The Masterpiece

Arun De Joe Mikhail’s calm blue eyes, fixed at the road came across with something that made it go wide with anticipation and excitement. There was a beauty in his eyes. Lending the beauty was the image of a middle aged lady. There was flair in the way she carried herself. A few steps of her, and Mikhail was busy painting a thousand portraits of her. He took her to so many breathtaking backdrops, around his town, and was composing under the title “Beauty at war”. It was while painting her amidst the blossom of the season when the lady interrupted with a “Hi”. Irritated by the subjects’ untimely interruption, Mikhail rested his mind’s brush and gave time for the subject’s concern. He made sure that he was more than polite, by concealing his irritation in his mild smile. Over the years he had developed this great art, of concealing. Always it was his smile under which he concealed all his emotions. Mikhail was a great painter, the best in town. However he was not as prosperous as his talent would have allowed him to. Litin, the town that he was based on did not somehow endorse his talents with riches. Not even with fame. But one thing it gave him was a small place for his art gallery. It was a three dimensional frame for his talent. There was always a great fight at the seams. Mikhail always tried to outgrow the frame that he was subjected, but never did he manage to expand it. Similarly the frame tried to out shrink him. They reached equilibrium after some years. Thus life was a constant battle for Mikhail. Mikhail was warring with so many things simultaneously. However the biggest war that he had was with him. Not a single day passed without he saying to himself, “you are wrong”. He always rued his decision of giving art priority in his life. He was a gifted student in his school days, who spoiled all his gifts for this one gift- art. Rather it was the motto in life – “be different” - which made him a warrior. A warrior up against enemies, who are so powerful that they would not even confer the dignity of an enemy to him. The town took upon the role of a mentor, who would not fight with this kid named “Mikhail” to disarm him, but make him weak so that he had no strength to hold his sword. The town was more than successful in this. There was a simple strategy it followed. If Mikhail chose to play the artist, they chose to play the blind. The awe that his paints conjured up, were all lost in the eyes which did not see them. Alas, he should have known that “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”.

He forgot he was in a battlefield when he saw that beauty. He suddenly remembered that he was an artist more than a warrior. He was the perfect dualist that could have ever been produced on this land. An artist who creates, and a warrior who destroys to let his creation live. That was what life was to him. “I am Tanya” , brought him back to his frame in Litin. “Hi, Mikhail” he announced. He was already preparing his battle plans. If he was right in his plans and execution, he could feast on that prey. If he was not, then the battle would sap off his energy more than the defeat. “I need a painting” She said. “Rather, you need to be painted”. He said. She smiled. However she never allowed her smile to transform into a blush. But Mikhail could read it as a blush. “I never consider portraits to be paintings. They are just mirrors, reflecting the beauty of the model. The artist here is no better than a cobbler.” With those statements she blew the trumpets of war. She blew it hard enough for Mikhail to understand that she was no mean prey. “Alternatively mirror is just another piece of canvass!!!!” He raised his eyebrows with it, with which he seemed to get her attention “Of course, artists are never better than cobblers. They live on the same thing - their craft. The cobbler chooses to paint the black board with the black ink - adding beauty to the paper than the paint. But a painter adds beauty to the paint than the paper. That is the difference- the paint and the paper.” “It is as wrong as it is right. Beauty is neither just in the paper, nor just in the paint. Beauty is something that is everywhere. It is where you search for beauty, that matters. If you search for it in the canvass rather than in the paint, you find that more beautiful. One thing about beauty is unless you look for it, you never look at it.” “I would choose to agree with you!! However not fully since I didn’t hear from you what painting means to you.” “Painting is a puzzle. Do you think so!!?” “Yes, to some extent!!!!” He was not sure if he would agree with her even to some extent. He would have liked to nod to her for everything, had she been just another customer. But with

