Penance and Salvation

Penance and Salvation

Art is a manifestation of emotions and emotion speaks a language that all may understand.

W. Somerset Maugham, The Moon and Six Pence.


Dushyant was an only child of wealthy parents, Rajaram and Mythili. Father was a well-known architect. He was proud of the fact that several iconic buildings that dotted the city skyline had been designed by him. He was a part-time family man and a full-time workaholic. Mother traversed her own world, what with kitty parties, designer clothes, and fashion shows. One thing that both of their visions coalesced was what Dushyant should turn out to be. They had no doubt that he will not waste his time on frivolous things like art, music, and other finer things. They wanted him to be a world-class architect and wished that he should be single-minded about it. After all, he had a kingdom to inherit and both of them fervently hoped that he would convert it into a sprawling empire spanning all corners of the globe.

Dushyant grew under the care of high-priced nannies. Cooks and butlers attended to his personal needs. Fate brought Veena into his life when he was five. He had then grown out of nannies and Veena was hired as his trainer with full-time duty of grooming him to be a top-class architectural engineer. Veena had done MBA after her BE (Arch). She was to supervise his homeschooling, was given carte blanche to choose his tutors.  Their collective mission was to prepare him for direct entry into the Architecture M.Sc. Integrated program of the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College of London (UCL). Veena was told in no uncertain terms that by the time Dushyant turns eighteen, he should have a portfolio and be fully prepared to sail through the interview requirement for overseas students of UCL, which did not require any formal schooling.

The specialist draftsmanship tutor, Sushila, had a passion for art. She introduced Dushyant to the wonderful world of painting. Somehow escaping the hawk eyes of Veena, the two delinquents surreptitiously indulged in creative art. This inflamed the innate artist in Dushyant. One day, they were caught red-handed by the ever-vigilant Veena. She made a huge ruckus. Both the parents were visibly upset. Sushila was summarily dismissed. Rajaram and Mythily impressed upon Dushyant that he should stay away from such distractions. They exacted a promise from him that he will never touch a paintbrush.  He should develop his expertise in Computer Aided Design. Quoting Swami Vivekananda, Rajaram said in an emotion-choked voice, ” Arise, Awake, Stop; not till the goal is reached”. Much as he was passionately besotted by painting, Dushyant felt he owed his parents a strong commitment. He vowed to himself that he will not touch a brush until the time his parents’ wish was fulfilled.

When the time came, Veena had had left nothing to chance in Dushyant’s preparation for the entry to UCL. After successful submission of a portfolio, Dushyant went through the interview with flying colors. He got direct entry to the MSci program with a tuition fee waiver. He was safely ensconced in the hostel.

During the orientation program, he was seated next to a charming Indian girl neatly dressed in formal dress. Her bewitching smile and dusky features stole his heart in a trice.

 After the program, he hesitatingly stammered, “Hi! I am Dushyant from Mumbai.” Her mellifluous voice stole whatever remained of his already besotted heart. 

She tinkled,” I am Shweta from Delhi. I did my prep at home and am lucky to get through the admission”. 

“Oh, we have so much in common. Why don’t we go to the cafeteria and chat over a cuppa?”


And that was the start of a fateful journey which was to last a lifetime. 

Shweta and Dushyant had a settled relationship knowing in their heart of hearts that they were made for each other. It was cozy and comfortable like an old woolen blanket. Most of their time was spent in mastering the course, what with projects, presentations and models. 

One day, they had an unexpected off from classes and assignments. Shweta suggested a visit to the National gallery. She quipped flippantly, “I can never touch a jar of paints without spilling it all over. I have eyes of an art enthusiast, see everything, appreciate most of it, understand nothing.” She noted that Dushyant’s face had suddenly darkened and that his eyes welled up with tears. Alarmed, she asked,” What is wrong, Dush?”

Controlling his emotions, Dushyant narrated his love for painting and how he has promised it away to please his parents. Shweta said with a somber look in her face, “I promise you, Dush. We will do both; fulfill your parents’ wishes and your dream. I shall make it come true…”

They had an enjoyable visit to the gallery, Dushyant pointing out finer aspects of arts appreciation. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of various schools of arts, individual arts and famous works. Shweta gleefully teased him, “you look exactly like the kid who found the cookie jar!”

During one of their visits, Dushyant introduced Shweta to his parents. Belying her vacant socialite’s looks, Mythily was quick to detect the underlying current passing through the youngsters. She blurted out enthusiastically,” Am I looking at my future Daughter-in-law?”. Ever a businessman, Rajaram gushed,” Ha, both of you together can take our company to the stars.” That settled it!

In time, both Shweta and Dushyant passed their course summa cum laude.  Both finishing in the top 5 of the class. Following company rules, they had to undergo a battery of interviews with the experts committee Rajaram had constituted. Both were formally offered a position of Vice-President, each in charge of different regions. 

