‘They say mental depression is a rising lifestyle disease. Nuclear families, rapid urbanization, lack of time and many other factors are attributed to this illness. We often fail to recognize and sometimes even acknowledge it as a situation that demands our care, in addition to medicines. Or in the other extreme situation, we tend to overreact and describe the person as mental and socially shun him/her….’
I closed the tab. It was one among the countless tabs that I had opened on my laptop trying to read about mental illness, loneliness, depression, old age abuse and other related themes. I shut my laptop down.
‘What use was it reading all these articles now? Isn’t it too late?’ a voice inside me screamed.
I knew it is too late and what is lost cannot be brought back. Maybe I was just reading these articles to see if they could provide me with any help that would acquit me of my guilt. But I found none.
My eyes fell on the blank canvas. Wouldn’t it have been a colourful one, one with intricate messages in it, only if I had been a little more considerate?
It was not a blank canvass in its true sense. Someone had painted the whole thing white to make it look like an unused canvas. Under it you could see the black color of the previous art work made on it. Black, the color of emptiness, of desperation, of loneliness, was masked by white, the color of peace and sanctity.
I went over to the 4 X 4 canvass and passed my fingers over its rough edges.
“Don’t touch the painting. It’s not dry yet.” I could hear my mother’s voice in my head.
I was a little girl again, running behind her as she was re-arranging her small studio after the day’s work. She was a self-taught artist. She had loved paintings and artwork. She learned to paint using oil colors from art books and TV shows.
My brother and I also picked up the threads of the art of painting from her. But we never had the large reserves of patience that she had.
Gradually, her paintings started getting attention in the neighborhood. People who came to our house admired the artwork that she displayed on the walls. And word soon spread. There were orders for paintings. There were invitations from exhibition halls and e-commerce sites to display her works.
Forced into the traditional ways of womanhood – cooking, keeping the house, and raising the kids – her paintings once again gave her a chance of exploring her potential and the world. And her painting did resonate the theme of women empowerment, motherly compassion, and positive joy.
One of the paintings that stood out in my memory and possibly helped me make sacrifices even as I entered my own motherhood was that of a mother duck providing water to her duckling in a drought-hit area by means of her own tears. Other paintings that influenced me included those that portrayed different phrases and proverbs such as “washing your hands off”, “if there is a will, there’s a way”, and “health is wealth”.
She also did many abstract artworks as well as those around religious themes. Art was her new companion and a vent for her sorrows and worries.
Even as we took off to greener pastures for higher studies and jobs, painting probably helped her battle the empty nest syndrome. As we got busy in conquering our own worlds, phone calls soon gave away to SMS messages and then to WhatsApp texts and infrequent short video calls.
She didn’t complain. We didn’t bother to enquire more. We assumed her to be well and content with her works and hobby. The calm surface masked the ripples underneath.
There were unknown fears, unexplained anxieties, and undue worries. Possibly, whenever she tried to mention it, we brushed it aside. We couldn’t recognize her long silences, her abrupt hyper activities, and ailments like blood pressure and hormonal upswings and downswings. We were cocooned in our easy lives, skyrocketing on the ideas and inspiration that she taught us once through her paintings.
We didn’t care enough when there was time.
“Amma, build your own art exhibition.”
“Sell more paintings. You can make lots of money”
“Try teaching painting to children. You’ll get an extra income.”
Our greedy young minds wanting to conquer the world could only see the green tint of money in the art. We wanted her talent in art to be her companion in her twilight years, something we had decided not to be.
But what we failed to realize was that true art sprouted only when there was inspiration around, happiness, and joy. Depression and negativity sucked out your ideas, your interests, and energy. What we were to her when we were young, we failed to be as we grew up in careers, living, and lifestyle.
The blank canvas that she left us was proof of her lonely days, her dark lonesome days masked by the white paint.