A little less bright

After three years of painting seriously, my husband suggested I show my work in a gallery. I had been painting on and off since college, but this was three years of dedicated work. A show would enable me to gauge how good my work was, where I stood, how my work was received, whether I should continue. This was a scary thought, but my husband has an endearing belief in putting yourself out there. He is not afraid. Years ago, he had been studying at the Russian Centre on Pedder Rd in Mumbai, and had become friends with the lovely people there. His decade in Russia had made him think of it as his second home. After he came back to settle in Mumbai, he was a frequent visitor to the Russian Centre. He still is, and by association, I am too. One day in 2013, on one of his visits to the Centre, he saw an exhibition of paintings up at their gallery. After some enquiries, he learnt that the gallery was let out to artists for a nominal amount, and the only condition was some of the art should have a Russian subject. Excited, he said I could hold my show there, whenever I was ready. At the time, I was also teaching art to two friends – we would paint together every Wednesday, and this had become our Wednesday Class.
I asked them if they would be interested in showing their work, to which they readily agreed. We decided on a date in late September. With some trepidation, I asked another friend to help me choose the work I would display, and to price it. He brought along another friend who had some experience in art, and the response was positive. Preparations were made. I had been in Mumbai for five years now, and am not a very social person, but thanks to my outgoing and friendly husband, we knew a fair amount of people. The show was scheduled for ten days, opening on a Friday evening. Apparently, this was the time frame for every show held in the Russian Centre. The three of us made our invitee lists, and arranged for the food and drink on opening night. Because it was a Russian venue, the range of drinks was expected to be good. I am not a regular drinker, and my husband is a teetotaller, so we left the choice of alcohol to my two fellow artists and their far more suave husbands. I didn’t think too many people would turn up – everyone is busy, and Mumbai has many entertainment options on a Friday evening. On opening day, when the work was finally up, it did look quite professional. That was when I met Mr Dimentyev, the director of the Russian Centre. We had been introduced earlier, but it was on one of those busy evenings when there are too many new people to remember. Now he had the time to look around, spend some time with us before the show began. He walked around looking at the art, and came and chatted with us amiably. I was surprised by his knowledge of art, and his interest in people. He had a wonderful memory for names and faces. Slowly people started coming. To my surprise, almost everyone we had invited came. The show was going to be inaugurated by the Russian Consul General, and as time passed, we were getting worried he may have forgotten. People were eating and drinking, there was music, lots of laughter, the atmosphere was lovely. Just when we had given up on the Consul General coming, there was a commotion outside. Two huge luxury buses rolled up to the venue, and two busloads of beautifully dressed Russians got out, accompanied by the Consul General. They had all been to another event earlier, and had then gotten into their buses and driven here. The Consul General lit the lamp, made a speech, in Russian and English, and the show was declared open. By this time there was no place in the gallery, so people were standing in the passage outside. The food and drink were being consumed quickly. I learnt later that these guests had started their intake of alcohol at their earlier party, and by the time they were at our show, had become very ‘happy’. Soon both the food and wine were over. But the show looked like something out of a Paris opening night. It was beautiful and surreal. By the time everyone left and we put our feet up, it was past midnight, and the three of us with our families were tired, hungry and very happy.
The show went on for the next nine days, and we got a constant stream of friends, well wishers, genuine buyers, some walk-ins. It was an encouraging start to a career. But the real take away from that show was my friendship with Mr Dimentyev. After the show, I gifted him two paintings, which he proudly hung up in his office.
At the end of his decade in Mumbai, he was transferred to Calcutta. He carried the paintings with him and had them hung in his Calcutta office. We were sorry to see him leave, and his farewell dinner at our home was a happy evening of half-forgotten memories. We stayed in touch over the phone, and in his usual enthusiastic manner, he was planning a show of my work at the Russian Centre in Calcutta. Then Covid struck. He was mostly alone in the Russian Centre in Gorky Sadan. He had survived a massive heart attack in Mumbai four years earlier. Yesterday we learnt he didn’t survive another one. He was found by the security guard, having passed away an hour earlier. We miss him in a way we never thought possible. He was so cheerful and optimistic and in love with life, it is impossible to believe we have to erase his number from our phones now. The world is a little less bright today.

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