Bonds between Chennai-based oncologist Nithya Sridharan and her 7-year-old son Vidyut have been strengthened by joint Warli lessons from Catterfly. They together embark on ambitious and innovative art projects that showcase the versatility of this humble tribal art form.
Alexander the great is a hero for all seasons. Especially for inquisitive 7-year-olds like Vidyut Krishna. He was also intrigued by what his busy mother was upto during her spare time. For the last one year, Nithya Sridharan, a Chennai-based medical oncologist, was glued to her computer screen, listening to instructions on how to fashion Ramayana and Mahabharata scenes using Warli motifs before rushing off to her patients.
“Vidyut was excited to see me learn Warli from Sanjay bhau,” recalls Nithya during a recent meet of Catterfly’s star Warli students. The youngster was also excited by Alexander’s story – how the Macedonian king rode his mighty Bucephalus horse, attacked Indian king Porus from behind, and came close to defeat for the first time. Nithya noted her son’s twin interests and decided to jazz up a routine history school project by teaching Vidyut to use Warli to tell Alexander’s story. The end result is a fascinating Warli painting featuring the two kings and their famous standoff by river Jhelum in northwestern India in ancient times. “Teachers and classmates said it was nice,” says Vidyut, a student of Vidya Mandir Senior Secondary school. “I helped with borders and spacing. The creativity was all his,” beams a proud Nithya.
Catterfly’s traditional Indian art lessons these past two years have thrown up many such interesting and unexpected segues. Warli lessons by award-winning artist Sanjay Sangle, in particular, have drawn in a variety of art lovers who have all made this simple tribal art form their own.
Take for instance Nithya. She has painted a variety of themes in Warli after her initial set of lessons from Sanjay Bhau – from harvest festival Pongal to Kerala snake boat race. “Sanjay Bhau is the inspiration as he can paint anything in Warli. He asked me imagine a scene or look at a photo, read about it and picturise how to paint it,” says Nithya. When it came to the traditional snake boat race, Nithya drew a boat and put her hand in the same position as a Malayali rower to get it right.
How to make this an authentic Warli portrait? Nithya says one has to get the basics right. “Earlier, I didn’t know that when you draw a Warli figure, feet have to start from the tip of the triangle that makes up the torso.” Or that, men are drawn with their upper triangles (indicating torso) bigger than lower triangles, and women in the exact reverse. “He taught us all these details that go into making a perfect Warli painting,” says Nithya. The easy-to-learn structure and the review process built into each and every Catterfly workshop, fine-tuned Nithya’s understanding.
“Now Warli is one of my favourite arts as it is one of the best ways to bring out our thoughts and creativity,” says Nithya. So for the recently concluded Navaratri festival where Hindus worship nine forms of goddess Durga, the mother-son duo made a Warli scroll featuring all the different versions (see above). “We drew the entire story of nine Durgas with each image on a different canvas. I wanted to make this big painting to show the significance of the various forms,” says Nithya. It was quite a task to make Vidyut focus for longer periods but the effort was worth it. “He picks up fast. He has also attended Sanjay Bhau’s classes,” smiles Nithya.
Now that the pandemic shows signs of slowing down, the good doctor has one request. “Don’t stop these online classes. Otherwise how will people like us have access to these wonderful artists! How to learn Madhubani, Warli and Pattachitra sitting at home because I don’t think I will be able to go to their hometowns and stay over to learn,” says Nithya.