Years passed. Rajaram had retired and was pleased to make up for his lost years by taking a permanent residence in the Golf Course. Vishwakarman Architects Limited located in Mumbai was the flagship company of a slew of enterprises strewn over several parts of the world under the able stewardship of Shweta and Dushyant. The enterprise had been fully professionalized and ran on its own. Dushyant and Shweta made policy decisions and as they had the controlling shares, the board of directors signed on dotted lines. 

They had a boy and a girl who had chosen to stay away from the family business. Swati was undergoing an internship at Nasa training to be an astronaut. Avyakta,  even as a high school student, had mastered coding and was ironically a specialist in computer architecture. Rajaram and Mythili after seeing their company and the grandkids blossom, peacefully left this world in quick succession.

The day all the rites of Mythili had been completed, Shweta quietly handed over a folder to Dushyant. 

Dushyant had been enrolled as an apprentice in an art studio in Bolevard Raspaill, Montparnasse, Paris. Living accommodation had been booked nearby. Air ticket had been booked in business class on a non-stop flight to Paris. It was leaving in fifteen days’ time. 

“Go, live your dream, Artist. I shall take care of the business here. Our children have chartered their own course. You are on a sabbatical for five years. None of us will disturb you on any account. Like Urmila for Lakshman, I shall cover for you while you discharge your obligations to yourself!”

Dushyant stared at her, his overwhelming emotions leaving him dumbfounded. 

Shweta warned,” My dear husband! Business class will be the last piece of luxury you are being allowed. I have sublet one room with attached bath from an elderly English gentleman, who visits Paris for the horse races. You will not, I mean, you cannot flaunt your riches. You will stick out like a sour thumb among the largely impoverished, bohemian artist community. You will be given 1500 euros per month. Any shortfall would have to be made up by doing odd jobs. Well, you are a good mixologist and good bartenders are always on demand. You will adopt a typical bohemian lifestyle. This will help you to mingle with the artists’ ecosystem.”

When the D-Day arrived, Shweta dropped Dushyant at the airport and waved him off at the entrance. She had been putting up a brave face throughout the fortnight and burst into tears the moment Dushyant was swallowed in the crowd of passengers.

Dushyant arrived at the Charles De Gaulle airport. Shweta had thoughtfully provided him with a book of Metro passes good for unlimited travel. “Well, I might as well save on the taxi fare. My good wife has inflicted Bohemian lifestyle on me for the next 5 years!” chuckled Dushyant to himself.

The concierge at the apartment house checked his id and gave him the keys to an apartment in the third floor. It was a fairly new building. His room was well furnished in simple spartan taste. The bathroom was adequate. It was not the luxury suite at Hotel George V they usually stayed during their many official trips to Paris, but it had to do for some time.

Just as he settled himself, he heard the door opening. A smartly dressed sprightly looking English gentleman had just arrived. He enthusiastically greeted Dushyant with a warm handshake. “You must be Dushyant. You are definitely my lucky mascot. I won thousand euros at the races!

I am Robert reasoner from Wales. Make yourself comfortable. The kitchen is all yours. You can come and go as you please. Holler if you need anything”.

After a light meal of sandwiches and a glass of milk, Dushyant retired and fell into a dreamless sleep.

He reached the studio next morning. A ruddy complexioned Frenchman was talking in a loud noise to a group of youngsters. He had unkempt overgrown red hair and a matching goatee. He was in his forties. He frowned at Dushyant and continued in his loud voice, a trace of irritation thrown in. “Ah, Mr.Dashyante! You come to paint, no? In the cubicle on the right you see an Englishwoman, Mrs. Morris. She will be your personal tutor. She will teach the technicalities. You come to me when she say okay. Not one minute soon. Oui?”

Duhyant found Mrs. Morris to be a woman dressed in simple elegance and wearing sensible shoes. She was in her early forties. She smiled at him in welcome. 

“Mr. Dushyant, I presume. I am Elizabeth Morris. You can call me Libby. I have talked to your wife. She explained your passion for painting. I also know that your profession teaches mechanical drawing in machine language. We have to unlearn that first. Let us get to know each other in more agreeable surroundings, away from that noisy Frenchman!“

They retired to a bistro next door. The waitress smiled at her, “Ah, Libby! Your cuppa is ready. A coffee for the Gentleman, I assume. Milk and sugar?”   Dushyant nodded and they retired to a window side table for four. 

Dushyant explained his circumstances carefully avoiding the size of their enterprise. Libby had been a school librarian. Her passion was painting and life’s mission was to practice art in a Paris studio. She had had no serious romantic interest except for a few passing escapades. She was saving every penny towards her move to Paris. A distant uncle died and left her a sizable legacy. She jumped through the window fate had opened for her. She took an early retirement and settled in Paris.  She got herself a small apartment nearby.

“Dear Dushyant! I like you at first sight. You remind me of my elder brother whom I lost when both of us were teenagers. Painting is my passion as I told you before. I am strong on techniques, but I do not have that little spark that separates the real painters from the aspirants. So many have passed through my hands.  

