Under The Badam Tree

His father was a visionary. He could clearly see the future. “I don’t think you will make much money,” said the old man and bequeathed the terrace of the family home to his young artist son. He also told him what to do with it.

“Build two floors. Rent out the top floor so you will have some income. And on the second floor, make a space where you can indulge in art to your heart’s content, and also build yourself a home. Get married. Have kids,” he said.

“My father just wanted to have children run up and down all three floors, playing and laughing,” says Suresh.

His father crossed over to the other side long ago. His mother too is gone. And on the terrace stands a canary yellow building with bottle-green windows – 1 ShanthiRoad, a gallery come art residency, which is now 13-years-old. There are no tenants on the third floor, only artists-in-residence. There’s a gallery on the second floor, and modest living quarters.

Suresh is single. And no kids are running around the house. Instead, you will find a random collection of people walking in and out the open door. Established artists, struggling artists, students, masters, art-lovers, pretend-art lovers, people who want to buy art (not many) and people who can’t (many), people who don’t like art but like Suresh, and individuals who are just curious about the place. You will find them all trudging up and down the red-coloured spiral staircase with a squeaky voice.

Then there are people like me, who on that sunny afternoon felt like spending agenda-less-time with an old friend. Close to three hours, peppered with conversations and pauses; laughter and silence. Nothing jarred. Everything felt comfortable. Nothing rushed. Time, rightly ambling along.

“This is what I had always wanted, even when I was young,” Suresh says. “I wanted to have a place where people could just come, relax, talk or don’t talk.”

1Shanthi Road, the art space, is an open house. Just like the house Suresh grew up in. His mother, a doctor by profession, maintained an open kitchen. She loved to cook. And she cooked every day — for her children, their friends, and their friends’ friends. Then there were some friends cooked in his mother’s kitchen for people unknown to the family. There were also odd strangers who walked in, shared the table and broke bread.

While the food was cooking, memories were made. If the kitchen had a door, it would’ve been revolving non-stop. But there was no door. Suresh continues the tradition at 1ShanthiRoad today. “Come for lunch,” is his favorite line. When the cook is not around, the award-winning artist does not think twice before popping into the kitchen to dish up something for the guests.

On that Bengaluru-hot afternoon, I sat under the badam tree in the veranda, holding a glass of lime juice Suresh rustled up for me when I said, “It’s too hot for coffee.” The warmth of the moment was as soothing as a cool breeze on a humid, sticky night.

The veranda was clean, but not antiseptic. There was dust sitting comfortably on the edges of a collection of knickknacks; a stone statue here, a broken wooden cupboard there, wrought-iron table covered in a hastily thrown chequered table cloth and a vase filled with flowers that must’ve been fresh and dewy in the morning; few chairs flanked by plants and all of it canopied by a cosy lived-in feel. Could it be this air which makes a stranger feel at home here? I ponder, sitting on the iron swing with its coat of blue paint chipping off in places; the rust peeks through like an eavesdropper.

I have always loved sitting on a swing and underlined it as some lingering childhood nostalgia. “I can be here forever,” I said, gently swaying from side to side. It’s deliciously comforting.

“That’s because,” Suresh said, “the swing has the same rhythm of the cradle in which you slept like a baby. And the gently rocking cradle was the closest you could get to the rhythm of when you were in your mother’s womb.”

Damn the womb! Spoilt me for the world!
pic courtesy: Suresh Jayaram

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