Monday, September 8, 2008

Earth Calling Mr. Michelangelo

I paint. Colours, canvas, paints, brushes, inspiration, you get it. I'd like to make this very clear - I cannot draw to save my life ( I will eternally regret that nudes are out for me!!!). In second year of dental school, we had to learn dental anatomy in such detail that we were required to draw to perfection every tooth in the mouth. It took a lot of convincing to assure my professor that my initial few drawings of molars were infact actually teeth and not the lopsided stars that they appeared to be. But wonders of wonders, I sure can paint. Not that I do it very often. Inspiration strikes, oh, about once in six months and perspiration shows it's face about once a year. As you can imagine, all of this makes for one very rare painting.

For an artist who does not sell paintings, there are two options. Either you fill your home with your art, or you gift everyone you know a piece of your work and hope that they like it enough to keep it around for a few months before they look at it closely enough to say - what the hell is this painting about anyway or I'm not sure I really like this, or worst of all have them say - cheapskate, giving me one of her own paintings.

Several of my paintings hang at my dental centre and patients and visitors have been very kind in their remarks. However, even the most ardent fan has not offered to buy any of them (and I would sell them at a bargain that undercuts all other bargains). And so you can imagine my utter surprise when a visitor to the my centre took a huge interest in a large green and red painting in the reception area. The painting was done one late slightly inebriated night (well, what can I say, it was a rare moment when both inspiration and perspiration walked hand in hand through the door). The hazy trees and the hazy red poppies were perfect when I saw it in the light of the following morning.

And so, one full year after the painting was done, I was unexpectedly treated to the sight of a very distinguished gentleman viewing it critically. He first walked in front of it for about three minutes, looking at it from different angles. He then stood still right in front of it. He looked at it with his glasses in place. He then took his glasses off and examined it more closely. He then placed the glasses at the tip of his nose and looked at the painting with his nose stuck up in the air (I’d like to believe that the painting looked best when he looked at it in this position!). My receptionist all of a sudden got suspicious of this man who refused to sit, refused to say a word, paced the room like a zombie and gave the painting on the wall strange looks. In all her wisdom, she got up and not too quietly hid the tray of cookies and mints that we keep for patients. She then gave him a look that said – okay pal, now let’s see what you planning on flicking.

Do you know the artist? he asked me, giving me a cursory look.

Kind of, I replied, still not sure of what his game was and hence not wanting to give too much information away. This was all very espionage-like in any case – the dark suit, the two mobiles (one in his hand and another one somewhere else on him. I didn't get to see the second one, I only heard it ring once before he thumped the right side of his jacket and the unseen mobile miraculously went silent), the lack of pleasantries, the looking at the painting as if a secret camera was going to jump out any second. There was some kind of tension in the air that I could not put my finger on.

By this time, he was gently scratching the painting with a manicured finger. I wanted to tell him to keep his hands to himself, but I then thought it was too much of an attack for a painting that I had actually spilled Sprite on just as the paint was drying. Surely if anything, his gently ministrations would serve to only scratch off the sorry bits of dried liquid. And so I let him carry on caressing it.

He then looked at me right in the eye and smiled a very charming smile, which immediately made two things happen. Firstly it made me put my guard up. I don’t know about you but I tend to get suspicious of people who are completely disinterested in me for the longest time and then in the matter of a split second they look at me like I am the centre of their universe! It makes me SUSPICIOUS in capital letters. But on the other hand, I was also relieved. Maybe he was normal after all and not in the business of being a psycho or a spy or several other dubious professions that came to mind.

How can I reach the artist? he asked, now at his charming best.

You’re speaking to her, I answered.

His face registered his surprise. Ha, I thought, let it not be said that I was a woman with no talents.

Have you thought about selling your art? he asked.

Of course I’ve thought about it. If only thoughts could generate actual buyers, I’d be in boom town, I said.

Maybe your thoughts are actually working for you and you just need to be patient enough, he said.

Huh, I think, is he indirectly saying he has a buyer for my hazy painting with fizzy drink impressions on it? Well on the other hand, it really was one of a kind, let this man try and find another like it, just let him try.

He was still looking at me expectantly. And so I asked the question begging to be asked:
Do you have a buyer, er, Mr…., er…, I stammer.

Mr. Kaushik Raj Kumar, he said extending his hand.

I shook it, disappointed that he answered the less important question.

So do you, do you? I asked. After all I didn’t want to show too much eagerness!

I might, he said smugly. I wanted to whack him across his head and kiss him at the same time.

What would you expect to sell this for? he asked.

I named my price. I thought of how much a decent painting that size would cost. I added some more to that amount. I had the good sense to not mention to him that I would have even sold it for 1000 Rs. just so that I could have my painting hanging in someone else’s house.

