You're the eldest artist in the group but your art is vibrant, full of colours and life; it makes me think your mind is still young. This is what an 18-year-old student of art, I'm afraid I forgot her name, told me during a group art show held at Karnataka Chitrakala Parishat recently. I took it as a compliment," says 68-year-old writer turned artist Usha P Rai.
Though she used to draw as a child, she did not delve deep into art until after what she describes as a near fatal accident near Coimbatore in 2005. "Luckily my son who was driving and his child escaped with just a few scratches. But my husband and I sustained serious injuries; the doctors weren't sure whether we'd walk again. I was very depressed. It was like my life took a U-turn," recalls Usha.
Six months later, just as she was able to sit up in bed, her artist friend Nimi Ravindranath advised Usha to take up painting. And from then on, the artist-dancer-social worker began to guide her and she has found the art to be therapeutic.
"I am not a trained artist, so my paintings lack the professional strokes that others' have," says the Kannada novelist and former bank official.
As both writing and art are creative fields, when asked if she had ever considered inter-mingling the two, she said, "I think that's how I took up art so easily because I was a writer before that. Poetry is more vivid in its imagery than other forms of writing. So perhaps, poetry and painting would go hand-in-hand but I am not into poetry now."
No future planning
Her plans next? "I'm nearing 70, so I'm sure there isn't much time left. So what is there to plan? Like I said earlier, Yaava Naaleyu Nammadalla (No future is truly ours)," she quips, playing on the title of her autobiography that was launched three years ago. But at the same time which she ascribes to luck, chance and destiny as the makers of life, she goes into the Victorian melancholy or hopelessness associated with the cluster of beliefs.
"I believe that you should be accommodating, but that does not mean that you should not put in your best. Passion and sincerity are of utmost importance. Like Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, do your duty. Then everything else will fall into place."
This is a belief system that has been formed over decades and reflects experiences she had earlier on in life. Aspiring to be a doctor as a school-goer, she failed in her pre-university exams and lost her seat. Forced by family and friends she went on to complete Bachelors of Arts with History and Economics as her major subjects and English Literature as a minor subject. It was here that she was introduced to Hemingway's 'Old Man And the Sea', which till today tops the list of her favourite books.
About other books which were inspiring, you are surprised by her response. One of the first she mentions is 'The Da Vinci Code'. "I loved that book," she bubbles. "And I watched the movie too." Other books that have touched her include 'Lust for Life', Irving Stone's biography of Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh; Maxim Gorky's 'Mother'; and Yann Martel's 'Life of Pi', which incidentally she read after watching the movie.
It's not just through her reading list that she's keeping up with the times. She's also tech savvy. Creating a blog in 2000, she began posting some of her poems. Soon a Facebook account followed, where she met artists with similar interests and this even led to two group shows the latest of which 'Laya - Rhythms of Nature and Dance' was on show at Chitrakala Parishat. Now, on request of some literature lovers who grapple to understand Kannada texts, she's planning to come up with another blog, where she'll offer translations of works by Kannada litterateurs teamed with her paintings. "My grandson keeps telling me that these things are not for me. But I guess, all said and done, I'm still a little girl at heart," and with that she signs off cheerfully.