The God of Details

Even the auto-guy in the tiny lane in Kottivakkam that leads to Padmavasan’s home is aware of whom you want to meet, when he sees me hesitating in front of the apartment block. “Artist Padmavaasanungala?” he grins, teeth glinting in the late afternoon sun. “Go upstairs. First Floor.” When I wait a little, he nods assuringly. “He’s there in the afternoons.” Strangely comforted and thankful, I make my way into a slightly dingy stairwell.

I hardly knew what to expect, when I saw him as he opened the door to my knock – perhaps an uptight, “I’m-the-artists-who’s-in-demand” type … but was pleasantly surprised to find a rather unprepossessing person (obviously up from a noontime nap), who looked surprised and rather pleased at my admiration for his work.


I was there on business: to procure, if I could, a few samples for the translation of Kalki’s epic saga, Sivagamiyin Sabadham (in translation, “Sivagami’s Vow”). He’d already illustrated the serialized version of both Ponniyin Selvan and Sivagamiyin Sabadham (henceforth, PS and SS) – and I rather thought it might make for an experience and a half to discuss his thought processes when he’d done it. [It also helped that as a Kalki fanatic, I was only too eager to grab any excuse to meet an illustrator of Kalki’s works.]

We chatted over cups of sweet, fragrant tea, as I looked through exquisite samples of his artwork, mostly black and white line drawings, going back and forth over them and the situations, style, and the work he’d had to put in.

“I use black microtip pens a lot,” he says in his soft voice, as he points out the myriad details going to a temple pillar sculpture work. “I often go to the temples to observe the sculpting work done, to get an idea of the art. For SS, I visited Pallava temples to give an authentic feel. They have much more expression than Chola bronzes, you know?” I nod, as I’ve noticed the same thing. Pallava sculptures have a life-like quality to them, when compared to Chola work, which is remarkably fine … but rather lifeless.

He doesn’t lean much towards coloured illustrations. They’re even more time consuming, and somehow, the shading effect that a black-and-white illustration produces is lost. “Even these are very difficult.” He screws up his eyes. “I got a serious eye problem because I sat through nights to finish it. The Kalki Office people insisted that I illustrate SS also. I said I wouldn’t, but they made me. Actually, I don’t regret it now.”

There’s a huge Pillaiyar illustration in his drawing hall, and samples of saree designs he’s done litter his work table. He hands me sheets of old illustrations he’d done for SS and PS and I sit mesmerized. There are scenes from the First Book, Paranjyothi’s first taste of war, Sivakami’s palanquin, Arulmozhi Varmar’s glimpse of Vanathi, Naganandhi’s face morphing into a vicious cobra, and a young man, silhouetted against the moonlit night, galloping on his horse. This, I guess, must be Vandhiyathevan.

There’s one thing I’ve noticed about his work: Barring his love for details and accuracy – every single petal of all the mullai flowers he draws is done in painstaking, remarkable detail – his heroes and heroines tend to have a “sameness” to them. He is, as I’ve heard described, the true Indian artist. His men and women have large, round faces, beautifully tinted large eyes … and their jaws appear huge. Quite a contrast to others of Kalki’s illustrators: Maniam, Vinu, Maniam Selvan.

I remark upon this lightly, and he smiles self-consciously. Soon, my attention turns towards other sketches. I ask him how he happened to come by his pseudonym, he says that it’s his guru Silpi’s doing. “He combined my mother’s and father’s name to give me my name,” he confides. “I have always used it after that.”

“I went to the Kailasanathar Temple often to draw the statue-work,” he points out as I look at an intricate sketch of the Ekambareswarar Koil in Kanchi. “It took me hours.”

I ask him to sign me an autograph and he takes my pencil. “I find it easier with a pen,” he admits.

“So will you undertake another epic project like this?”

He looks horrified, then laughs. “Kalki had a way of bringing everything he wrote to life. His perfect visualization helped me draw exactly what he was describing. Very few writers can do that. Especially for a historical,” he reflects.

There’s nothing quite like art to bring a story alive.

5 Comments so far

  1. david appasamy (unregistered) on November 25th, 2006 @ 1:47 pm

    Fabulous opening salvo Pavithra! Very interesting and absorbing too, the way its written.Keep going!

  2. Lavanya (unregistered) on November 25th, 2006 @ 2:13 pm

    really enjoyed reading this Pavithra

  3. Pavithra (unregistered) on November 25th, 2006 @ 8:14 pm

    Thanks, guys. :)

  4. Prabhu (unregistered) on November 25th, 2006 @ 8:25 pm

    Very good post Pavithra!

  5. Chandler64 (unregistered) on November 25th, 2006 @ 9:11 pm

    Content is King.
    You are the Queen ..
    Lavanya is the Princess ..

    The rest Road Kill ..

    Hope for Chennai has arrived from Delhi.

Terms of use | Privacy Policy | Content: Creative Commons | Site and Design © 2009 | Metroblogging ® and Metblogs ® are registered trademarks of Bode Media, Inc.