Suresh Jayaram, artist, art historian & curator
His father was a visionary. He could 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, build a space where you can indulge in art to your heart’s content, and also build yourself a home. Get married. Have kids.”
“My father just wanted 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, people who don’t like art but like Suresh, and people 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 was peppered with our conversations and pauses; laughter and silence. Nothing jarred. Everything felt comfortable. Nothing rushed. And time, just ambling along.
“This is what I have always wanted, even when I was young,” Suresh says. No, he isn’t talking about me. He’s talking about the space.
“I have always wanted to have a place where people could just come, relax, talk or don’t talk,” he says.
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 some friends cooked in his mother’s kitchen for friends, unknown to the family. There were also the odd strangers who walked in and shared the table.
While the food was cooking, memories were made. If the kitchen had a door, it would’ve been revolving non-stop. Suresh continues with the tradition at 1ShanthiRoad today. “Come for lunch” is his favourite 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 on 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 tablecloth 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 remain here forever,” I said, gently swaying 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 as 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.”
That was an ‘aha’ moment. Is that why I loved to sway on a swing? Invisible memories of my not-a-care-in-the-world stay in the womb? Damn the womb! Spoilt me for the world!