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Poet Indiran is multifaceted. He is an art critic, translator, painter and documentary filmmaker. He writes in English as well as Tamil. Originally from Puducherry, he lives in Chennai with his family.

In 2000, when the Thiruvalluvar statue was inaugurated in Kanniyakumari, Indiran gathered 133 paintings and exhibited them there: 133 paintings for 133 chapters of the Thirukkural written by Thiruvalluvar. Invited by the British Council in India, Indiran studied Indian art works in London museums. He has given up copyright claims for his published poetry collection called Prabanchathin Samayal Kurippu Puthagam (The cook book of the universe), adding it to the Creative Commons (a system that allows you to legally use “some rights reserved” music, movies, images, and other content — all for free).

He has translated the works of Odiya poet Manorama Biswal Mohapatra into Tamil and titled it, Paraivagal Oruvelai Thoongi Poyirukkalam (The birds may have gone to sleep).

In 2012, Indiran was honored with a Sahitya Akademi award for his translations.

Painting should be taught like how mathematics is taught. Proper training should be given on how to handle the pencil, crayon, paper, brush and so on. Children have imagination and experience. They will naturally create good paintings if they are taught properly.

This multifaceted artiste is known to be blunt and honest about what restricts human development. He talks about children’s literature and painting to inmathi.com. Below are excerpts from the interview.

What is the status of children’s literature in Tamil?

Where is children’s literature in Tamil Nadu? We have to say that it doesn’t exist today.

You have made a mark because of your literary interests and vast reading. Please tell us about your formative years.

I was 10 years old then. My relative was a librarian in the village called Kombattam in Puducherry. He would take me to the library on his bicycle during my holidays. I used to read whatever would interest me. Among the books I read were those of Kalvi Gopalakrishnan. They were an eye-opener for me and a window to the world.

There was a book by him called Parakkum Paappa (The Flying Doll). It’s etched in my memory. The story is about a baby who suddenly gets the power to fly. The baby flies to many countries and recounts the news from those countries. Another book was Erumbu Ulagam (World of ants). The book portrayed the lives of ants, their food-gathering methods, self-protection, community living and their cautious approach. The knowledge I got from those books elevated me.

Isn’t it necessary to teach painting to children?

The famous painter Picasso once said, “Children are born as painters. As they grow up, they lose their ability.” It would be enough to just kindle their talent. They will create good paintings.

How is painting taught in European countries?

I remember what I saw at the Victoria Memorial Museum in London. There was a wall on which famous painters had drawn big paintings. There were benches in front of the wall on which some school students were sitting. A teacher was explaining the basics of the paintings. The type of the painting and the biodata of the painter were explained to the students by the teacher like a story. The students were keenly interested. They did not get distracted at all even for a moment. That is one type of teaching. We don’t see such things anywhere here.

Isn’t training necessary to create great paintings?

Yes. How that training should happen is important. Painting should be taught like how mathematics is taught. Proper training should be given on how to handle the pencil, crayon, paper, brush and so on. Children have imagination and experience. They will naturally create good paintings if they are taught properly.

Famous painter Van Gogh was affected by depression. I had an opportunity to attend a training class on Van Gogh’s painting at the London Museum. They explained under what circumstances his paintings were made. They subtly explained how Van Gogh was afflicted with depression when he drew those paintings.

In Tamil Nadu, there is very little intellectual integrity, which is a prerequisite for people who create works of art and literature. If intellectual integrity is compromised, then one’s own standing is affected. That person starts compromising on everything. We cannot expect good works from such people.

The painting of a Cypress tree is one of Van Gogh’s famous works. As he took in the growth of the tree and drew it on canvas, it helped him overcome depression. Such aspects should be taught.

What inspired you to take up painting?

I was studying in a government school in Kodambakkam. We had a majestic looking, dark skinned drawing master. His name was P Perumal. He was a stern teacher who was at the same time flexible as well. He asked us to draw an apple one day. Everybody drew an apple. I had drawn a fly along with an apple. He praised my painting and said I had the required skills needed in a painter. I was very encouraged by that. I started painting a lot after that.

What is the situation like for painters in Tamil Nadu?

There are many artists. But they don’t read. They don’t work together. There is a lot of competition and professional rivalry and jealousy. For that reason, their works are not very impressive. Jealousy and one-upmanship will reduce the enthusiasm for creativity. I can vouch for this from my own experience.

In Tamil Nadu, there is very little intellectual integrity, which is a prerequisite for people who create works of art and literature. If intellectual integrity is compromised, then one’s own standing is affected. That person starts compromising on everything. We cannot expect good works from such people. This is the situation in Tamil Nadu.

Is there a way to change this?

In the fine arts colleges in our state, we don’t teach art history. Ethics or taking responsibility are not taught in schools. These are very necessary for the personal growth of children. In schools, only mathematics and language are taught. We don’t teach children that we should approach things conscientiously. In law colleges, students learn about law but don’t care about social justice. There is no occasion to teach the ethical aspects. Medical students learn medicine but not about practicing medicine ethically and conscientiously.

According to the first law of the Three Laws of Robotics (also known as Asimov’s Laws after science fiction writer Isaac Asimov who devised the laws), robots should be programmed never to harm humans. But here, parents think their children need to be taught only “attitude” besides academics. This only leads to a feeling of superiority among children. It doesn’t help them advance mentally.

There are so many things to change in our system. If such changes can be made, creativity will blossom in the state.


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