the very first few minutes of interaction, Mikhail sensed that she was somebody who looked for a fight rather than a win. “I expected a ‘more than yes’ as an answer. For I think painting is more than a puzzle. A puzzle is the search for an answer. But in painting it is search for both the question and the answer. It is not like a dart board where you have the target before and you just shoot. It is like the warfare where you search the target before you shoot. A painting contains within it more questions than the artist ever intend to ask. Also it contains more answers than what a person consuming can get. That is a painting.” Mikhail lost all his composure; he tried to recover it through his stammers. But all that he could achieve was a brief moment of silence. Mikhail as an artist was lost there. Even that augured good for him, because he still had a lot at stake as a business man. He sensed that the lady would not turn out to be a meek prey; but a kill worth all his talent. “Arggghhhh. I don’t know where to look out for beauty!! It is in your words, also in the lips that utter them” Mikhail surprised himself with his response. He felt that he was being a bit rude to her; after all she was his customer. Tanya showed her displeasure in words “I am not here to be admired, but I am here to admire someone’s talent.” “How did you expect talent from someone here?” said a surprised Mikhail, since he never ever thought someone would admire his talent. “It is so simple, the name board.” She said. “Would you call something a name board when it does not have a name at all?” “True it didn’t have a name, but it had the explanation.” “Explanation” Mikhail was puzzled. Mikhail had never named his art gallery. He chose to leave it un-named. That was one of the reasons that people did not like Mikhail, since they thought that he went too much out of the way from convention. “When you had chosen not to name the shop, and paint the name board of yours with some strange looking cryptic symbols, you spoke a million words about yourself, without having to speak even a single word.” This time it was Mikhail’s turn to be on the receiving end of the praises. She continued. “Mikhail, when you

left that way, there were more than one name for your shop. Some called it “The shapes”; some called your shop “The random”. Some even called it “Mikhail’s” since they didn’t see a name out there. All of it seemed so strange to them since they cannot imagine a shop without a name. Mentally handicapped, I guess!!” Mikhail was utterly delighted. “There answer was the name of the shop, and the question is not what the name of your shop is? However it is why your shop was not named. That was the question that I thought you tried to ask. I thought I found the answer, and the answer was a filter.” Even Mikhail was a bit surprised at such an answer. He never knew that he had a filter attached right at the entrance of the shop. He was even more delighted. It was his desire that somebody would acclaim his work critically. He wanted somebody to analyze what he had painted. Somebody who would try to play with his painting, try to admire it, on and on. But all the people of Litin made him a dumber, by being dumb. They never thought that a painting was a puzzle, like Tanya. At that instant she looked to more like an Angel that a customer. He did not want to do business with her, but she wanted her to shine her light on his art for ever. She wanted her to be a mate, a friend, a critic, a philosopher. In short, all that he missed in life so far. She continued, leaving Mikhail respecting her more. “When somebody looked for a name in the name board they are not the right customers who can do any justice to the art. Those people are those who dare not think beyond the name. They would never visit your gallery and you are least bothered by that. And there would be another class of customers who would not know what the drawings there would say, but would not mind you being non-conservative. They are the ones who might or might not be a customer. Then there are people who admire and think along with the painting, and those are the ones that would like to work with you. The customers you desire!” She spoke of his business. He could not agree more with her. Again she took off when she said “Did I really walk into your gallery. I mean did I pass through your filter.” He said “Yeah Tanya, you did. You did walk through many filters, that you don’t see there!!!!!” he started speaking like what he was seen as by Tanya. “Will you have my order?” Tanya started the deal. “Go Ahead, Be brief, just the theme”

