Recollections of bygone era: An illustrator revives lost lives once loved

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New Delhi, Aug 22 (IANS) What started with reading letters exchanged between her parents has burgeoned into a passion for collecting vintage objects and papers for illustrator-collector Bakula Nayak, whose show “Intimate Strangers” opened here on Tuesday.

Exhibited at the India International Centre (IIC) are the unusual canvases that Nayak found, or as she says, the canvases that found their illustrator in her.

Nayak narrates a most gripping tale of how that happened.

“I started drawing about 5 years back. When my father passed away, I opened a box he had left behind,” she told IANS, mentioning how she found three-four hundred letters exchanged between her mum and dad for each day they were apart — “when they were engaged or when she went away to have the babies”.

Fascinated with retelling stories about lives that were once loved, Nayak shared her first-ever drawing was on a letter her father wrote to his wife from a rocket launching station in Trivandrum (now Thiruvananthapuram) — where he worked with former President Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

“The letter was full of complaints about hostel food, and how he had finally learned how to make custard. Thus, naturally, I drew a bird with an astronaut helmet landing into custard,” she said.

Drawing on her parents’ letters was her way of dealing with their loss, but became too painful after a few drawings.

Nonetheless, the letter marked the onset of her journey of drawing on vintage letters, old bills, journals, legal papers, and other paper ephemera — some of them on display in the exhibition.

But, collecting was a passion she had since school, leading her to collect “objects that are loved, and cared for”, but are discarded without any thought once someone passes away.

To that extent, Bengaluru-based Nayak said she is a keeper of the memories from the bygone era, actively refuting the idea that belongings of someone dead is junk.

Nayak’s collection of all things vintage comes from a variety of sources — flea markets, garage sales and inheritance, among others.

For people whose objects she possesses now, she said she connects with those people by reading them.

“These are my friends. If you read the material, they also give you glimpse of a life hundred years ago. And I love that.”

“I almost feel I’m creating present-day doppelgangers of the person, from the papers they left,” she said, explaining how the exhibition name — “Intimate Strangers” — came about.

What is an interesting illustration she did for the show?

Pointing to a drawing in the exhibition, Nayak shared that it was a diary entry done on a bill-book dating back several decades.

“In each entry, he just describes the day and writes three lines about work to top it off. He seems like this hardworking and frugal person, who never has fun, and suddenly I read this: ‘Wife is here. Fun ever since Tuesday’.”

She was pleasantly surprised at a glimpse of emotion in the bland-looking life of the person. Inspired by what she just read, her colourful illustration on the bill-book page shows two birds, coyly standing across each other.

The exhibition also showcases narratives and observations penned by her on the papers she breathes new life into, and her engagement with them.

“All this reminds of a slower pace of life, which I like, and which I feel I belong to,” the raconteur said with a smile.

“Intimate Strangers” is open for public viewing till August 28.

(Siddhi Jain can be contacted at [email protected])



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