His eyebrows went up as he heard my price. Too much or too little, I wondered. He said nothing. He took his mobile phone that was in his hand and whispered into it for an indefinite amount of time. I was getting nervous. Should I interrupt him and tell him that I could scale the price down? But I stuck to my guns. I hadn’t sold a painting ever. No reason to sell myself short now. The thought made me laugh. He put the phone down.

My buyer would be interested in this. Infact he would be interested in 10 more paintings. Can you get them done in 3 weeks? he said casually.

3 weeks? Did he see my second painting hand anywhere? If he did could he please tell me where it was!

Let me think about it, I said just as casually, noticing that he had not said anything about the price.

He took some pictures of the painting. We shook on it. And then he was gone. Only, as he walked out the door, he turned around to say that the price was fine.

Too little, I berated myself. But I could not keep the smile off. I was an artist. I wanted to go to my window and scream out - Everyone listen up, I am an ARTIST. And if I had a buyer, I must be darn good.

That evening I sat at home and imagined what it would be like to be a selling artist. I did some research after Mr. Kumar left. Everyone in the know said that it was a very generous price for a painting, let alone one from an unknown artist and an artist who would probably never ever be famous….no, my friends do not mince words! But that also meant that my work was really good.

I sat down at my table, night glass of milk in hand and thought of why I hadn't thought of this before. Why hadn't I thought of making a business of this. Probably because I had never had an offer before, but despite knowing the obvious answer, I still pondered on the point. It made the fact that I had a buyer all the more sweeter. And I did the math. 10 times the amount that I had quoted was an obscenely large amount. I had to pinch myself. Was it really that simple? I suddenly had visions of me as a famous artist - Michelangelo or Da Vinci, spending my days in artistic and torturous ways, people not recognising or understanding my genius until long after I was gone...oh wait...that would not genius was being recognised right now :-) Maybe all the stars were shining down on me. This was Preeti Shining. Maybe I should buy my first lottery ticket.

I quickly reigned in my thoughts. Oh well, I could take a few evenings off work and paint the ten paintings. Maybe I could even get into a contract to supply more paintings to him. The possibilities were endless. And I was brilliant. And I was a tad bit confused. Why would an unknown buyer who had never seen my work and who had never heard of me, be willing to spend so much for one painting and commission ten more? Was there a catch somewhere in here ? I had never been this lucky. I had never even won a pair of socks, let alone a large payment fora painting. But I reminded myself that this was not the time to look a gift horse in the mouth.

The elusive Mr. Kumar called a few days later. He said he needed to speak to me. I told him to come on over. Anyone helping me fill my coffers and appreciate my talent was more than welcome. He came over bearing a huge file of papers. Probably a file for his chartered accountant, I thought to myself. But as he placed it on the table in front of me, I realised that the file which contained about 200 pages was for me. I know I was hoping for a contract, but this? And in any case what kind of a contract ran into 200 pages? How many pages were required to make me promise not to recreate the same painting twice and to relinquish all claims to the ones that I had sold. Two pages was my guess and perhaps if my lucky stars were still shining, an additional page to say that I would be required to paint 20 exquisite paintings a year for a totally crazy amount (thoughts of making huge amounts of money doing nothing has been an ultimate fantasy). What the balance 197 pages contained was a mystery. And to read 200 pages in the middle of a work day would call for more brilliance than I possessed.

It's just a formality, said suave Mr. Kumar.

What is? I asked.

The paperwork, he said, casually shrugging.

Whats in it? I had to ask, though I really didn't care, it could have been a draft for a romance novel for all I know. What I really cared about was whether he was carrying the amount for my painting. I looked at his suit up and down, checking for what appeared to be a wad of cash (in other words, a bulge!) but could spot none.

He started speaking really quickly - It basically says that the paintings will be unsigned, you will agree to lose all claim to them and you will never talk of this deal or of these paintings or when they were painted or mention any knowledge of them to anyone.

My jaw dropped open. This was the fishy smell I had been getting all along. Someone was going to be taken for a ride with MY paintings. I looked at Mr. Kumar. He looked at me unflinchingly. He was obviously an expert at this. I foolishly wondered if he could see the 'BOZO' written on my forehead with the twenty five light bulbs flashing around it. I was being made a part of a scam and I was being paid a tidy sum of money to keep quiet about it. No lucky stars were shining on me except for the BOZO which must have been shining bright.

I shut the file. No actually, I threw the file in my dustbin. I wish I could squeeze the dumbstruck man in front of me into my dustbin. But it would have been a waste of a good dustbin.

That painting is no longer for sale, I said.

