Actually a lot. The innocent Antipodean summer spell I was under at the beginning of the year got quickly replaced with Hong Kong’s mendacious haze and leaking skies in March. I was there for a week and had plenty of time to wander, sketch, chat with strangers, and watch Sex and the City on a loop late into the night because Carrie Bradshaw’s social life outshone every drivel on the hotel’s cable TV. But more about Hong Kong in a different post.
Let me fast forward to Singapore, where I along with other local artists were tasked with the submission of sketches to two different books that are both going to be published before this country turns 50 in August this year. Hurray! Urban Sketchers Singapore: Volume 2, will carry our memories of places in Singapore that are special to us and the other book Let’s Draw Singapore! is about the neighbourhoods we live in and the sketches of our favourite spots in them.
Surely I didn’t go scouting for subjects to sketch on Purvis Street again? Yes I did! I am that predictable. Killiney Kopitiam along with another sketch made the cut for the first book. I have scores of good memories at this kopitiam and also wrote an anecdote to go along with the sketch, which I think is with the editor. However, here’s the sketch :
For the neighbourhoods book, I didn’t have to think much. Belly rumbles shot the idea straight to the brain one day. Indian Palace, a hole in the wall eatery in Newton Food Centre is on my speed dial. They are at a 10 mins (Okay, 6 minutes when I’m really hungry) walk from my home and I’ve pigged out on their aloo paratha and chicken tikka countless times. While sketching their stall, the gentle owner, his wife and daughter in matching orange T-shirts with the name of their shop printed at the back, came up to check what I was up to.
The curtain of business formality vanished as soon as they met a fellow Bengali from Kolkata. What are the chances! Within minutes, I was listening to their life story of struggle, survival and success in Singapore, while sipping lime juice and vigorously scratching lines on my sketchbook.
Indian Palace’s portly matron took it upon herself to dispense neighbourly advice to me, that ranged from shifting to a low rental apartment to becoming a Permanent Resident. “Otherwise what’s the point in moving to a foreign country?” she said. Apparently I wasn’t scrimping and saving enough to justify my life out of India.
In exchange for her tips, she implored me to find a husband for her daughter. “I don’t care if he’s poor or less educated, I want a guy who’d be willing to immigrate from India and settle here with my daughter”, she demanded as if I could furnish him from my rucksack as soon as she filled out the withdrawal slip. “We’d be giving him a better life! Think of that.” Apparently her elder daughter is happily married to ‘such’ a guy. Discomfited by the sudden matchmaking role thrust upon me, I squirmed and stuttered, while she dunked her biscuit in the tea. “Doesn’t your husband have unmarried friends back home?”
As I was about to leave, I asked her why insist on importing when you could go local. Didn’t she care about carbon footprint at all? “You know…the ones here”. I didn’t know, really. “Some of them gamble and drink and..(long pause)..have girlfriends”, she’d lowered her voice to a whisper. It was an eventful afternoon.