nair?” I asked.

“Someone!!!!Shall we start with your lesson?” He asked and we started with my portrait lesson.

My first rendezvous with Mr.Nair was a very enriching experience. He was such a wise man. He never treated me like someone who was so younger to him. This man was different than any other person I had ever met. He was extremely sophisticated, smart, intelligent, well read and chivalrous. The qualities which were impossible to be found in the kind of guys I hung around with, in Bangalore. Of course I was very aware of our age difference but my adolescent heart instantly got smitten by Mr.Nair’s personality. That night I couldn’t sleep and his thoughts kept lingering in my mind.

My Portrait lessons continued. He was such a knowledgeable person. He had done advance courses in Portrait sketching from reputed colleges in New york and had traveled vastly throughout the world attending conferences on this art. But I think his heart laid in his hometown. He came back and settled in this small town as he did not want to flee away from his roots. Talking and learning from him used to be so enlightening. More than the art, I learnt about life from him. So before I could realize, my initial infatuation towards Mr Nair was slowly and steadily converting into something deeper and intense. I was falling for this man, Mr Nair!!! . May be its love when you are so blind that you oversee any kind of flaw in that person.  Mr Nair was that one person for me.  I actually wanted to spend my whole life with him back then. Sounds stupid and inappropriate right now but back then I was crazy about him and was smitten by his charm.

Though we used to talk about everything under the sun, one thing I avoided to talk about was about him being single at that age. In fact I had even not asked him if he was married as I was too scared to know the answer and get my heart broken but on the last day of my portrait classes I thought of confessing my feelings towards him. I knew there was no future and that he was a forbidden fruit for me but I didn’t want to go back to Bangalore and live with a regret for my whole life of not opening up with him about my feelings. Interesting thing is that back then I was actually hoping that he might reciprocate my feelings. Silly me!!!

So on the last day when we met, he made filter coffee and offered me banana chips. We were sitting at his garden and he was asking me about my future plans.

“Mr Nair, are you single??” I asked suddenly.

“Ha ha ha…I am wondering how come an observant person like you did not observe till now that I am a loner residing all alone in this small village” He smirked.

“No Mr Nair I did observe but was reluctant to ask about your marital status?” I said.

“Ok ok dear…yes Ishi I didn’t get married.” He said while sipping his coffee.

“And may I know why?” I asked

“It was a conscious decision Ishi as I knew I can never love another woman in my life. So marrying a girl just for the heck of it would be a deceit to her” He said and was lost in thoughts for few seconds.

“Ohhhh….So you have been in love?” I asked curiously.

“Obviously Ishika. Who has not been in love in this world?? You haven’t lived if you haven’t loved. It is the most beautiful feeling in the world” He smiled.

And I could relate to him when he said that. Indeed being in love was the most beautiful feeling in the world and I was experiencing that right then.

“Then what happened?? Where is she??’ I asked.

“She left…she left me and went off” He said and I could see his eyes welling up.

“Ohhh I am sorry Mr Nair for bringing this topic up…I didn’t….” I said but he cut me off and continued.

“She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. I was this young hot-shot painter in this town and she was this young girl who wanted to learn this art. I fell in love with her the day I taught her to hold a brush. She kept struggling with the brush and I kept gazing at her. She was like poetry in motion. So serene…so elegant. I was lucky that even she fell for me after few weeks. That was the best time of our lives. Both of us would paint a lot, throw colors on each other, run around this garden, steal kisses near the balcony, visit nearby temples, and talk endlessly for hours about our future together, about having kids, about settling down in middle of these hills. But none of those future plans materialized. She left me one day as she thought her parents won’t acknowledge her relation with a mere “painter”. I don’t know if she resisted her parental pressure or voluntarily gave in to their desire to see her get married to a well-off man. But her last class here with me was the last time I saw her. She didn’t say anything. Just left like that. Man I still miss her” He narrated in a single breath and when he finished there were tears in his eyes.

When I heard his story I couldn’t help wondering that how could a woman leave a guy like him. Had I been in her place I would have moved mountains to be with him. How could she do this? A string of emotions engulfed me. There was a hatred for that woman as cos of her Mr Nair was not in a mindset to love anybody. There was jealousy too as the person I am in love with still loves his ex and will continue loving her forever. There was anger as cos of her I wouldn’t be able to confess my feelings towards him as they would never be returned. There was curiosity to see the face of this so called love of Mr Nair’s life.

“Mr Nair do you have any picture of hers? I really want to see this girl.” I asked, controlling any outburst of emotions.

“Yeah I had made two portraits of hers and gifted one to her. You can go to my bedroom and see it behind that door.” He said signalling the direction to his bedroom.

With baited breath I went to his room to see the woman I hated the most at that moment. As I turned behind the door to his bedroom I saw this larger than life portrait which did froze me.

Mr Nair was right.  Indeed she was the most beautiful girl ever,