Monday, 21 July 2008


What does a mem sahib in the tea gardens (estate) of West Bengal and Assam do when she is not serving tea and delicate snacks to visitors?

Sakunthala Varadarajan, generally known as Gita, took to painting. “I never knew I had it in me,” says this artist, who now resides in Alwarpet, after her husband retired from the tea industry. Her drawing room is testimony to her artistic skills, where her oils jostle for space with her Tanjore paintings on the walls.

“Leisure is the life style in the tea gardens, a reminder of the colonial days,” says Sakunthala.
“I had an army of servants to help me run the huge house, and had a lot of time to spare, especially with my husband going off on tours.” When her daughter was younger, Sakunthala used to spend a lot of time in Chennai with her, taking care of her education. But later when she grew up and left for the USA, she spent most of the time in the garden.

“I missed my daughter a lot, especially after she got married, and was nearly going off into a depression,” she says. “That is when I took up painting, in 2003. I surprised myself with my skills.” She adds modestly that she is not an inspired artist, but can paint portraits of people and still life. “I make good copies of photographs and other paintings,” she says.

Sakunthala, named after Kalidasa’s heroine by her Sanskrit scholar father, says she was guided initially by another painter. “Once I discovered I could paint, I just kept at it. In fact I was able to meet the requirements of quite a few people, and when I came away I sold most of my paintings.”

Her latest endeavour is greeting cards with interesting pictures done in acrylic on the outside and blank space on the inside, so people can write their own personal messages.

She paints for a couple of hours everyday. “I would now like to share my gift with others,” she says. So if you are an aspiring painter, you may contact Sakunthala at 2, Lava Kucha Apartments, C. V. Raman Road, Alwarpet. Ph. 42030307.

This article (minus pictures) appeared in a recent issue of 'Mylapore Times', our neighbourhood newspaper. The upshot was that many people called Gita, (nearly thirty, she says) to enquire about the paintings and lessons, and she has started lessons with some students. The neighbourhood newspaper efficaciously highlights local people and events.

Gita is a collector of objets d’art as well; and she has a remarkable collection of bells.


Kat said...

Gita has lots of talent. Admire her painting skills. I too love oil painting. Have painted only one in my life.... have been warned of dire consequences by family, if I ever touch the brushes again :-(( Consumes lots of time and you forget yourself and everyone, while you paint :-))

Indrani said...

Talented lady! You know her personally?

Rinkly Rimes said...

How fascinating, to discover a new skill. Here in Australia we have 'collectors' programs on TV and I'm sure some of your friends objet d'art would be popular.

By the way, I was impressed with your bird-visitor Blog and I'm publishing a poem tomorrow about a bird-visitor of mine, plus his photo. I know you'll like it.

Gowri Mohanakrishnan said...

Hooray for Chai Memsaabs! What talent -thank you for letting us know about Geeta's work, Raji!


Yes, Kat she is gifted - as for your painting, I shall judge it for myself when I see it...:)

Indrani, yes she is. She is also a keen gardener and music lover.

Brenda, thanks for stopping by. Yes, I did see the verse on your visitor and the picture, too.

Gardenia, you are another mem sahib who has been hiding her light under the tea bushes......

Karthik Narayan said...

Express my best wishes for the great talent of the painter and the photographer :)