Sunday, April 13, 2014


This is my favourite illustration; two lovers escaping into the unknown. The story I had to illustrate for IQ Magazine was set in the tribal jungles of Arunachal Pradesh in the North East. In the descriptions in this story by Mamang Dai, the lovers who escaped under cover of darkness seemed very small and almost insignificant in the midst of the overwhelming  natural forces around them.
When I look back at this illustration, I like the fact that there is a sense of mystery, beauty and excitement in the atmosphere that has been created. The mountains and the stars seem to envelop the lovers in a protective way as the river supports and carries them forward into the unknown.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
~ T.S.Eliot

What I listened to while illustrating this picture >
The Unknown

The Unknown

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together.
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether man or woman
- But who is that on the other side of you?
~ From The Waste Land.
T.S. Eliot

It is important to have a secret,
a premonition of things unknown.
It fills life with something impersonal,
a numinosum. A man who has never experienced 
that has missed something important. He must sense 
that he lives in a world which in some respects is mysterious;
that things happen and can be experienced which remain
inexplicable; that not everything which happens can be anticipated. 
The unexpected and the incredible belong in this world. 
Only then is life whole. For me the world has from the beginning been infinite 
and ungraspable.
~ Carl Jung

It never ceases to amaze me how great literature and divine music gives expression to those strange, unfathomable choices and complexities of human existence.


April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.


J.S. Bach (1685-1750): Double Concerto in C minor, BWV 1062 

Bach's music sets in order what life cannot
~ Otto Bettmann

Friday, April 11, 2014

Amrita Sher-Gill

During those rare moments while standing before exceptional art, apart from engaging in it, one also becomes acutely aware of the puerile virtual eye-candy that we are constantly fed with in the name of art and illustration on the internet…How insidiously bad art creeps into our psyches and takes root into something malignant that eats away at our souls. Do we even know why we click the ‘like’ button anymore? Are we even aware when we comment with trite platitudes?

What first struck me about Amrita Sher-Gill’s paintings was the integrity in her work. When I stood among her paintings I felt as the same sense of reverence one gets while standing under an old and ancient tree. None of the photographs of her paintings will equal standing before her actual work, the strength and subtlety she created with her brush.
This excellent exhibition was ‘curated’ in the true sense of the term by Yashodhara Dalmia. One could appreciate and follow the progress and development of Sher-Gill’s work, the elevation of her painting over the years into simplicity and abstraction. One marvels at the sheer speed of prodigious achievements in the succession of her canvases in the span of her 28 years.

If Milton Glaser said that the function of art is to make us aware of what is real, Sher-Gill’s work did that for me but also much more. Her work has that quality of truly great creation, it has depth. It is a strong and beautiful reminder that life and art are connected and are reflections of each other. It is also a reminder that how we live daily and what we see constantly influences who we are and what we create.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


For Current Conservation magazine. Illustration for an article about Plant Pathogens.

There exists neither heaven nor hell,
nor gods nor devils,
neither spirit nor soul
nor angels,
nor miracles;
nothing to pray to,
so no need for prayer.
There is only this wondrous world
and the glorious natural cycle 
of life and death.
Examine it closely
and it should be enough.

~ Dalai Lama

Solitude in Siberia

Monday, March 31, 2014

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Summer Blues

 The beginnings of summer, Benglurians sluggish due to the heat. We become lethargic, we vegetate, we scuttle towards fans and air-conditioners. I avoid work at my desk by sitting at M’s desk in his studio. He avoids work by sitting in front of his comp, Facebook . I flip through a large book of Picasso’s work. Outside, the sun beats down on the terrace forming blocks of colour against the branches of a mango tree. I feel a surge of guilt. I am doing nothing! I grab an old invitation card and draw the scene in front of me with some graphite lying around. Then I colour it up with M’s expensive Senelier oil pastel. He sprays half a can of imported fixative over it for me.  I feel righteous.

 This is that temple at Ramanagaram. It was afternoon when this was done. P, S and I were sitting in front of the temple in the shade of trees drawing this. We spoke about how happy we felt to get away from the city and sit in the middle of nowhere to draw. We decided that we needed to do one more thing to complete our happiness. We phoned A, who was unable to come with us that day. P spent 10 entire minutes eulogizing our wonderful time to A. Our happiness was complete.

Since we didn’t want to roast in the heat of a village during the month of March, we sketched within the city last week. Some place with a fountain and moth eaten ducks. Too many conversations with P and S about abstract theories.  Lucky for me, S’s wife happened to accompany him. She had been given strict instructions not to disturb us, but she waited  while I finished drawing this ugly mall opposite. I quickly drew, ditched the guys and scooted off with her to shop for girlie things. Wonderful time. “Don’t listen to boys and their bulls*** ” said S’s wife, “they are just showing off”.

This, a lovely fig tree growing inside ITC (Indian Tobacco Company). Thanks to C, whose husband and sister work there, I got a guided tour inside the beautiful green environmentally friendly campus. 

The drawing above and below from my giant Moleskine sketchbook. Playing with organic forms. What is a sketchbook for if it isn't for experimentation?

And this last one above, blue sky against the beautiful red of the State Central Library. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Bloody Chamber

I felt no fear, no intimation of dread. Now I walked as firmly as I had done in my mother's house.
~ The Bloody Chamber

Sometime during the end of 2011, I happened to read that the Folio Society had organized a competition which required participants to illustrate three of Angela Carter’s stories from The Bloody Chamber. As much as I would have liked to, I was unable to participate due to prior deadlines that had to be met, but I did very much want to try illustrating an Angela Carter story yet again and I finally did manage to do that yesterday.

