The paintbrush stroked the canvas with a feather’s touch. Deven carefully added the lines in the gaunt faces that crowded the developing image in front of him in the light of a dull flickering tube light. He took a step back. Yes, there was only one thing left to do. And so he switched off the tube light, sat down on the floor in front of the open window and waited for the darkness to lift.
The air was cold and silent. Nothing moved except for Deven’s long hair fluttering delicately in the occasional breeze.
He felt blank. He felt like his heart was made of stone and the rest of him was hollow. He felt like a degenerating animal. He didn’t know why he felt this way, nor why he was possessed by this feeling so frequently. But he knew this that he wanted to capture it. Imprison it on canvas, as if that would free him from its imprisonment. He and this feeling were trapped in the same cage and expressing it was the only way to liberate both of them from each other.
The picture on the canvas showed countless faces emerging from a pervading black space, all of them pale, spooky, and menacing, surrounding what looked like a floating head. The head was screaming in agony, its long unruly hair pulled tightly back by one of the white figures who was completely bald except for a tiny tuft of hair braided neatly at the back of its head, clad in a shining dhoti, wearing a thread around its trunk. The head’s light brown eyes were pinched in pain, looking up towards the sky, as if begging for release. It was Deven’s own head.
Deven stirred. The sky outside was changing. A kiss of gentle blue in the black. Deven stood up, clutching his paintbrush, ready for the moment he had been waiting for. A subtle red dot broke into the sky over the shadows of distant purple hills. The red spread diffusely, becoming stronger and fiercer as the sun grew into a perfect ball. Sparkling at the edges, the ball swelled into a fiery dark orange, glowing angrily, spilling colour onto the sleepy world outside his window. This is it, Deven thought with bated breath. A little known astronomical display was about to unfold today, in plain sight of all but hidden from undeserving eyes.
For a moment, bathing in the magnificence of its brilliant colour, the sun turned into the broiling ball of fire that it really was, imposing, violent, its awesome power laid bare for the world to behold. The sky was ablaze with the intense consuming rage of the sun. Deven’s eyes pricked as he drank the spectacle in, etching the colours in his mind.
Then, the colours settled down, all too abruptly, as if someone had diluted them with cold water, into a calm, clear morning blue.
He got to work immediately, mixing paint on an old cardboard plank, red, yellow, orange, and more red. He made bold, smooth, uninhibited curves with the twists of his wrist, layering one vivid colour over another. He struggled to keep his trembling hand steady as the overflowing energy of the moment ran through the tips of his fingers into the paintbrush. His mind thoughtless, his body tense with heat, Deven painted the groping flames of a sacrificial fire under the screaming image of his own head.
He didn’t know for how long he was at it, neither did he care. When he was done, he fell back, exhausted, exhilarated. He didn’t take another look at his creation. He neither dated nor signed it. Without waiting for the paint to dry, he grabbed the canvas and tossed it roughly in a corner, where it lay motionless, with several other orphaned paintings.
Deven stood there for a second, then walked out of the room, leaving his paint kit and everything else as it was, strewn across the table, locked the room and headed home, the same empty feeling that had erased itself completely from his mind just a while ago, slowly imprisoning him once again.