KOCHI: M T Joseph knocks gently as he enters Clint’s room and says, “Mone (son), there is someone here to see you.” Even the most pedestrian visitor’s heart will skip a beat to witness the father’s tenderness, because they know there will be no answer. The artistic prodigy died 34 years ago, but Joseph and his wife Chinnamma treat his memories with the same respect they always gave their young son who died aged six.On Friday, with the release of film maker Harikumar’s ‘Clint’, the state which has always missed and mourned a life that could have been, once again heard the story of the genius who left behind an astounding 25,000 drawings in chalk, crayons, oil paints and water colours.
“Any child, who is looked after in the same way Clint’s mother looked after him, would be outstanding,” says Joseph. It is perhaps not too exaggerated a compliment.
Every day since Clint’s 40th birth anniversary over a year back, Chinnamma has been laying a mat of fresh flowers at the entrance to their small, two-storeyed house in Kaloor. She places a couple of slices of roasted coconut, Clint’s favourite snack, in front of his photo every morning and garlands his statue with fresh flowers.“His mother would show him crystals and teach him the ‘vibgyor’ effect while also taking him out and observing nature with him,” said Joseph, who was a Central government employee. Even as a baby, Clint demonstrated a precocious curiosity and abilities. Chinnamma, a teacher by training, was surprised one morning when she entered the baby’s room to find large circles drawn on the red oxide floor. Initially, she couldn’t figure out who drew the perfect circles till she saw her child, who was just about five months old at that time, spin slowly on his belly to make the art.
Surprisingly, Clint’s parents did not realise their son’s genius, until people pointed it out to them. “We thought all children had the same level of understanding as him. It was only when he joined school and the teachers pointed out that his drawings were way better than other kids, that we first realised he had a special gift,” said Chinnamma.In photos, Clint is almost never smiling. “He considered adults with seriousness, while he was playful and good company with other children,” says Joseph. “I certainly felt that he regarded me with sternness; always asking me to explain things to him. Once, I was reading Othello and he plied me with questions about Shakespeare and the play, before he would let me return to the book.”
By four, when he had learned to read Malayalam and English, Clint literally liked to be surrounded by books. He would lie in bed reading with several books of Hindu mythology, Bible and adventurestories and Shakespeare’s works around him. A lot of this in amazingly unique perspectives were captured in his drawings: a rear view of Goliath climbing the mountain, Ravanan sitting dejected in front of treats placed before him, a prince on a speeding horse. He once left a children’s workshop on the Ramayana where he was the chief guest midway because the speaker’s take on the ‘villainous’ Ravana, which had the other children in splits, didn’t amuse him. “Ravana wasn’t as bad a character as the speaker suggests,” he told his parents.
He depicted the state through festivals, performers, people, nature and animals, with an astonishing vibrancy, understanding and maturity beyond his years. “He was always very sure about what he did,” says Joseph. “When a neighbour told him that an image he’d done on our wall didn’t look like a cycle, Clint simply said it was enough that it looked like a cycle to him.”He once briefly saw a theyyam artiste in costume while on his way from a painting competition in Koyilandy. With his photographic memory, he reproduced the theyyam image a month later at home.
As for the competition; it was open to children below 18, and had 10,000 participants. Clint was six and took the first prize. By then, it looked like he was making a recovery from the kidney problem that ailed him since he was two. He had been taken to the hospital with a bout of diarrhoea. The doctor misdiagnosed it and prescribed medication for the kidneys, which ironically eventually led to the failing of both kidneys. At six, Clint seemed to be getting better on homeopathic medicine and this doctor had said that he would be out of danger once he turned seven. Clint died a month short of his seventh birthday. It was Clint’s playmate Ammu Nair’s book, ‘A Brief Hour of Beauty’ that inspired Harikumar’s project. “Clint’s is a compellingly poignant story,” said the director, who rented a flat near the parents’ home to learn about his life. The film is my investigation of this very special life, he said.