Years ago, for my area of study for my Master’s degree, I chose to explore the representation of women in Grimm’s Fairytales and encompassed into my studies, contemporary literature with fairytale themes. Naturally, this included the stories from The Bloody Chamber, which apart from being featured largely in my thesis also featured in the body of work that I had to illustrate to accompany it.

Traditional fairy tales have been thoroughly diluted by successive retellings catered to children resulting in stories which are as mass manufactured as a nugget of KFC chicken, losing in the process their depth, function and essence. Angela Carter’s stories in The Bloody Chamber, are modern Fairy Tales with a feminist dimension.  Carter describes her stories as extractions of latent content in traditional fairy tales which have been used as the beginnings of new stories.  In doing so, Angela Carter returns to fairy tales the complexities of human behaviour, the nuances of emotions and thought, the strength and energy of sexual desire. She uses these facets to influence the story, hurtling it forward into the unexpected and challenging our gender stereotypes with her feminist point of view.

The Bloody Chamber is violent; it hovers over the boundaries of pornography, it weighs heavy with the pungence of symbolism, it is multi-layered, terrifying and beautiful all at the same time. In her story, Angela Carter borrows from the fairytale of Bluebeard to paint an intense visual experience with words. She leads us through dark corridors of the human mind, beyond secret doors into the forbidden, then she holds up a light, and makes us see and acknowledge what resides within our own hidden bloody chambers performing, in doing so, the essential function of a fairytale – that of making us face our fears.

This illustration above was done during my years studying at Queensland College of Art. I was in my twenties then. It is of course, not to be compared with the more recent illustration done so many years later which shows a different aspect of the story and is done with perhaps far more skill than I ever imagined I’d acquire. 

The look on the protagonist’s face in this earlier illustration above is one of horror at what she sees beyond her. In the more recent illustration below however, I am reassured to see that her face is a picture of calm in spite of the intense environment around her as she walks purposefully towards her goal.

Innocence is a bleeding wound without a bandage, a wound that opens with every casual knock from casual passers-by. Experience is armour; and she felt already clad.
~ Fludd
Hilary Mantel

Friday, March 7, 2014



Secrecy flows through you,
a different kind of blood.
It's as if you've eaten it
like a bad candy,
taken it into your mouth,
let it melt sweetly on your tongue,
then allowed it to slide down your throat
like the reverse of uttering,
a word dissolved
into its glottals and sibilants,
a slow intake of breath --

And now it's in you, secrecy.
Ancient and vicious, luscious
as dark velvet.
It blooms in you,
a poppy made of ink.

You can think of nothing else.
Once you have it, you want more.
What power it give's you!
Power of knowing without being known,
power of the stone door,
power of the iron veil,
power of the crushed fingers,
power of the drowned bones
crying out from the bottom of the well.

                                   ~ a poem by Margaret Atwood

Perhaps it is about time I finally posted these illustrations here. If it hadn't been for Robyn's email that I send them to her, they would never have seen the light of day. 
I did these illustrations many many years ago after being stunned by reading Margaret Atwood's poem Secrecy. I felt the illustrations needed an abstract approach and I did that. But as sometimes happens, I was unsure about their effectiveness in partnering Atwood's intense and powerful poem so I kept them away. Until that is, I left a comment on Robyn's inspiring blog ArtPropelled for her fabulous post on Book of Secrets that I had happened to make these drawings. Now these illustrations are up there on her blog too, along with those other stunning works of art. 
As Robyn said, 'it was serendipity at work'.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Bong Detective

I was feeling very blue since there were no sketching jaunts outside Bangalore this weekend, when the doorbell rang and I was delivered the latest copy of The Indian Quarterly (IQ) Magazine.
Here is my illustration for Calcutta Noir, where I had to illustrate a Bengali woman addicted to detective novels who eventually ends up solving a murder. I have depicted the protagonist engrossed in a detective story in a Kolkata tram and a scene from what she is reading taking place in the tram window behind her.
To show that the background is her imagination, I have done it in moody colour as appropriate to the story she is reading while the rest of the illustration is in black and white. To bridge imagination with the reality of the story, I have shown a cloud from the coloured scene making its way into the black and white one.

I was asked to do this illustration right at the beginning of the year, before I had barely recovered from the cacophony of a New Year party. Voices with strange South-Indian accents were ringing in my ears, weird psychedelic lights flashed in circles behind my eyes, drunken men carrying a sofa knocked around the insides of my skull, bad memories of fruit flavoured beer I had been plied with haunted my dreams and I was still freaking over the contents of my 2014 horoscope when the curt and coldly professional art-director sent me a mail saying 'Kindly complete this in three days'. Trams! Electric wires! Kolkata! Three Days! If that wasn't bad enough, I swear with my hand on my heart that drawing electric wires across the sky is the most daunting feat I have ever accomplished in my entire career as an illustrator. As any illustrator who has attempted this will know, it is like running full speed across a tightrope with your heart between your teeth. It can make or break all your hard work in creating the illustration. By the time I finished this picture, my hands were shaking with nervousness and my teeth were chattering with excess caffeine...

But it is done! And over with! And published!

Now I need some more morning filter coffee.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Candy Coloured Temple

This jewel, we passed on the way somewhere in search of something to sketch.
Absolutely unforgettable.

Some more photographs of my sketching trip can be seen be here >>
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