When Mr. Charles Raj took his first Art class for us in the 5th grade he announced: “Draw a line across the page to divide it into an upper half and a lower half. Paint the upper half blue and the lower half green.” It was boring, but we silently set to work and leaned our books on windowsills to dry when we were done. Having painted only houses, flowers, hills, trees and animals until then, we didn’t know what sort of Art this was.
The following week he taught us to add a herd of grazing sheep, a shepherd, clouds, a fence, and trees and a farmhouse in the distance. All the thirty paintings and thirty kids came alive! Mr. Charles taught us Art for three years, until the 7th grade. The classes were fun and the discipline rather laissez-faire, something unusual for our school.
Mr. Charles didn’t just go from classroom to classroom teaching. He had appropriated a corner of the Games Pavilion off the Field and set up an easel with a huge canvas on it. He worked at it every day and we could see his progress as we filed past on our way to various classes. It was a gorgeous seascape with waves breaking on the shore. There was a temple in the distance that made it feel like a real place, not just water. At least, I remember liking it better when he put the temple in.
One day we met a group of teachers admiring the newly-married Mrs. K’s pale lemon yellow saree outside the Staff Room. Mr. Charles had painted a beautiful pattern on it as a wedding gift, or so we gathered.
The school relied on Mr. Charles to paint things like masks and simple props for short plays to put up at Chapel. I remember how he had to paint posters of each of the twelve disciples at top speed because my sixth grade class had to hold them up and sing a special song about them at Chapel, at short notice!
I liked the way Mr. Charles made Art a part of life at school rather than just another class. I sometimes have a canvas mounted on an easel and work on it whenever I get an hour free. Painting is the fun part, even if the finished product is not spectacular. Art is something you can keep doing alongside whatever else you’re doing, as I learnt from Mr. Charles all those years ago.
(5th Sept is Teachers’ Day.)