By Minoti Baro

People say that one can become anything they want if they begin early enough. Well in that case all four of us, me and my three elder brothers, would have become doctors by now. My parents must have messed up somewhere down the line.

I believe one is born with the ability to acquire a certain talent. I guess that's why I've always had an artistic streak. I was always better than most of my peers, say in drawing and other arty and crafty things- even in nursery school. Since I was always a little forgetful, my brothers sometimes used to take credit for my work, and of course since they were bigger I used to let them. There's a limit to the number of punches a little girl can take.

Still, medicine and doctorhood was what my father had in mind. Too bad for him. As the years progessed, I turned out to be too stupid to handle physics, chemistry and that horror of horrors- mathematics. Not that my father was unsupportive of me. He used to take my little drawings and show them to my brothers. "See. Can you do this?" And he always took care of my artwork better than I ever bothered.

You see, I believe that an artist has a love affair with a piece while the work is still in progress. That's where the satisfaction, at least in my case, comes from. I love working on the little details, the big details, combining colours, producing the right shades. And the climax is right at the last minute, when the last stroke of the brush is made, or the last srcatch of the charcoal.

Then I'll look at the finished work, sigh in satisfaction. But I can't love it anymore. Because there's nothing more I can do with it. That is what I've come to believe over the last few years, as my father grumbles at the paintings strewn carelessly about my room.

People have always approached me to make their portraits. I often promise them that I will. But I usually don't. Especially if they're close to me. To keep them happy, I might sit with them for a few minutes and make a very quick rough sketch and they'd say to me... "This does not look like me."

The fact is, I know that very well. And the other fact is that I am a perfectionist. I like working on the details- and I have to make my pictures look realistic.

Realistic is what most of my portraits are not. I say 'most' because I do reserve the 'honour' of a finished portrait to some people. I can finish them them off, every mole and every pimple.

You see, I am a little superstitious. I believe that art can be a little akin to sorcery. Art is powerful, it isn't merely paint on paper. That is what the finished product may be regarded as. But the work that goes into a piece is a ritual, and a very ancient one. I don't take my art lightly. That can be very dangerous.

And strange things do and have happened. Many a time I've drawn or painted faces of people I have never seen. They are from my imagination, or so I believed at that time. This has happened to me twice. Once, when I was at a bright, if rather distressing, age of twelve, I had drawn a face from what I thought was my imagination. And half a year later, there she was, right in front of me- an attractive girl from Australia with a shrieky voice that made me want to strangle her. In no way did I get close to her. I don't know what she is doing these days, or even if she's still alive. And I really don't want to know.

The second time was four years later, when I was going through that 'Mother Goddess' phase of my life. For a year I painted nothing but mother goddesses. One of those mother goddesses happened to resemble, and very closely at that (for my talent with faces had improved much more by then), an exchange student who had come to our school for a week. She was a tall Norweigan with flaming hair and a longish chin. The resemblence was almost too close for me to comfortably bear, even down to the bright green eyes and the longish chin.

It is easy to dismiss these events as merely coincidences. I would be all too happy to dismiss them as that. When I previously mentioned that I can finish some persons off, down to evey last pimple, I meant it in more ways than one. But the true trick is to capture the essence of a person. In my early days of ignorance, in my eagerness to please, I finished off several persons, captured their very essence. In short- I killed them.

I know, deep in my heart, that the pretty Australian girl with the shrieky voice and the tall Norweigan with the longish chin have come to a strange fate. But I don't want to find out for sure. I could not bear the truth.

My uncle died some years back. It was just half a year after his wedding. It was strange. The wedding had been a long fancy procedure. I cried at the wedding- that's because I cry when I see everyone cry, and also because I felt bad that my aunt should marry someone she never got to know in the first place. It was an arranged marriage.

I recall having my sketch pad with me and I began to draw him. It was a simple, straight foward drawing, yet it resembled him so much so that everyone had to swarm over me and exclaim: "My goodness! That's brother-in-law!" I had captured his very essence.

I never meant to do him any harm, though I did disliked him when I first saw him. In this way, in a span of one month during my summer vacation at home- way back at that tender age of thirteen- I unknowingly marked five people right into their graves or pyres. That was so many years ago. I don't remember their faces anymore. I sometimes wonder how many more people I may have killed, but I really don't want to know.

Now, as I stand in the land of my birth, I look at the wide expanse of paddy fields, now golden in the evening sun, ready to be harvested. I wonder what Gods gave me this power. I wonder if my Mother Goddess, the one I still secretly pray to, is above me, smiling or frowning.

I hold a portrait in my hand. I wonder if my hands are bloody, because I knew of my power when I made this portrait. The pyre still burns behind me. I don't look at it. I tell myself I have done a helpful deed- I couldn't bear to see the suffering. I couldn't bear to see the once beautiful face wither away with pain, to see those loving, once busy hands curl into bony knots. I simply couldn't.

I remember what she had once said to me many years ago: "The day you manage to draw me is the day I'll die". She was always disapointed I wouldn't draw her portrait. I hope she is happy now.

I sigh as the sun is about to set on me. This one drawing I think I'll preserve. She was very precious to me.

I say my last goodbye to my mother as I walk away from the pyre.

Copyright 1997 by Minoti Baro

About the writer in her own words: "Hi, my name is Minoti Baro. I'm a 21 year old woman from the northeast if India. I'm actually more of an arts and crafts person, but I do write now and then when I'm terribly depressed or when I get struck by lightning. I'm currently studying English Literature at Miranda House College in Delhi (and no, Eng Lit hasn't helped me become a better writer- almost close to flunking the subject), with a 3 year diploma course in book illustration on the side. I like vanilla ice-cream and chubby Americans."

Email address: minoti@netropolis.org

Homepage: www.netropolis.org/minoti

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