And with that I held the door open and kicked him out of the room. And that was that, I was no longer Michelangelo, I was no longer the to-be-famous artist (more likely I would have ended up the infamous artist) but I was back to being Preeti the accidental artist.

The last I saw of Mr. Kumar, he had sneaked back into my consultation room and was rummaging through the dustbin for missing page number 122 of the shady contract. I let him grovel like that, looking really silly with his butt stuck up in the air while I had the last laugh.


Ms Cris said...

How do you write like this dear Preeti! Forget you didnt become Michelangelo. Who wants to be anything more when you have a gift to write like this. Your posts are the only ones I dont care or forget about how long are, as soon as I start with line 1. To catch the attention of someone as ignorant as me, you must have amazing talent there!

>>Maybe he was normal after all and not in the business of being a psycho or a spy or several other dubious professions that came to mind.<<

Ketan said...

I Agree with ms cris!!
this was fantabuously written. I generally avoid reading posts which dont fit into one window length, but this one just wouldnt let me go!

Where can one see your paintings? Signed, unsigned, for sale, sold, not for sale, everything:)


Anonymous said...

Agree with the others. What a nice story, and how crisply you have depicted it? On top of that, a pretty girl to boot, how much talent and good fortune must one be gifted with?

V said...

I never thought I could read all of it but I actually did. Loved it.

You should have given Mr. Kumar the boot while he was rummaging through the trash. He belongs there too.

Preeti Sharma said...

Ms Cris - Thanks for reading through this lengthy one. Promise to try and keep the next one shorter and funnier!!

Ketan - Hmmm, maybe I should upload a few pictures of my paintings and incorporate them into this piece. It'll always help to have some eye candy.

Rambodoc - Glad you liked it. The compliments are a bonus :-)

V - The thought was rummaging through my head but I was too busy holding my guffaws in!

Anonymous said...

Just as everyone is saying, your story sucked me in. You write very well. :)

I'm glad I wandered over here!

Anonymous said...

One more post like this, and you are in danger of being blogrolled.

Preeti Sharma said...

Sindhu - Thanks, hope your wanderings bring you here more often.

Rambodoc - Haha, that's a danger I look forward to.

Rabin Stephen said...

Very nice! felt like i was reading something in the style of the maltese falcon or something from that genre. Will drop in for more!
Thanks for dropping by and for your kind words.


Ms Cris said...

Dont! Make it as long as possible. As for the fun, dont worry its guaranteed as long as you are the author.

Preeti Sharma said...

Rabin Stephen - Wow, thanks.

Ms Cris - That's a huge vote of confidence. Appreciate it:)

Anonymous said...

whew! that must be the longest blog post i've read...I never have patience with long posts but Preeti.. you are one helluva writer!

Mama - Mia said...

you do know how to keeps us on tenterhooks with most interesting things that keep happening to you!! :)

i always thought drawing and painting went together! since i can do neither, am mighty proud of you for managing almost Michealangelo!! :p

we like the painting! yes we do!! when we meet, pls to gift me one and i assure it a Wall of Fame! :)

but can you imagine, there must be full time artists, who for lack for money, might be selling their soul to these kinda touts?! makes me sad! :(

but your post left me smiles all the way othawise!!



Preeti Sharma said...

Copy rioter - I know, I know...
I'll consider my self in serious trouble when I hit 4000 words!!!

Mama-mia - Now you do know a painter who cannot draw! And yes, there is never a dull moment around here, I spend my time equally, batting off the crooks, quacks and cuties :-) No complaints.

Che said...

Assuming thats your painting i must say you paint as well as you write.
This was an interesting incident to read about.

Jhayu said...

@ preeti.
He brought you a 200 page contract? Damn.

And actually, what was so important on page 122?

Oh, and to state the obvious, you've got a really nice blog going there.

Preeti Sharma said...

Che - Yes the painting is mine. Am glad you liked both the painting and the article.

Jhayu - That it is was 200 pages is an assumtion - the contract was heavy as hell!! I dumped the entire thing into the bin. He managed to salvage most of it but was left hunting for a few pages. probably didn't want to leave any 'evidence' around.

Vartika said...


Sathish said...

What about coffee??

Velu said...

Great post. Bloody Mr Kumar and all ilk.

Let us know if he surfaces again.


Preeti Sharma said...

Vartika - Thanks. This was one time I came up on top!!

Sathish - Coffee? Am confused as usual...

Velu - If he surfaces again, he then really has less shame than I credit him with. Glad you liked the post.

Nandita said...

Superbly written and I thought in the middle that I'm going to see your work around in places :) GOod to give the shady fellow a kick in the butt! Please write often, you've got a great story telling gift - how many times do i need to tell you that.

Sajith said...

Wow! U really have lots of talent! You seem to paint as well as you write! :)

Great going!