Andre Arnaud is very good. He is a good trainer. He is like a champion football coach who himself did not achieve many milestones but coached champion teams. He is a natural eccentric and add his being full-blooded Corsican and you get the picture. Beyond all his bluster, he has a good heart. Ignore all his temper tantrums and take his pointers seriously. He will drop in on us suddenly without notice. Only way to be a painter is passion, blood, sweat and tears. You live painting every second of your life and you cannot do too much wrong. Happy painting. Let us start”

Dushyant did not know how time passed. Libby was a hard task master. She started with lines and took it from there. By six months, Dushyant had graduated to sketching. One midafternoon, Andre popped in his cubicle and shouted dramatically at the top of his voice, “mon cher Indien! I can spare 5 minutes to see your bad works. Libby, Oh Libby! Show me the sketches this guy has done so I can choke on them”

He opened one of the sketch books at random. Within few seconds his expression changed. His five minutes grew into two hours seventeen minutes. In between he kissed Dushyant on both his cheeks and twirled Libby grabbing her by her waist.

“Libby, you nasty little angle! Why have you been hiding this genius from me. You know we don’t get this kind of talent every day. We will coach him together. I will get to him whenever I can free myself from this circus!”

Things got very hectic from then on. Dushyant spent all his waking hours in the studio. Libby and Andre spared as much time as they could. 

Every Sunday was his own. He would rise very early, catch a metro from Montparnasse to Rue de Rivoli, stroll through Tulleries Garden. He got acquainted with every blade of grass, bowers, bushes and trees in the park. He sketched anything and everything. He would hop across to the road bridge over Seine and keep staring at the placid waters. Tiring of that, he would hop on to Notre Dame Cathedral. God knows how many sketches of the Rose window he imprisoned in his sketch books.

Quite often, he would treat himself to a trip to Montmortre. Perched on the top of a small hill, it has retained the flavor of village atmosphere that charmed the 19th and 20th century artists. The Sacre-Coeur basilica was his special haunt. He spent as much time there as in Notre Dame. The unobstructed view of Paris from the top of the majestic dome never failed to amaze him. He got acquainted with several budding artists who have taken up residence in the village. Forced by his fellow art students, he did visit Moulin Rouge cabaret. Clos Monmontre wine and Kir Royale were his favorite poisons. Not for him the Clarets and Champagnes.

He ate whatever he could cook in his kitchen. Since he practically spent all his living hours in the studio, the bistros and sidewalk kiosks and creperies nearby attended to his gastronomic needs.

In his third year, he was routinely doing oils on canvas under the tutelage of both Libby and Andre. Andre came through with small commissions from time to time. This augmented the fixed stipend Shweta had arranged through bank transfers. He didn’t have to employ his bar tending skills after all. In the fourth year, Andre arranged a small exhibition of his works. Most of his paintings sold for modest amounts. His best sale was for “A fruit Plate on a Hand-Hewn Table” which fetched him a princely sum of 5179 euros.

Exactly five years after his first visit to the studio, Libby and Andre bade him farewell. They saw him off at CDG airport in person.

 Shweta had arranged for all his works and paraphernalia to be shipped to Mumbai.

At the Sahar airport, Shweta, Swati and Avyakta embraced him just as he stepped out of the immigration section. They drove him in a chauffeur driven Jaguar Xf. “Oh, Shweta! Maybe I should take the Metro. These luxuries do not suit a poor artist!”

Shweta shot him a dirty look barely concealing her pride. 

As soon as they landed at their sprawling bungalow at Napien Sea Road, Shweta have him a gold-plated key. She dragged him to a structure in the backyard of their property. The chick building bore a signboard “Dushyant’s Arts”

Dushyant exclaimed, “Shweta, it’s a full-fledged studio!” 

Shweta smirked, “Nothing less for a Parisian!”

Over the next few years, Dushyant’s works were getting international recognition. Shweta and Dushyant worked out a highly profitable deal with a multinational firm of Architects based in South Africa and sold their entire business, lock, stock and barrel for an undisclosed sum. They spent their time attending various art exhibitions. They also built up a healthy art collection. Dushyant was increasingly recognized globally for his works. The Govt. of India conferred Padma Sri on him. They had lived two full years purely as an Artist and his adoring wife, forgetting their past karmabhoomi of Architectural life. The kids were well settled in their chosen professions.

One evening, after their usual sparse supper, Dushyant drew Shweta in a tight hug. “What you have given me, Shweta, is beyond any God will grant me. These years in Paris and the last few years were the pinnacle of my happiness. Only you can do it. I am so blessed to have you as my propeller. I won’t thank you; how do you thank your own soul? “

Shweta smiled at him, her dancing eyes sharing his joy. They retired early, calling it a day.

The next morning, Shweta got up as usual at six and made their habitual bed tea. The kitchen staff had been forbidden to enter the bungalow before eight. These two hours were the most cherished time together for the two of them.

She entered the bedroom placing the tea tray on the side table. She gently shook Dushyant to wake him. No response. His pupils were “middilated” in a cadaveric position. Shweta gently closed his eyes.

She gently whispered., “Your journey is complete, my dearest. Our penance has ended. The liberation is wonderful. Go in peace, my friend”

She sat in a chair and kept staring at him for what seemed hours…
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