Adorable in his maroon kurta and black nehru jacket, five-year-old Shorya Mahanot charmed us at first sight. As restless as ever, he fidgets with the bottles of paints till he figures out exactly how he would like them arranged near the canvas. After careful arrangement and re-arrangements, he has all his paints placed in a straight line, in an order of which only he knows the algorithm and refuses to share with anyone else. He pauses only to take notice of RK Laxman, who is brought in on a revolving chair to the campus of his residence at Aundh in Pune on Tuesday. Shorya who hails from Neemuch in Madhya Pradesh had come to Pune to meet Laxman and receive his blessings. It was Usha Laxman, R K Laxman’s daughter-in-law, who spotted the budding artist. “I then spoke to Dad about Shorya and he was very keen to meet him,” said Usha.
The legendary cartoonist seems to be highly impressed with the child’s skill. Laxman decides to let Shorya finish his painting before the felicitation ceremony, as he confesses not to have had the heart to separate the child from his canvas. His bright white pyjama is smeared with blots of colour even before he begins his work on a canvas almost the same size as the boy himself. He gets down on his knees and mixes the colours on his brush before smearing it onto the canvas and spreading it to a smooth mixture. As he proceeds, he gains confidence, he forgets about the photographers clicking away, or the many people crowding around him to judge his work in their own way or the presence of a legendary artist himself. He does what we all wish we could do, let go of all inhibitions, the ability of which is lost, as we grow older. A splash of green follows a splash of red with more passionate splashes of yellow and browns and white and pink. Splashing some paint on the on lookers too, but who would notice when they are witnessing a prodigy at work.
As the canvas gets more colourful, the artist gets more confident and passionate. He finally ends with a layer of white paint across the canvas. This, in artistic jargon is referred to as an additive process, which involves many layers of work. He leaves the painting to dry for sometime as he gives in to participate in the felicitation ceremony, of which his innocent mind only understands that he is receiving a present from an elderly guru. Shorya’s parents honour Laxman and his wife, Kamala Laxman by presenting them with a silver coin, shawl and a coconut as a mark of respect while the veteran cartoonist also gifts Shorya an autographed brush and other goodies.
Happy with his new brush, Shorya remembers his unfinished business with the earlier painting and rushes to add his finishing touches. He scrapes off some parts of the white paint, which can be referred to as what the learned art students call the subtractive process. But what we see is an amazing piece of abstract art. “The level of energy is wonderful. He is so little but he does such a great job. He is nothing less than a pro,” says Laxman. “I like the way he mixes the colours on the brush before splashing it on the canvas, very nice technique,” he adds.
Shorya’s canvas cannot limit him, his art is a part of something larger and it is only his state of fearlessness, limitlessness that adds a meaning to his work. It is all about layers and the freedom with which this prodigy explores this technique. We catch a glimpse of Laxman showing his appreciation by joining the tips of his forefinger and thumb and adding an encouraging smile. “Art runs in the family. It is in his blood,” says Pushpa Mahanot, Shorya’s patient and encouraging mother. Shorya’s father and grandmother are very talented artists, but they never went public with their work. “I never stop Shorya from scribbling and painting, yes, the walls do get dirty and I have a lot of cleaning to do, but it’s all worth the fun my son has,” she adds. The young artist is very close to his two teenage sisters, Shreya and Shruti. “He picked up the interest in painting from his sisters. They encourage him a lot,” says his mother.
The boy is unaware about all the interpretations his paintings call for. He just looks at it as fun. Ask him what his favourite colour is and like a true artist, he is confused. He likes red, and blue and yellow, we come to a conclusion that he likes colours, anything that matches his mood at the moment. He is excited looking at the passing clouds and rejects any questions asked to him that would make him shift his concentration from the sky and looks down only to grab a potato chip from his packet of Lays.
The unputdownable spirit is what brings the sparkle to Laxman’s eyes even at the age of 92. He inspects the miniature cars that Shorya carries along in the same child-like way. “He is healthy. But due to old age, he has limitations with his speech. It isn’t very clear so he restricts speaking only to family,” says Usha, who runs a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) that works for the betterment of underprivileged children. “He still sketches a bit here and there even today. He keeps doodling stuff, it’s more like a habit he has since he was three years old so it’s hard to let go, infact I could even say impossible for him to separate from his art,” she adds.
Laxman was eager to meet this young artist and see him paint. He signed the little boy’s painting for keepsake and blessed him with a joyful heart.
Sincere appreciation for his talent beamed from Laxman as he patted the boy’s head with his experienced hands that now quiver due to old age.