‘Three girls under one umbrella on a rainy day’ was the theme I picked at the Hindu Young World painting contest I participated in, when I was in Class 8. As we sprawled on the floor anyhow, with our drawing paper and paints, we sniggered at one another’s efforts. The girl next to me stared in wonder as I filled my sheet with large raindrops, unsure of how to use the space.

‘I’ve never seen raindrops that large!’ she exclaimed, eyes wide as saucers.

I had no pretensions about my drawing skills, so I let that pass. Our drawing teacher at school was surprised when I said I was going to participate in the contest. However, with my parents’ encouragement and the prospect of a movie featuring Aishwarya Rai after the competition, I was enthusiasm personified. I don’t remember the other topics, but one had to do with large crowds, which I was definitely staying away from. To this day, I can draw only female figures passably, and I continue to specialise in that area. I might surprise you with some of my handiwork soon.

Self-deprecation is one thing, but drawing teachers are expected to be open and adventurous. Sadly, not all of them are. A comment that has stayed with me to this day was made by a drawing teacher when I was four or five. (Her name was Shraddha. I fell in love with the name, if not the person.) She asked us to draw a flower and colour it. I drew a large flower, outlined it in black, coloured the petals green, my favourite colour then, and carried it to her proudly. I had enjoyed using the colour I liked best and I’m sure my face was suffused with an angelic glow.

But that didn’t go down well with my non-imaginative teacher.

‘Green colour ka koi flower hota hai kya?’ (Is any flower coloured green?)

Deflated, I returned to my desk. For several years, I believed that she was right — what was I thinking? I should have known better! Then, a few years ago, I started seeing her reaction differently — as an act that stifled the imagination and wanted to keep it within the safe boundaries of what was acceptable. I don’t blame Shraddha, she did what she thought was right. However, why try to use everything as a learning moment? I absolutely don’t agree with parents who go to a zoo and try to din the names of animals into their children’s heads, making them repeat after themselves. Let them be! (This reminds me of the Singapore Night Safari I went on with my friends. You should read this piece I wrote about it, if only to see how I’ve ‘evolved’.)

I finally decided to put at end to all these years of simmering discontent and looked up green flowers. Shraddha, you were wrong. This page lists twenty green flowers! When the times comes, and my green fingers start itching again, I might even go in search of one or two of these to plant in my future garden. I tried to grow tomatoes, beans, spinach, and mustard last year. All were miserable failures for various reasons. But maybe I’ll have better luck with green flowers that don’t mind Chennai’s hot, humid spells and torrential winter rain? In the meantime, I’ll just paint myself some vividly coloured flowers, because if there is one thing you should never do, that is to restrict your imagination. Raindrops can be any size, flowers can be any colour and pattern. You decide.

A woman from many places.

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