Social Short Story – Painter and the Monk
Rami was desperate to win the Painter of the year award at the annual intra-district art festival. She had been trying for last many years but her paintings failed to please the eyes of the judges. She recognized her talent, and so did others, but she had been trapped in that doomed mediocrity zone from which there was no escape. When you don’t have a talent, you know you don’t deserve to win. When you have extraordinary talent, you win. But when you are good and not extraordinary, failure will hit you hard with a stroke calledTruth. And Rami was not ready to accept that truth.
She watched Shravan in envy, as he received the award and a personal paintbrush from the famous painter, Jatin Das.
“They just don’t understand and care about true art”, consoled Rami’s friend.
“Try again next year. You deserve it more than others”, said Rami’s father.
The consolation and encouragement, although heart-warming, made Rami’s loss even more unbearable. She had been striving to be recognized at competitions, and by buyers but her artwork never saw the finish line. Her family was affluent and had arranged many art exhibitions for her, but that didn’t bring the joy Rami was seeking.
Rami didn’t understand what was amiss in her paintings. She had an inborn talent to paint. She had graduated in Fine Arts. And when it came to lines, angles, choice of colors, and story in art, she was every teacher’s favorite. Yet, her paintings never sold or won. Her paintings failed to impress her, let alone the beholders. What hurt her most was that she always lost to Shravan, her ex-classmate in college who never even made it to the top ten in class.
Rami’s success in college and close circles, and her failure in the real world, challenged her thoughts. She was too proud to lose to Shravan, more so after years of been fed with adulation. She remained distant from all artists, including Shravan. It was easier to lose and be left alone than to be surrounded by artists that once considered her the best.
After several attempts at finding inspiration, she decided to talk to a monk in town. The monk was said to know and understand everyone. Rami and her family always disbelieved and disregarded this hearsay. The monk had once foretold that Rami would grow up to be a painter. Rami’s family had scoffed at him when he made that prediction standing at their gate, ten years back.
“She will grow up to be a doctor like me; we don’t need a monk to tell us who she will be,” Rami’s father had said.
Rami had since ignored the monk’s existence in their town.
The monk saw Rami at his door and smiled, “So you are here, finally!”
“Why did you say that I would be a painter when I grow up?” aksed Rami
“Because I knew you will, you are that good”
“You were wrong. People say you know everything, but you don’t. If I am that good, why haven’t I won any competitions yet; why haven’t my paintings sold?”
“Because you are trying too hard to win. You haven’t painted from your heart yet. You need an inspiration…”
“Inspiration? Don’t even go there. I flew many places, trained with famous artistes, visited old age homes, orphanages, ocean-sides, and hills to look for an inspiration,” interrupted Rami.
“Then stop looking out and start looking within,” said the monk.
“What? Stop giving false hopes to people. I should have just pursued medicine,” said Rami and stormed out of his hut.
The monk watched Rami leave and returned to meditating.
Few weeks later, before the town cultural festival, Rami thought of the unthinkable. She requested her father to volunteer as one of the co-sponsors for the event. Her father met with the organizers and arranged for hosting all the participants and guests in the town’s guesthouse and hotels. Two days before the event, he decided to withdraw half the funds from the event, leaving the organizers spellbound. The event was 48 hours away and visitors and participants from various cities were on their way. After much deliberation and appeal, Rami’s father agreed to continue funding the event on a few conditions.
Rami, Shravan, and artists from different towns exhibited their art at the event. A winner was declared. Rami walked proudly to the altar to collect the trophy, certificate, and the prize money. To her, the applaud was all that mattered; the prize money meant nothing. She had what she wanted. Over her trophy, she noticed Shravan who was standing alone in one corner of the hall. She felt immense pride at finally winning over him. She ignored him and continued accepting compliments along her way down the hall.
As she was talking to one of the organizers, she felt a hand over her shoulder.
“Congratulations. Your paintings were beautiful,” said Shravan as he handed her a paintbrush.
“What is this?” asked Rami.
“You know what this is. You have always wanted to win this from the famous Jatin Das. I know you have valued this more than me. Today I want to congratulate you with this. I don’t have the privilege to pursue my dream. But you do. I have decided to join my father at his plumbing workshop; at least that may earn us some bread and butter. That’s my place. This is yours. Therefore this brush deserves you, not me”
Rami saw Shravan walk away. She looked at the paintbrush and instantly realized how she had lost again. This time the defeat was much more personal and had wriggled her soul. Here she was holding her life’s most prized possession, Jatin Das’ paintbrush, and yet she was pondering on how she didn’t deserve it. She wanted to run away and hide in hole where no one could find her. That day she walked for miles in thoughts, and finally arrived at the monk’s hut. She sat in a cot at the verandah waiting for the monk to see her.
“What brings you here?” asked the monk.
Rami sobbed as she looked at the brush. She said, “You know, I don’t deserve this!”
“Not yet. But looks like your inspiration has finally found you; hope you can let it guide you now,” said the monk.
Rami painted her heart out for the next one month with Jatin’s paintbrush. Only this time she painted for herself. She didn’t step out of the house, except on occassional errands to buy painting supplies. She painted like never before.
Despite insisting to keep her paintings to herself, she agreed to her father’s wishes of putting a few paintings out for sale through a prominent art dealer. A few weeks later, she received a call from the dealer.
“I have some great news. One of your paintings, that of a monk by the stream, was bought by a rich businessman. He offered way above the marked price to ensure another interested customer didn’t get it. You won’t believe what he offered. When can you come?” asked the dealer.
Rami felt the ground beneath her feet disappear. She gripped the phone, held it close to her ears in an attempt to hear the words clearly, and asked him to repeat. Her eyes were moist and her voice was heavy. “Anytime now,” said Rami.
Rami went to the art dealer’s store and collected the money after deducting the dealer’s commission. As she was about to leave, the dealer interrupted.
“Just wanted to let you know, we had another beautiful painting of a monk for sale, but the businessman wanted yours. He didn’t quite connect with the other one. He said your painting was more peaceful,” said the dealer as he pointed to another painting of a monk.
Rami stopped her tears and took a close look at the painting and saw the artist’s name. She was quiet for a moment and then spoke, “Can I buy this painting in exchange of all the money I sold mine’s for? But you would also need to do me a favor”. Baffled, but pleased, the dealer listened carefully and accepted the offer.
That day, while Shravan was helping his father at the plumbing workshop, he received a call from the dealer. “Shravan, your painting of the monk was bought by a rich businessman for fifty thousand rupees. When can you come? Hello?” Shravan listened in disbelief, dropped the phone and the sledge hammer, and started walking towards an empty canvas that had waited for days to be noticed by its master.
On the other side of the town, a monk sat by the stream, closed his eyes in meditation, and smiled peacefully under the last rays of the setting sun.