Padmini has circled the Thiruvananthapuram Museum Hall several times already, taking every new visitor to a certain painting, or else a piece of craft she has made with so much love and displayed for an exhibition. Nine years ago, when she ran her first art exhibition at the same venue, PS Padmini was 72 years old, shyer, quieter but still making news for beginning a habit so late in life and doing it so beautifully. It is not an entirely new habit, she corrects you now, she had loved all things art even as a child, watching her architect dad draw plans of buildings and her elder sisters make craft out of nothing. It is just that painting came much later and for every stroke she’s made, she duly credits her tutor, George Fernandez, who runs an art class amid his garden full of flowers and fruits and visiting birds.
You forget Padmini is nearly 82 now, looking at the young girls she has carefully sketched, making them look like fairytale heroines with flowers everywhere. Some of her paintings carry adornments – jewellery on a Krishna painting, beads on a peacock. “I also use broken glass, waste paper and clothes,” Padmini says, as she walks hurriedly through the large hall to show those paintings. And there it is, an ocean glittering with shards of broken glass that her blue whales dive into (you hope they don’t injure themselves in the glassy ocean), a butterfly made entirely of an old broken CD. Padmini calls these "cassette pieces".
“That’s what mom calls CDs,” says her son Prakash with love. It is Prakash and Deepa, Padmini’s two children, who got her to go out of her house following their father’s demise, let her rediscover her old love for art.
“I had never stopped making craft, the tricks I had picked up from my elder sisters. There were seven of us. Back then I’d hide all the artwork from mom. She’d scold us if we were doing that when we were supposed to study,” Padmini says, laughing. That habit stayed with her for years and she used to hide all the artwork she did until her children brought it all out and let the world see it. Her late husband too used to encourage her, while teasing her that he’d trip on her beads, Padmini says fondly. Both of them went to work – Padmini, who grew up in Kottayam, moved to Thiruvananthapuram for a job as a schoolteacher. She later became headmistress and then a UNICEF coordinator for the state unit.
After her husband’s demise, when she spent too much of her time inside the house, her neighbours accompanied her to a Gita class nearby. It is from there that she heard about an art class in Women’s College and joined it 16 years ago, in her 60s. It is after this that she went to George sir’s classes. “I still go at least two or three days a week, sir always has something new to teach you,” she says. Sure enough, he has shown her how coffee can be used to paint, and in beautiful sepia shades hang portraits of Jesus Christ, Buddha and Rabindranath Tagore.
There is also the occasional watercolour or acrylic landscape, birds made of m-seal, waste paper rolled into little rocks stuck on a green canvas.
Padmini begins naming all her gurus she must thank – George sir, Anitha Teacher, Ravi Puthoor, Treasa – before one of her fellow students pulls her away. Padmini is clearly a pet among her neighbours, fellow students and friends, age no bar.
The exhibition ends Sunday.