Artists are romantics, seduced by the beauty they see in life and nature. Of that, the Indian monsoon is a famed temptress. The gathering of dark clouds, the drama of lightning and thunder, the delicate splash of a drizzle; or the fragrance of parched earth moistened by rain, sprouts of green and the mighty downpour enveloping life - all have, on occasion, cast spells on creative minds influencing music, art, literature and films. Yusuf Arakkal has been in its fold, now and then.
“There’s a small balcony attached to my studio where I draw and do small works. It has a glass roof and large glass windows. When it begins to rain, I sit there doing nothing, hopefully accompanied by a glass of my favourite Italian wine - Chianti Red, and just soaking in the atmosphere. I am surrounded by my paintings, there is no sound apart from the music of the raindrops falling and being caught by the grass below, it is bliss,” he says.
Home and the sea
Watching the rains seems to be a childhood fascination for Arakkal, who has seen many shades of the season. Growing up in Kerala, where the “rains aren’t so delicate and paint a doubly beautiful landscape”, he remembers the sight of the Arabian sea threatening a rain storm. “From the sea shore, you could see dark clouds gathering over the horizon. I would be very happy at the thought of the showers approaching. My biggest joy was to play in the rains. And I haven’t seen the kind of rain that pours like sheets of water anywhere other than Kerala. Sometimes, I would sit in our huge verandah in the family home and watch the rains. It’s a sight etched in my mind with its magnificence.”
Heavy showers also meant being trapped at home, but not without benefit. The season calls for piping hot, light food to drive away the chills. For Arakkal that meant ganji (rice gruel) served with pappadam and coconut chutney. He says, “It seemed so delicious to have such a meal while it was pouring outside. But what truly peppered those lunches was my grandmother’s story-telling.”
An Indian affair
These creative and artistic moments imbued the young artist in Arakkal and he often found himself veering towards painting landscapes with rain as a dominant element. He says, “In my formative years as an artist, I would mainly paint landscapes depicting rain. Some of them were very abstract showing the speed of water falling and a haze. During my college days, we were asked to paint the rains, especially by our water colour teacher M S Chandrasekar who was a great water colourist himself. He would ask us to depict the atmospheric effects of the landscape when it rains.”
As Arakkal’s prowess with the brush grew, he kept at the subject. Two of his monsoon-themed works went on to become quite special. “In the seventies, I did two very large works depicting Kerala’s landscape in the rains. They were done in oil entirely by palette knife, not using brush on board. What I tried to get was a particular sunset that brought on a kind of yellow to the landscape with the rain gleaming in the dying rays of sun. They were displayed in Vidhana Soudha and were later bought by an American art collector.”
It’s interesting how the Indian monsoon has attracted such positive cultural attention invoking raagas and mushy lyrics. “Because the beauty of the monsoon here is unparalleled. I always found rains in Europe gloomy and off-putting,” says Arakkal.
Impressions of a season
The rains may induce melancholy, drama, romance, though rarely anything subtle. Arakkal remembers being struck by an art work of eminent impressionalist Pierre Auguste Renoir. He says, “It’s called The Umbrellas and shows a chaotic street scene in Paris caught in the rain, and how it disturbs life. In contrast, is a painting of a monk praying for rain by Japanese artist Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi. Closer home, the Basohli miniatures capture the effect of rain beautifully too.”
Our relationship with the seasons change as we age and mature. Arakkal says, “As I aged, the monsoons lost some of their magical effect. What remains is the memory of what used to be, especially when now the rains create such havoc with city life. For me, the dream of reliving monsoons in Kerala is what I hold on to.”