Tag Archives: dippen

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dickson Road

 

in Singapore’s Little India neighbourhood is at a 10mins bus ride from my home. It has a row of slightly run down, mismatched yet beautiful shophouses which I only ‘discovered’ the other day after having lived in the vicinity for 6 years. Six years! Over a glass of lime juice bought from a hole in the wall eatery I began sketching this scene from a sunny spot all the while mulling over one question – what took me so long to find this place?

I hadn’t started sketching until recently is the answer I’m going to settle for. There are millions of things vying for our attention day after day and in our bid to process all the information bombarded at us we see everything but observe nothing. Not if you are somebody who likes to draw from life, though! You sirs and madams, single out the Mandarins on the supermarket shelf not because they are on offer but because you are wondering how much Quin Gold mixed with Cadmium red will get you that specific shade of orange.

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Shophouses on Dickson Road sketched using my fav tools – dip pen and ink

In a rare instance when you are stuck in a subway without your sketching supplies you start making invisible contour drawings with your eyes of the people in the compartment. You scrutinize the shape of their nose, the arch of their back, colour of their eyes and hair along with skin tones, postures, attires and so on. Because you have this wonderful habit of documenting what you see you’re forced to slow down and focus on your subjects and with continued practice you inculcate a keen sense of observation. When your station arrives you leave with the image of a tired construction worker carrying take-out food in a red polythene bag typical of hawker centers and a Zen mom snoozing peacefully while her toddler tries to pry her eyes open. Or something of this sort.

Sure, this kind of information doesn’t serve an immediate purpose but instead of thinking about doing laundry, calling parents, cooking dinner, checking Instagram, unclogging the kitchen sink and chasing an overdue payment all at the same time, when sketching I get to park a single thought in my mind for a prolonged period of time. It is akin to meditation with all the promised benefits but without the numb legs from sitting cross legged in lotus posture.

Since I frequent Little India so much, it is impossible to have not walked on Dickson Road before but I clearly didn’t remember it. And now that I’ve drawn it, I won’t forget it.

Tras Street

 

is where I went last weekend to join the Urban Sketchers gang which meets on the last Saturday every month at a specific location. The reason why many of us look forward to this once a month rendezvous is that not only do we get to draw as a group feeding off each other’s passion and enthusiasm for art, we also meet the wonderful artists whose works we passively admire on social media and get to peek into their sketchbooks, watch them in action, sift through their tools and at times pick their brains and receive invaluable advice and feedback.

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Shophouses on Tras Street in Tanjong Pagar drawn using dip pen and ink

Having said that, one massive downside to this otherwise uplifting event- affecting only your wallet- is that you are unfailingly smitten with a certain fountain pen, brush, crayon, pigment, sketchbook or camping chair that you find one of these artists using to get those ‘impossibly good results’ in their art, or so you think. The more you watch them using it the more needy you become so much so that you cannot imagine your life without it. You find out where it is retailed and then vamoose!

I had every plan to sketch more on Tras Street, instead I have a new water brush.