Art beat: A parrot for a wedding gift

‘If you've missed the train I'm on...

You will know that I am gone...’

Milon and I used to board the 8:56 Harbour line every morning, for work at the Times of India art department at VT so as to make it to the muster by 9:35 am.

Many a time I missed it and took the 9:05, which made me late to sign the muster, but that's another story.

He would sit in the first class compartment with his legs perched on the opposite window seat and hence, bring in the morning as it were. Sometimes celebrated sports writer Raju Bharatan would join us. Sometimes, not!

This was in 1976. Milon used to always wear a spotless dhoti then, with a kurta.

'So how long have you been here'? he asked in his baritone voice.

'10 days,' I answered tentatively.

'Well, I've been with Times for 10 years.'

And I was like wow, man, respect!

I was freelancing and he, a versatile illustrator in the biggest art department in India. I used to see his illustrations in the Illustrated Weekly of India and often wondered if I could do better.... having studied in the 'modern' era. How wrong I was, alas!

Milon was a personality. Flowing curly hair, white kurta, button down, dhoti with traditional Bengali border and Kolhapuri chappals, with satchel, he would stroll down the long 'alley' of the art department to his seat and look for his cup of hot morning chai.

His style of illustration was bold strokes interspersed with daubs of colour. They were filled with passion. For him the medium was not important, but what he conveyed in his work mattered... The message!

Though my art director Ramesh Sanzgiri gave me my first break by 'allowing' me to sit in the art department, it was Milon who 'persuaded' the editorial at The Weekly to 'try out a new artist' from college as he himself was going on leave. That was illustrating for Salman Rushdie's first novel 'Grimus' which was serialised in three parts. He was generous during a time when every other illustrator was tight-fisted and he believed in giving a break to greenhorns like me. The rest, as they say, is history. For me at least.

We used to have a docket system for work... Those who had no work, had to fill a 'no work' slip. Milon had no qualms about filling a docket, even as editorials were giving me work instead of him, me, being a freelancer. He had no ego, he was largehearted, carefree and full of laughter!

Once, the Illustrated Weekly of India serialised a string of articles on the war in Bangladesh. He was asked to do the illustrations. How he wept as he read about the atrocities committed during the war and painted through his tears!

I learnt a lot about style, rendering, application of colour, reaching out to the reader through my work because of him. He was multi-talented. Poet, playwright, author, voice-over artiste, singer, painter, he exhibited internationally and was never afraid to experiment with style and technique.

The youngest recipient of the Walter Langhammer award, he exhibited in India and internationally. He also believed that PR was as important to the artist as the artist's work!

In the art department, he was the first to experiment with different mediums. For example, he'd outline his figures with rubber solution and then pour black ink over, wait for it to dry and then peel away the outlines with a rubber solution ball! The effect was startling and creative. He was very fond of the impasto technique and outlined his figures with thick black lines, thereby giving his work a bright luminescent glow. His figures were stark, bold, unafraid!

He was also a cartoonist, and many a time filled in for Mario Miranda! He never used the light table, but directly painted onto paper, such was his mastery over his art, unlike us lesser mortals, who first pencilled out our ideas and then went to the light table to finalise in ink!

He experimented with poster colours, inks, pastels, rubber solutions, acrylics, poster papers, cut-outs, colour pencils, charcoal, croquill, brush, fingers, and impressions on glass, and the tearaway paper artworks.

I remember at my wedding reception he arrived with a parrot in a cage as a gift! Innovative, as usual.

Above all, he was a great human.

Goodbye ol’ friend, I can hear your whistle blow, a hundred miles!

Also Read: Art beat: Realism and fantasy