“True, I am not going to be concerned about which you paint on, but how you paint on, and what you paint on, are those things that I am going to be concerned.” She continued with her order “Let the theme be life - a theme which can accommodate anything and everything; at the same time it a theme which needs to be taught everyday.” “That sounds interesting, the first time I am getting to paint something like this. Great! ” “It is not over yet, Mikhail.” Tanya Continued. “There is a deadline. Make it as fast as you can, please deliver me within this weekend. You have six more days for your Sunday.” “Ha, I sensed that you are a tough client. And you lived up to that.” continued Mikhail with a wink “You can see that Tanya” After this meeting, Mikhail was wondering what was happening to these people here at Litin. The other day they scorn at him, but today one among them has challenged his talents. That was the test of his talent. He never expected anybody in Litin to throw up such a challenge. He stopped fighting with him then. Later in that day, with a new found love that he had lost over the time, he started the first stroke. A mindless casual dabble, over a canvas he choose mindlessly. He never had anything in mind, started off blank, with casual little dabble. Then another followed, and another. There seemed to be a network of line, just reflecting the mastery of the artist nothing more than that. They never had any questions or answers. Importantly they never had anything related to life. Mikhail thought may be he needed to look at life. That thought seemed strange to him. He was living life, but yet he could not fill a piece of canvas with the theme life. Mikhail for the first time in so many years thought that he needed to be inspired. He wondered the change that Tanya had brought into his life. A life which he thought worthless, was suddenly transformed into something which was an adventure. That night while walking down the streets he saw beggars collecting their only meal. He was reminded that these people were the ones who lacked self. They had only one thing to live for and that was hunger. That was what life at its basic can get to be. It was a mindless state of living, which anyone is capable of. That kind of life everybody must live. He was reminded of his strokes that day, which were as mindless as the lives of those beggars that he saw that day. They were the basic thing, but they would remain shabby if they are not concealed, and they ought to just support the whole scheme.

All his time he devoted to questions on life. He had some questions that philosophers like Aristotle, and Plato would have been proud of. Also there were questions which were no better than a rare poor joke of the Russian Circus Clowns. But he knew he was progressing in life – the painting to be named “Life”. Everything he saw he tried to get a clue out of life. He tried to accommodate everything in his painting. There were many things that he did not understand but still he added them up to his painting for he wished that even if he had not understood it, there would be somebody else who might understand something out of it. He sometimes did nothing more than packing, just packed all those ideas in the canvas. He layered the canvas, one layer after the layer; with the basic colorless layer of black, white and grey representing the mindless state forming the first layer. Even though he tried to accommodate everything, he was not satisfied, since a concrete idea regarding Life was still eluding him. But that was not after he saw a ritual, which people called funeral. There was a coffin leading the way and people were following it. They were all crying for the person who was deceased. By seeing all those he felt the prefect allegory to life lies in death! Sadly it was more of a paradox than an allegory. He said to himself “The best way life can be lived is when it is lost first. With death comes a state where in there is no fear of living. There is no shame, nothing, and there people follow you, with due regards and respects.” “Had I lived all day as dead, people would have followed me all my days! Hmmm sounds crap. But still I shall go ahead!” Without much conviction he decided to depict that idea; in which the coffin is the basic element of his theme. He did not have strong reasons to choose it, but he thought that there was some very strong analogy between life and death. Though he could not find it out, somebody might do it. However he was sure about one thing that he was going to have a coffin in his canvas, and that it would be the central theme of it. With this thought he started his painting again. There was much more enthusiasm, and he started to sketch rather than paint the coffin. That was something strange for him. Yet he continued with whatever he did. He believed that he was firmly under the control of sub conscious mind, which he had not discovered so long. He was enjoying the painting so much. He had discovered more about himself that about life. The ego that he was the greatest painter seemed to go off, with the knowledge that there were many more experiences that he had to go through. Also after conjuring every new dimension to life, he was even more humbled.

