THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Every little thing becomes a building material in his hands. A piece of coir, oldcoins, broken glass - anything can take on a life of its own if granted deliverance by the magic touch of V Sudhakaran Nair. The artifacts he has created have journeyed across continents to grace home and offices in the UK, US, Russia and who knows what parts of the world! And yet, the humble artisan laments over the handiworks that are left to wither away among the clutter of junk carried from one rented house to the other. For, what he could never build, was a home of his own.
Sudhakaran Nair, better known as Ponnan Thampanoor, was a mechanic in Kerala State Road Transport Corporation by calling and an artiste by nature. “I was mesmerised by the forms of Kathakali, Theyyam and other folk arts as a child. There was ample opportunity to feed on these artistic splendours growing up in Thampanoor near an Ayyappa temple. The Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple and many other temples were also in the vicinity and I was heading the decoration wing of a few of them by the time I was in my teens,” says Sudhakaran.
His talent to weave poetic figurines out of scrap, castoff and wreckage also brought him the attention of media. A full-length feature on the then young artiste was broadcast on Doordarshan in 1990. Several newspapers, including the vernacular and English national dailies, have carried articles on his work over the years.
Among the figurines he has crafted, the Kathakali made out of old coins was taken to the UK, while a miniature bullock cart made of antique coins now rests somewhere in the US. The two-feet tall Kathakali woven out of coir was gifted to a connoisseur who took it to Russia. “Most of these figures were written about in newspapers and people came in search of them. Since they were gifted to art-lovers, I never took money for them, save in one or two instances when they insisted,” he says.
The Gita sculpture made from glass debris, (“which decorates the home of former Chief Minister EMS Namboorthirpad”, Sudkakaran would add with a smile of contentment), Balika Theyyam in pure silk and a map of India etched with nine types of grams (nava dhanyam) are some of his masterpieces. Another Theyyam figure uses mixed medium for its realistic resplendence - a host of raw materials including buttons, batteries, and coir - have gone into its making, he says.
There are few things that this man of few words would gloat on. One such is the spell of maverick journeys in search of old coins. “The trips would extend to days on end. The most number of number of journeys were made to old houses in and around Udayamperoor in Trippunithura though I have covered the length and breadth of Kerala several times for this purpose,” he says. The period when he worked at night as an art director for film-maker Bharathan (while doubling up as mechanic at daytime) is also a fond memory.
Sudhakaran was puzzled when his application for an official recognition of his art was rejected by the Lalithakala Academy. “No reason was stated for the rejection, my application was simply sent back,” he says. Having retired from service in 2009, Sudhakaran makes ends meet with his income as a practising astrologer.
In the cluttered work area of his rented home in Kaithamukku, where he lives with his wife and daughter, Sudhakaran has placed with an ironic prominence, an oil painting he did. “This is a depiction of the clawing for power and adulation that I see in this world. I wonder if my art will turn out to be of no worth after dedicating a whole life for it,”.