A Real Life Humorous Story — How I Became An Artist


By Mahendra Shah   

e-mail:  mahendraaruna1@gmail.com

Editor’s Note:  After earning his degree in architecture from the MS University in Vadodara, Gujarat, Mahendra Shah, migrated to the U.S. in 1974.  Mahendra, a successful entrepreneur and businessman for many years in real estate and retail businesses, is an enthusiastic contributor to the Pittsburgh Indian community. Over the years, he has recorded his humorous observations on immigrant Indians in America in more than 1500 cartoons.  He is also keenly interested in poetry, essays and paintings. His work was originally published by Pittsburgh’s Gujarati magazine and is now featured in several publications and exhibitions.

I was in the 10th grade. Our Gujarati literature class was studying Saraswatichandra, an epic four-volume text written by Govardhanram

Mahendra’s self portrait.

Madhavaram Tripathi. The story is about love, wealth, business, and family. Once a week our teacher, who was also our principal, taught one chapter at a

time. He narrated the story in such a lively fashion that you felt as if the entire scene was being played out right in front of you.

Growing up shy and somewhat reserved. I preferred to sit in the back of the classroom trying to avoid answering questions. I often wandered off into my own thoughts.

In one class the teacher began reading the story in which Saraswatichandra was going from his village to meet his fiancee in her village. He was walking through a wooded forest and ran into a poisonous snake.

As I was listening to the story unfold, my mind began to wander in its usual fashion. I began to doodle in my notebook, at first somewhat aimlessly, but then, the teacher’s words grabbed my attention. As he began describing the poisonous snake creeping closer and closer to Saraswatichandra, I started imagining and drawing the whole scene as a pencil sketch.

All other students were mesmerized by the teacher’s reading of the story. They were frozen in their seats in anticipation of what was to come next. The room was absolutely still except for me. My eyes were glued to my notebook as my fingers were busy doodling and drawing out the scene that the teacher was narrating.

Suddenly, the teacher’s eyes set on me and he noticed that unlike the other students, my attention was not fully on him. He stood from his chair and menacingly stared at me. I was frozen stiff. I was certain I was in an enormous amount of trouble. I had never been this frightened in my entire life.

He knew I was doing something in the notebook. He called me to his desk. As I rose from my chair, raising his voice, he said, “Bring your notebook too. I want to see what is so important that it drew you away from my lesson.”

I approached the teacher with my notebook and was terrified of what would come next. Immediately, he asked me to hand over the notebook and opened it to the page full of my doodles. As he looked closer and closer at my notebook, his face stiffened. I was sweating in fear. I was expecting the worst.

Several seconds passed as he riffled through all the pages. Slowly, I saw that his frown was gone.  When he finally began to talk, he showed the entire class my sketch of the story. He praised my drawings and said that they were the best narration of the story!

I felt such a sense of relief. Not only was I not in trouble, but from that day on, I was known as the “Resident Artist” of the school. I was commissioned to execute all art-related projects — posters, banners, and others — for school events.

After my education, I married and came to the United States. The responsibilities that came along with work and family made me put my art on the back burner, but I always kept doodling or sketching in my spare time.

Our children had grown and started lives of their own. Several years ago my daughter and son-in-law were visiting us. They had just moved to a city only a couple of hours from Pittsburgh.

When I returned from work in the evening, I was surprised to find my daughter exploring my art portfolio. It had been sitting in the attic for years, and I had nearly forgotten about it. In fact, we were preparing to move to a new house, and the album was meant to go into the trash pile!

My daughter asked, “Dad, would it be alright if I take a few pieces of your artwork with me?”

“Of course, you can. I was going to throw those away anyway.”

A few weeks later, we went to visit them in their new apartment. When we entered the house, to my utter surprise and delight, I saw a few of my paintings and drawings hanging nicely on the walls. They were framed aesthetically too. I was so touched. It felt wonderful to have my art appreciated again after so many years by my own children..

Her simple act of appreciating my forgotten paintings inspired me to return again to my childhood passion of being an artist.  ♣

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