He had already eaten up more than 4 days of his time. There were only two days to deliver it to Tanya. He felt really invigorated by the fact that with every passing hour he was more motivated and felt richer in ideas. However he badly needed an idea which would add the detailing to the coffin that he had just painted rather sketched. He stopped and again looked out for some ideas. And Litin never disappointed him, at least in that regard. The sight that he saw gave him what he wanted; a spark to complete his idea and add spice to his central theme. The sight he saw was that of an old man, sitting on the bench across the road, from where his shop was. He was busy reading a news paper, with a cup of coffee just beside him on the bench. Somehow the old man seemed like a complete man to him. Mikhail did not bother to define complete. Mikhail was particularly interested in his face. His face had the calm of the abyss. But what caught the eye of Mikhail was that, it was detailed with lot of wrinkles. He picked up a clue and the clue was wrinkles; or as Mikhail distorted to fit his painting – cracks. The picture was finalized in his mind. The only work remaining was that of his hands, which got to translate it to a painting. He decorated this coffin with the detailing element he picked up - the cracks. The cracks on the coffin would appear as a very bad idea to many, but to him that was the whole essence of life. He started writing it down on a piece of paper, which he would retain, to bring back the memories of that painting. The note read “Every one is born with his carcass. It represents whatever he inherited- the character that he inherited being born as a human. All try to hide it, admonish it saying that it is bad. When ever somebody is possessive, greedy, wicked, they try to hide it away in the coffin that they had made for themselves. If they succeed, their coffin would be followed. Here are people who are more than human beings – those who tried to ape at God. But only a few do that, and for the rest, their coffin seemed to develop cracks, which would leak out the human nature in them. That makes them mere humans. And when they are dead, they get a new coffin!” That was what he tried to convey chiefly among various other things. He finished it by the noon of Saturday, and awaited Tanya, to share his thoughts. He made elaborate preparation of how he would present it to her. He wanted her to play a demanding customer by asking for her painting earlier than the time she had given. He was waiting. While waiting he thought he had left out an element in his painting – waiting! The day arrived, and he was more than eager. He started to get agitated, the sense of which grew with every hour. He was wondering if she was a genuine customer. He had not demanded any advance for the portrait. He thought it was

his way of showing his admiration for her. After 8 pm in the evening he found out that the day had turned to be the most disappointing day of his life. His Tanya did not turn up. He was not worried about the fact that his painting had no buyer. But he started to miss Tanya; the only soul in whole of Liptin who taught art to a smart painter. He thought the next day would be the day. Probably Monday took the honors this time. He waited for the Monday dawn, and waited for Tanya till it turned dark. He waited for Tuesday’s dawn…. And it went on and on, for about a week. He thought he would redraw the whole painting to include patience and waiting as other important elements in life. But all his thoughts and waiting came to an end, when a respected gentleman offered a visit to his shop. With a first look at his potential customer Mikhail made out that the guy standing in front of him had no reasons to be in an art gallery. Yeah he was right; the gentleman was not a person who was going to be interested in any of those things. There was a different purpose for the gentle man to be there that day. “Did you paint something on life?” he enquired. Mikhail did not expect this. He was puzzled about that question. “Yes, I did” came back the reply. “But….” He dragged his response, without the wisdom of what to ask. The grim faced gentle man took suspiciously long time to reply! And at last with a huge sigh he said “The girl to whom you did the painting is my daughter. She passed away two weeks ago.” Mikhail was shocked to hear this. There were instant tears down his cheek. Those drops were shared by the Gentleman, as he gathered for his hand key to wipe off the tears. He continued “A note on her desk said that she had ordered for a painting, and was due by that Friday…” he continued with a small pause for another deep breath. “I don’t know anything about painting and art, but I want her ideas to live with us through those paintings. I don’t know how much she promised for it. I would pay you anything to get that.” Mikhail was very much shocked to hear all these things. He did not want to hear any of them. It would have been better had he waited for Tanya to arrive, than that news. He said “Sorry sir, I have not completed the painting, can you give me a few more days, so that I can do that for you?” with that he tried to remain calm. The gentleman agreed for it, and he promised to come back after two days.

He surprised himself by the lie that he had said. However the one thing that was concerning him more than anything was Tanya. He mourned in a way that he does best. He painted. He painted, again the same theme life, and the same objects the coffin, but he tried to look life from a new dimension. The dimensions that he tried to portray are waiting and patience with an eternal flavor. He worked overnight to finish it within two days. The gentleman arrived promptly on the morning of that day, and was duly handed over the painting that was made for him during those two days. Mikhail felt a strange sense of guilt, but he chose to live with it rather than part with the painting that he did for her. He would keep that for ever till he was alive or till he had that art gallery running. Many wanted to buy this photo but he never parted with it. Even today if someone were to visit his art gallery in Litin there would hang a paining with a note below, and the theme as life. However it would have a strange title, and that would be “Unfinished”. Yes it was an unfinished piece for Mikhail. The piece would never be finished. To him the piece would be finished only when Tanya sees that. Only that would mean completion of that piece. That painting, which was inspired by her coffin, would never be born!