THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: When Meena Vari saw Vivek Vilasini for the first time, a smile appeared on her face. Vivek was carrying a bag of tissue paper, so that he could mop his face because of the summer heat.
This was at the office of the Attakallari Centre for Movement Arts in Kochi, where Meena worked as an administrator.
Thereafter, because of the public ban on smoking, the Tripunithara-based Vivek would often drop into the office, and have a smoke. The director, Jayachandran Palazhy, had gone to London for a few months. As a result, Vivek and Meena started chatting. Soon, they became friends. Then they realised that they liked each other and had a mutual interest in art.
Meanwhile, time was running out for both. Meena had turned 30, while Vivek was 35. Meena’s Delhi-based parents had pressured her to get married earlier, but she had resisted. She wanted to marry somebody she liked. But when she suggested Vivek’s name her parents were initially opposed. “While I am a Christian, Vivek is a Hindu,” she says. Eventually, both families came around.
The marriage took place on February 11, 2000, at a register’s office in Edapally, Kochi. “We did not have any money to have a reception,” says Meena. Since Meena had to go to Bangalore and Chennai for official work, Vivek tagged along. “So, that was our honeymoon,” says Meena. “But later, we were able to travel all over the world.”
In fact, the couple has just returned from a fortnight’s trip to Britain. Meena had won a fellowship on the Clore Leadership Programme for one year, and had gone to London to do research.
While there, for a while, they lived in a caravan in Walberswick, near the River Blyth, in Suffolk. “We went with friends, who had been going there for 15 years,” says Meena. In the caravan, there were two bedrooms and a drawing room, but the toilet facilities are outside. In their spare time, they saw off-beat films and plays. “Both of us had a nice time,” she says.
Asked about the plus points of Vivek’s character, Meena says that it is his curiosity which is the highlight. “He is interested in everything – butterflies, clouds, cars, dogs and birds,” says Meena. “I keep learning all the time from him. And since I am working in a college, it becomes very useful for me.”
Meena is the Dean of Contemporary Art and Curatorial Practice at the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore. And it was at this college that Vivek made his most famous piece of art: ‘The Last Supper of Gaza’.
13 first-year girls wore burqas and face veils, and stood behind a long narrow table with a white tablecloth. On the table there were steel plates which had loaves of bread and red pomegranates. The background was painted in charcoal black.
On the day it was displayed in Madrid, on February 10, 2009, Israel attacked Gaza. Associated Press photographer Paul White took a picture, showing two Spanish women intently studying Vivek’s photograph, and sent it through the wires of the international agency. More than 100 newspapers worldwide published the photo. Eventually, it was put up for auction at Christie’s, London. A Palestinian, from Dubai, bought it for Rs 20 lakh.
“Yes, that was one of the happiest days of my life,” says Meena. “Vivek had always been regarded in high esteem by his colleagues and friends. But to get worldwide recognition was a big event.”
As a result, many people ask for feedback on the works that they have made. “Vivek is genuine and honest in his opinions,” says Meena. “Sometimes, I am taken aback by his frankness. But he tells me, ‘That is the truth’. The good thing is that I have never seen anybody get irritated by his feedback.”
But Meena gets irritated sometimes. That is because Vivek has a tendency to leave his clothes all over the place in the bedroom. And she has to pick it up and clean the place, after she returns from college. “Nevertheless, I am blindly in love with him,” she says. “We do not have children, so we fill each other to cover the gap.”
As an artist, he also has his quirks. One day, Vivek told Meena that they would be going to the Ettumanoor temple. “I got excited,” she says. “But when we reached the entrance, he stopped and stared at the murals. He had actually come to see that. We returned without going inside. Both of us don’t go to temples or churches, but we believe in an Universal Energy.”
Finally, when asked for tips about marriage, Meena says, “You cannot change the other person. He is what he is. So you must try to understand him. If the interests are the same, it helps to make a successful marriage. If I was not into art, I would not have been able to understand and appreciate Vivek.”