Most of you must have seen the movie Mary Poppins with unforgettable roles played by Julie Andrews (Mary) and Dick Van Dyke (Bert).
In the movie, Mary takes Mr. Bank’s children out for a walk in the park, and they come upon the funny and multifaceted Bert. At the entrance to the park, they stop to see some chalk paintings. The children admire the drawings and then, magically, at Bert’s urging and Mary’s magic, they jump inside the paintings.
Mary (Julie Andrews), Burt (Dick Van Dyke) and the Penguins
The scenes that follow are some of the most entrancing ones in the entire film. After jumping inside, the actors interact with the animated characters and sing songs with them such as “Jolly Holiday” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”. Eventually, it begins to rain and the drawings in the real world begins to “melt”. The characters are forced back into reality by jumping out.
The artist who did those magnificent chalk drawings such as one above was Albert Gaynor. Salutes to this creative artist who today is no more.
Do you think “jumping inside a painting” is possible? I never believed this until my Professor friend took me to a studio of a mysterious artist on the Chapel Road in Bandra. Here goes the story.
Call it a fiction if you like!
On a Sunday morning, Professor dropped in my house at Shivaji-Park. “I am going to the Chapel Road in Bandra. Would you like to join me?” He asked while lighting his cigar. He was wearing a long sleeves grey sweater and a braided cap (like a retired Major in the Army). It was a week before Christmas and the weather was windy with some chill in the air by the Mumbai standards! The dry leaves under the trees in the Park were circling lazily and making faint noises. The sky was a bit cloudy.
I knew that this invitation was extremely rare to get. Some had told me that Professor occasionally visits the Chapel Road in Bandra, typically on a Sunday morning, but never takes anyone to accompany him. He treats his visit like a secret mission and nobody has ever found out what he exactly does on the Chapel Road.
Chapel Road connects Mount Carmel Church to Hill Road in Bandra. It is a narrow and winding road that runs through what was once the independent Runwar Village. It is also a road that is used as a short-cut by many residents of Bandra travelling to or from the Bandra-Worli Sea link. But most importantly it is also a road that is world-famous, thanks to the graffiti and street art there.
We took a rickshaw (three wheeler) from the Bandra station. Professor shopped a bouche of red roses from a flower shop outside the station. When we reached the Chapel Road, Professor let the rickshaw go and preferred to walk. After getting on the road, we could see the quaint and charming houses of Runwar with interesting graffiti on the walls.
The Chapel Road, Street Graffiti and the Rickshaw
Professor stopped in front of a strange looking house that had a balcony with wrought iron railing and old style large windows. A large tree was blocking the view of the ground floor. This house must be 100+ years old, I said to myself. We knocked the door. The door was opened by a very frail old man with wrinkles on his face, a typical artist style hair – a grey pony tail, a loosely fitting boutique shirt and long shorts. He smelt of stale cigarettes and cheap alcohol.
The old house on the Chapel Road
He and Professor must be old friends. “You are coming here after a long time my friend” He said this while removing dust from the sofa and making us sit.
“Oh yes”, Professor said and he introduced me to the Artist.
“Must be your very close pal, Professor” The artist said. “Never seen anyone accompany you all these years”. The Artist stared at me to gauge – I noticed that he had sharp and beady eyes with a rather penetrating gaze.
Well, shall we go to the basement? Professor asked “any new paintings of my kind?’
I didn’t realize that the house had a basement with a secret staircase. The Artist opened the flap that was under the carpet placed in the drawing room. We descended down carefully as the sunlight inside was pretty dim and the air was a bit damp. I was a bit nervous.
The Artist put on the lights. The basement had a number of paintings stacked and wrapped under cloth. There was a lot of dust on the floor with few broken chairs around. The place seemed to be in a mess.
The Artist looked at the Professor and said. “I have a new painting to show you. And you would like me to take out the usual one I suppose”
“Yes”, said the Professor while sitting down on a stool. “Show us both” he said in a husky voice. The artist took out two large size paintings from the stack.
The first painting showed a woman standing on the railing of a bridge. It appeared that she is committing a suicide. Must be due to some deep frustration I thought.
“I wish someone helped this woman” I said to myself in a low voice– but it was loud enough for the Professor and the Artist to hear.
“Why don’t you get in the picture and convince her not to” Professor said this rather casually.
I did not know what to say. There was a silence in the air.
The Artist then got up from his stool. He held my hand and made me walk close to the painting. He asked me to close my eyes. He said “Dr Modak, let me take you inside. Please help her. You can be there for twenty minutes”.
Next I heard was a sound like a storm, a gush and a push. I was inside the painting
The woman on the deck of the bridge was surprised to see me. I walked across the bridge. I could see her shocked when I reached close to her. The weather was chilly and there was considerable wind. The water below the bridge was gushing and looked rather scary.
I started my conversation with her. In the beginning, she did not open up and had a resistance to share. But slowly, she loosened up and told me about her boyfriend who had ditched her blatantly for a reason flimsy and had treated her rudely and indifferently. She thought to end her life by jumping over the bridge.
I spent the next ten minutes to convince her not to. I spoke about how devastating I had felt when I went through a similar situation in my life. Then I talked about how she could tide over and may be all that happened was good so that she would meet a much better person as her true companion to life.
She was convinced and she stepped down from the railing. I walked with her to the other end of the bridge where she had parked her car. She drove home.
The twenty minutes were over and I was back – jumping out of the painting.
“You did a great job Dr Modak” said the Artist. “Take a look at the painting now”
When I looked at the painting, I saw that the woman had disappeared.
Well, let me do now my own bit, said the Professor
He was referring to the second painting.
This painting showed an old couple taking a walk.
The old man in the painting looked a bit like the Professor. In fact, the man was wearing a long sleeves grey sweater and a braided soldier cap just like the Professor was wearing.
Was he the Professor? And the woman besides him – was she his late wife? I could not make out as both were facing their backs to us.
“Excuse me Dr Modak”, said the Professor. He stared at the painting and then jumped inside the picture with the bouche of red roses in his hand. Looked like he had done this in the past – several times.
I held my breath. The Artist got busy in stacking the remaining paintings.
After twenty minutes, the Professor reappeared like a breeze.
We looked at the painting after his return. The bouche of the red roses was in the hand of the woman.
Clearly, Professor had presented the red roses to the Woman in the painting. He must have had some conversations. I recalled that it was Professors wife death anniversary that day. I didn’t say a word or ask any questions to the Professor. All seemed to be so graciously emotional.
We left the Artist’s place soon after.
This experience was so mysterious. I was really tempted to visit the Chapel Road again. So I decided to go next Sunday to see the Artist. I wanted to go alone this time and not with the Professor and find how this jumping into the painting happens. And how does the Artist make these paintings and for what purpose? I had so many questions to ask.
I reached the old house on the Chapel Road.
The door of the house was locked. The lock seemed real old with a junk like it was not opened for years! The door was also chained as if the house had treasures to protect. I decided to ask someone around. I found an old man standing at the gate of the neighboring bungalow. “Do you know the person living in this house? The house is locked – has he gone on vacation?” I enquired. “I was here last Sunday with him”
The old man was confused. He stared at me and said slowly “My friend, this is impossible. This house is deserted over last 50 years due to disputes. It has been locked all these years and no one lives. Years ago, it is said that a strange artist lived here with a studio in the basement”. He looked at my shocked and shattered face, but didn’t seem much surprised
I tried to call Professor right away on his cell phone.
But the phone was out of the reach.
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