Nerves of steel fight odds

To be creative at 79 isn’t a surprise, but for a person who suffers from chronic Parkinson’s syndrome, just holding the palette and a paintbrush steadfastly is indeed an uphill task.
But that is what septuagenarian artist Sreela Sen has been able to achieve over a period of time. And her story is nothing less than an inspiration to many like her. Ever since she was diagnosed with the debilitating disease back in 2001, her resolve to battle the condition has hardened all the more. “Painting has become the be-all and end-all of my life. Earlier, I used to work at night for hours. But now my weak nerves and feeble bones no longer allow me to stay up that late. So, I am mostly preoccupied with my craft during the day,” shares the Government College of Art and Crafts alumnus. A dedicated student from the batch of 1952-53, Sen took part in a series of exhibitions in and around Kolkata and all over India, soon after passing from the prestigious institution. From the year 1974 till 1987, hers was a regular name to reckon with in the cultural capital’s artscape.
A solo show of her works is currently on at Kolkata’s reputed art venue, Gallery 79. Aptly titled “Sreela’s Retrospective”, the show promises to travel back in time and throw up light on a plethora of themes that the artist has assembled through her vision and experiences all the way. The connoisseurs can check out the exhibited display to be kept on view till December 3 between 5 pm to 7.30 pm.
From little school children burdened with loads of books to women breaking free of chauvinistic fetters on their feet to nature’s scowling fury, all find a prominent place in her vivid collection. “Possessing love and affection towards kids is a natural propensity for anyone. And being a mother myself, I have always been fond of children. But when I find a bunch of babies being orphaned and left abandoned in a riot-torn area with gun-totting cops standing on guard aside, my heart bleeds inconsolably. Cowering in fear, they lie helpless and seemingly exhausted with their droopy eyes among a heap of dead bodies. But isn’t this a common sight in every rampaged region? The innocent get looted, abused and murdered in broad daylight in full public view, while the oppressors and assailants go scot-free flinging dust into the eyes of nation’s law-keepers,” she laments.
Also largely influenced by Tagore’s women, Sen has delineated many female characters from the bard’s celebrated literature. Be it Chandalika or Nandini from Raktakarabi, Chitrangada, Shyama, Binodini or Labanya, Tagore has immortalised his women portraying them into different shades via his timeless plays and novels. “Tagore is a poet-philosopher. And the depth of his thoughts is immeasurable. Perceiving women’s plight in his stories has always enlightened me,” she fathoms. And for today’s women, her take is: “It’s still a continuous fight for a modern-day woman to carve a niche for herself in the domain of patriarchy, which tends to bind her like a spider’s cobweb from all sides. The liberation groups and activists can go on clamouring for complete emancipation of women, but that is still a far cry from truth. One has to cross a long road ahead.”
Dabbling in water chromes on paper or in mixed media on a cardboard-base or in oil hues on the canvas, Sen soaks in her imagination with diverse streaks of paints. Showcasing a line of 30 specimens at the impending art-splurge, the sizes will vary from 7”X7” to 3 ft X 3 and 1/2 ft.
Nature, too, trickles into her oeuvre in varied moods. A monsoon slide from the cooler climes and upper altitudes of Darjeeling, the ceaseless flowing of the Teesta River or a row of palm trees breezing past the train-window are a few good instances from her thought-provoking tapestry. But the journey of ideas doesn’t end here abruptly.
She also makes a special note of two other paintings, which may reflect her unorthodox creed to the staunch aficionados under a magnifying scanner. “Once I was imagining a sea-shore, which is usually strewn with shells, crabs and snails. But to add more life to this calm picture, I’ve included two birds flying in to perch atop the rocks where the foamy waves usually break upon,” she reveals.
Another frame that she describes features a lone, burqa-clad Muslim lady offering namaaz to Allah, but the mosque behind her looks a bit different from a traditional one. One may argue hereupon that since women are not generally permitted to render prayers along with the male counterparts of their families in the same area of the shrine or are seen performing namaaz in a separate enclosure, the structure in the background logically appears distinctly dissimilar.
While her unflagging determination eggs her on to move with her aesthetic bent of mind, she assertively points out that just the way a singer cannot be forcefully trained, so is an artist. “The tune and melody should come naturally to one’s voice. Similarly, you can’t put a pencil into someone’s fingers and ask him to sketch or draw instantly. It is not a cosmetic, artificial process, but a spontaneous phenomenon,” she concedes.
Her hands may still tremble to etch out an image across a white sheet. And the pair of tottering feet may grope for the solid ground beneath, but her confident brushstrokes can never fail her artistic conscience.
“Everyday, a faint picture clouds up in my mind and until I give that hazy image a concrete form and shape, I can’t rest,” she confides.
An erstwhile Grade-A vocalist on AIR and Doordarshan, Sen did stage performances regularly. However, she had to give up singing for her strained nerves. Gradually, the singer’s nodule got the better of her and music left her in silence. However, her art hasn’t deserted her. Rather, it has permanently seeped into her system. And she wishes to continue with it in her silver years. “It is a part and parcel of my life, which I can never relinquish even at this twilight stage,” she utters pensively.

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