One year has elapsed on May 11th since my life-partner departed from this world. Today what I see around me are the works of art which Padmini had presented to this world. I am sure time will make correct assessment of those.

Padmini liked to live life in peace not showing much interest in the raging debates on art. The commitment that Padmini had for her creative intellect and the astonishing ease with which she could express the same had made several artists who came in touch with Padmini rather envious. Padmini did not like the eagerness which several artists showed to imitate others in the guise of experimenting. But she keenly used to note the history of the development of art from A to Z and also the new trends coming about. It is a sad reality in the case of many artists who for decades indulge in techniques alien to them and in the end fail to develop their unique personality in the world of art. In less that a decade but, Padmini could etch the mark of her personality in the world of art.

One cannot continue to be a painter if he is merely driven by the temptation to amass wealth or an irresistible eagerness to become famous. As compared to artists in other categories, painters in India face lots of problems. In chitrakala (art of painting, drawing, etc.), particularly, there are only a few who could resist external temptations and go ahead with their creativity facing all bitter experiences of life boldly. Facts being such, it is unthinkable in ordinary course for a girl like Padmini who was born in a far off village, without any tradition of art in her family to mention and against the wishes of her own family members to set pursuit of art as her aim in life and attain fruition thereof in life through her creativity. It must be particularly noted that the few women painters in India are mostly offspring of city culture.

Even before her joining Madras College of Arts, Padmini’s sketches used to be of high standard. The early sketches in charcoal and pencil were leading in structural aspects and characterization. Most of them were the drawings of persons with whom she was accustomed in daily life- village farmers, youthful virgins, little boys and girls all were the characters in her sketches.

Padmini was noticed by the art lovers first time when during the first year of her studies one of her painting was selected for an exhibition in Madras. Padmini participated in all the exhibition that followed. Including the National Exhibition in Delhi, her paintings were exhibited at Mumbai, Kolkotta, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Ernakulam etc. A ‘One-Man Show’ of her paintings was held in Madras in 1968. ‘Three Women’ was on display at the National Exhibition at Delhi in 1969. The last paining ‘Girl Flying Kite’ was displayed at an exhibition in Madras in 1969.

As in art, Padmini did not believe in ostentation in life too. Robust sincerity, simplicity and measured talk were assets which Padmini possessed in life as well as art. Padmini loved everything which were intimately associated with her land and culture. The imageries which persist all through her paintings lend proof to this. In the early works, the rural folks were picturised in their natural settings- like labourers taking some rest in the farm, girls offering prayers at the sanctum-sanctorum of the temple, boys and girls on their way to school, village beauties exuding pride of their being mothers etc. Then picturisation used to be realistic and colour combinations pleasant. This phase soon changes. Colours get deep and bright. Intensity of emotions overtake colorfulness. Forms get noticed for their emotive intensity. Lines turn more rhythmic and structure more natural. Characters increasingly shift to lonely girls, sanyasins. The wholesome beauty of her native place get reflected through out her pictures. Hills, valleys, lonely forests, nests of creepers, birds, moon, girls in their dreams etc. Padmini’s ‘sanyasins’ conveys a poetic and supernatural sensation.

Following the above yet one more deviation takes place. The influence of the attribution of abstract forms in the construction of form become evident. Meaningful symbols assume their place in the paintings. Nights form the background of several paintings which followed. Depth of nights which seem eternal, lengthening shadows, big trees with sporadic flowers on them, ‘Pambin Kavus’ brightened by red fires, villages blessed by Onam and Thiruvathiras, lovers intoxicated by love- all appeared to echo silent sorrow. Most of them remind one our old miniature paintings. Did Padmini see before her the imminent death?

This thought occasionally used to haunt and pain me while Padmini was alive. Several of her paintings created anxiety in my mind. Even the names she gave to these paintings were adding to such forebodings. For instance, she had named one painting ‘Burial Ground’ . This painting is kept at the Madras national Gallery. Black and green are the colours in this painting. Green invokes some mysterious force. Subject of the painting is a lonely girl with jasmine flowers. Another painting is titled ‘Death’ exactly! At the bottom is a dead frozen body, at the upper part is a vulture trying to fly up. This painting with black and red background is the articulation of a very strong concept. Yet another painting is ‘Yakshi’. An appearance over the waves emerging from the blue depths of sky- a horrendous apparition which invokes so much of loath. While carrying her child, Padmini happened to watch the movie based on Malayattoor Ramakrishnan’s novel ‘Yakshi’. This painting was a ready reaction to this experience.

One of the last painting is ‘Bird’. A bird which is but in her skeletons fly away to the end of its life passing across the horizon. The painting which Padmini created towards the last phase of her life is ‘Girl Flying Kite’. Astonishingly this work is totally different from all her earlier works. Was she marking a new birth? Beginning of a very pleasant day, waves which pound on the shore, sea beach in golden hue…….

As a symbol of Padmini’s everlasting desire to mother a girl child here appears the girl with a kite. Padmini wished to name her child ‘Maya’. But destiny’s designs were different; that child never made the appearance.

In our land where art criticism is still in its infancy, it would be long before Padmini’s works are assessed and categorised. Let me quote the lines of Divakara Menon, her uncle who had the major, critical and powerful role in shaping Padmini’s short life:

"My Padmini, you are in your eternal sleep in your grave located between the shrubs and bushes of bamboo in the southern corner of the Tharavad compound. Sitting here in the portico when this uncle look towards the southern side of the compound, his heart is broken. The last you gave in my hands were some jasmine flowers. I have only two drops of burning tears to present in front of your loving nature. You have done certain things for the world and one day the world will recognize you. That day your spirit will experience in all happiness. This uncle will also take part in that by attaching himself to your spirit."

(This is the memoir by famous painter and Padmini’s husband Mr. K. Damodaran published in ‘Malayala Nadu" special issue on the eve of the first anniversary of Padmini’s demise). 

Translated from Malayalam by E. Madhavan.