School Art Week, circa 2012:
I’m trying very hard to keep a straight face as our vice principal takes a tour of our class. My palms are sweating and every now and then, I’m on the verge of hysteria. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Mrs. Thakur nod approvingly at Preeti’s handmade doll, draped in sparkly cloth… delicately tinted tissue paper for the skin and yellow wool for the hair, apparently.
I look down at my hands, clumsily moulding the giant wad of purple clay I brought from home. I had known it was doll-making day and had brought along a tub of clay and some rags, but I hadn’t planned its execution. I had forgotten that human figurines aren’t usually purple. So far, the… thing comprises two bulges – one for the head and the other makes up for the rest. It somewhat reminds me of the head and the cephalothorax of an arachnid, but it is doll-making day, not manic-spider-genesis phase (though that sounds a lot more interesting).
Our art teacher, Ms. Jaya, is escorting the vice-principal, a smile plastered on her face as her best students put up beautiful figurines that will, no doubt, be put up for the exhibition. She glances over at the mess on my table and I see a flicker of despair cloud her features. I am usually responsible for her despair. I put on my best poker face and look like I’m working hard not to decapitate my creation. I don’t know how God created people, but it’s a blooming miracle that heads aren’t rolling like bowling balls in an alley. Except when there’s a dictator in sight, I guess.
“Beautiful work, Uma,” says our art teacher. “The tie-dye dress suits the doll perfectly.”
Uma is beaming like an LED, throwing light on my station four tables away. It is a beautiful doll and Uma is a brilliant artist. I just wish she hadn’t raised the bar so high. I wrap the whole thing in a page I tore from my rough book – a purple doll simply wouldn’t do. I borrow a bit of brown clay from Arya. Hastily moulding the clay into roughly the dimensions of a coin, I stick it – KER-SPLAT- on what is supposed to be the face of the unearthly being I have brought into existence. This time, borrowing a fat marker from Arya – she’s a life-saver, I know – I scrawl a pair of eyes, a nose and a smiling mouth as best as I can. Which is not very good at all.
My sweaty fingers drape the cloth from an old pillowcase around Ursula – that’s what I decided to call her – and mummify all, but the face.
“Arya, d’you happen to have Sellotape? Just need to make sure all this cloth doesn’t fall off her. Can’t have Thakur looking at the ruled paper underneath,” I laugh nervously.
Arya shakes her head and hands me a roll of tape that I fumble with. You know, along with Math and Science and other such rot they teach us here, they should also have a ‘How to find the opening of a tape and save minutes of your tiny worthless life’. Yeah, I know, I’m pretty cynical for a ten-year-old, pardon. Art week brings out the worst in me.
I manage to tape down the clothes just as Mrs. Thakur and Ms. Jaya waltz over.
“Very good,” says Mrs. Thakur to Arya, who gives her a bright smile characteristic to confident students. Thakur’s eyes run over Ursula bulging at the centre like a figurine that downed too many Oreo cookies in too short a span of time. The misshapen eyes, the twisted lips and vacant expression are possibly the reasons behind her suppressed shudder. Mrs. Thakur walks past me, pretending she hasn’t seen it, closely followed by Ms. Jaya, whose smile seemed more like a grimace of pain. I look at Ursula, wait for the teachers to get out of earshot and put my head on the desk.
“Are you crying?” comes Arya’s concerned voice as my manic hiccupping takes over the silence between us.
Tears were streaming down my eyes, but I wasn’t crying.
“Did you see her face?! Thakur’s face?” I manage to gasp out through the bout of laughter. “That was hilarious! Oh my gourd! I’m dying!”
It is not the first time Arya watches me as though she has been placed beside a potential loony-bin escapee. She shrugs and goes back to her work as I slump in my seat and wait for the hysteria to wear off.
The Nearby Colony, 4:00 PM
I bound up to the house on the ground floor, chirping with delight. My grandmother – small, plump and dimpled, is a ready recipient of all my unworldly artistic creations. Her wall is lined with the paintings of ‘Ballet Dancer With Oversized Head’; ‘Dog With Five Legs’ and ‘The Pomfret Mermaid’. Thank goodness I’d covered them in glitter!!
“Mamaiji, do you want to see the doll I made in school?”
“Of course, show me!” says the picture of grandmotherly affection, her eyes brightening and dimples showing as she beams.
Her smile fades as she casts eyes on the doll. She holds the surface of the table for support and sits down in a nearby chair. She looks up at my grandfather and says what I distinctly hear as, “Marere, Sarosh! Aay to voodoo doll laaveech!!”
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