Do you sell masala chai?

I have quelled all sorts of curiosities when I am out sketching on location but never have I been asked this question. There’s a first for everything, I guess. Also this is the sort of thing that keeps one from becoming complacent lest you think you’ve heard it all!

So there I was on Norris Road in the Little India district of Singapore, wiping sweat off my brow. I had walked through a warren of roads and back lanes with many alluring sketch worthy subjects – and though my SPF50 sunscreen coated skin felt invincible, it was no fun wandering in the 2’o’ clock sun – looking for a shady spot to sketch them from.

And then right opposite this row of shophouses (see below), I spotted an awning. And under its shade were two rickety chairs made of plastic. Both the chairs and the awning belonged to a Bangladeshi catering restaurant whose cash counter was manned by not one but two burly men who knew not how to smile unless they saw the face of money, perhaps.


Row of shophouses on Norris Road, Little India

But I was there only for the chairs, rather for the permission to occupy one of those soon-to- be-disposed or already disposed chairs and remain undisturbed for a while. They couldn’t have cared less. So I got to work but not before doing a quick reconnaissance of my location.

Inside the restaurant were lurid posters of hilsa and mutton curry covering parts of the ochre wall that was peeling off in places. The food delivery guys were marching in and out with urgency, suppliers were parking their big vans by the pavement and from what I could see of the kitchen, there were uniformed men wearing white toques barking orders and swinging their arms to the tunes of spices and gravies.


Norris Road, Little India

The next 20 minutes were uneventful on my chair except for the usual distractions such as tourists stopping by to check what I was up to, kids pointing me out to their parents and random people rushing with a bag of groceries to their car and slowing down just enough to get a peek at my sketchbook and immediately averting their eyes when I looked up.

The incongruity of my situation – a lone person doodling in the middle of the day in the middle of the road while the rest of the world goes about its business – is never lost on me. But what’s changed over the years though is how I’ve managed the unsolicited attention it generates. Instead of exhibiting reticence which was the go to response in my early sketching days I’ve asked myself time and again why everybody from babies in arms to the elderly hobbling along with the aid of walking sticks take an interest in someone making art. What is so special about that?


Norris Road, Little India

Could it be that our need to create something is primordial? It may not get tended to very often by a lot of people, but it is sitting there in a dormant state inside each of us and gets stimulated every time we’re exposed to the process of creation. I’ve seen my husband – a guy who loves to eat but cannot boil water in the kitchen without help – watch ‘Jamie’s 15 minute meals’ or Gordon Ramsay’s cooking shows with great veneration for hours on end. I don’t expect a three course meal anytime soon but he’s picked up some cool tricks along the way. For all you know, breakfast in bed may not be a distant dream for me, after all.


Row of shophouses on Norris Road in Little India, Singapore

In the same vein, I feel that if my art could ignite even a little spark of interest in someone, I wouldn’t mind sitting on a rickety chair so much in the mid afternoon heat in front of a catering restaurant and being asked by a couple of Bangladeshi tourists if ‘we’ sell Masala Chai.

“Well, I don’t know”, I said to them truthfully but they were peeved and left in a hurry probably mourning the death of customer service. Their sour departure was replaced with the most unexpected arrival of one the taciturn cashiers from the restaurant. After a long glance over my shoulders, he wanted to know more about what I was doing. Wait, what? There may have been a smile involved.








23 thoughts on “Do you sell masala chai?

  1. Nícia

    hey somali!
    i found your blog through the discover page by wordpress. i liked your idea of sharing the little events that happens in your life (maybe because i write down mine as well).

    i think making art is magical. it’s beautiful and truthful and people are drawn towards it. thank you for sharing your story and creations.

    i’d also like to invite you to share one of your stories in my own place. my goal is to connect people through stories, to learn and grow with one another. send me an e-mail if you’re interested:

    1. Somali Roy Post author

      Hi Nícia, thanks you for your messages and I’m glad that you like my work. I’m away at the moment. I’ll get in touch when I’m back at work. Happy New Year to you!

  2. evelyneholingue

    So glad I found your blog and so humbled to see my small blog featured with yours on WordPress today (2017 resolutions). Your work is outstanding. I’m so admirative of artists who can convey so much emotions through drawing, coloring and painting. Your work is beautiful. Happy New Year to you and your art!

    1. Somali Roy Post author

      Hi Evelyn, thank you so much for your kind words! I loved reading your 2017 resolution and am really honored to be featured alongside you in WordPress Discover. I’m really glad that you like my work. I wish you a very Happy New Year and thanks again for sending me this beautiful message😊

  3. Andrew Seal

    Honoured to be in your company Somali for WordPress Discover’s Glimpse into 2017. Many congratulations on your beautiful blog and artwork, and wishing you a very Happy New Year 🙂

    1. Somali Roy Post author

      Thank you, Andrew for your beautiful message! Congratulations to you too on being featured in WordPress Discover! Wish you and your family a very happy new year and thanks again for writing to me 😊

    1. Somali Roy Post author

      Hi Cecilia, thank you so so much for your beautiful message! It feels great to connect with people who appreciate what I do! And yes I do sell my work. I have a ‘shop’ page on my blog and also take orders for custom drawings.
      Wish you a very happy new year! Hope you have a fantastic 2017😊

  4. Naomi Byrnes

    “Could it be that our need to create something is primordial?” – it sure feels that way to me. Is there anything richer than being able to sit and draw or write or both in public? Or create whatever it is that lights us up – food, friendships, new spaces in the world … Looking forward to more of your words and pics and 2017

  5. Shail

    Hello somali,
    Really got me inspired, to kind of carry a sketch paper instead of camera again,
    .. had done that after seeing people busy with camera in front of monalisa. 🙂
    , and also will share this to my friend, who is also very keen to painting but stuck for a while. your stories will definitely inspire her too.
    Keep sharing.

    1. Somali Roy Post author

      Hi Shail,
      Thanks for writing to me and for your kind words! Great to hear that you’re going to be sketching on the go! Wish you and your friend all the very best 😊


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