Source: Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

Art is like a drug that makes time slow down. I kept abusing it for years without knowing. Because my mind never allowed me to feel anything. Except when I painted. I am that person at the funeral who keeps doing necessary stuff, cleaning the place, lighting incense sticks, bowing down to guests. People call that person strong or cold. One night, while painting a simple landscape with three big sunflowers, I found tears running down my cheeks. My hands kept painting, but they were not in my control.

And it was okay. Landscapes never oblige you to paint what you see. If Vincent Van Gogh painted what he saw, Starry Nights would not be created. If Salvador Dali depended more on his eyes, he wouldn’t paint Persistence of Memories.

I don’t know whether it would be grammatically correct to say this, but my art was always restless. Perhaps it was my mind giving signals. I ignored it. When anybody asked how I was, I said “Good!” Slowly my hands started hiding my emotions even from my art. I started making utterly peaceful paintings and from then, my paintings became worthless. They lost everywhere. It was a bad phase, I almost gave up art. It took me… five years… to accept that my emotional suffering was real. The same day, I contacted an old artist friend on Instagram. We had practically nothing in common because of four thousand miles of distance and twenty years of age gap. I was Indian and he was German. But he was also an artist and he did not judge me. He told me that I was missing something in my life and I had every right to get it.

Art was that something...

Not that I was always missing it! Some days were very joyful. I laughed, played, doodled, made illustrations but at the end of the day, it was not art. Because it was dead. It did not speak for me. At that time, I desperately missed my Grandfather. You can argue that it is normal but how much, how long? Two years. My grief was not grief. It was a part of mental illness, of feeling useless. I had become so weak from hiding my emotions, my body ached all day.

When I lay in bed at the end of the day, I was almost crying from fatigue. Totally psychological. But, even when alone, I never actually cried. Knock-knock. That funeral person who does the necessary stuff!

My biggest weakness. Allowing others to decide what you should paint and what you should feel. Eventually, art becomes painful. Because as the artist… you can never separate the two... I am not an artist anymore because it was rather hard to peruse it professionally. And also because I was tired of how art tried to bring out the demons inside me. Everyone was afraid of me failing as an artist, so they dished out advice. I am studying to be a banker. But the fact that I am mentally ill and successfully hiding it every day is my biggest failure.

I had told Kai that I did not speak to my parents because they loved me a lot and I was ashamed of myself for missing something. My insta beeped with his reply at about 2 in the morning - ‘That’s stupid. Aren’t you much more ashamed of not knowing what you need and not asking for it? Won’t you help others? That is why we live together and not alone!’

His reply shocked me. I had got so much love from my family that my mind made it my fault when I began to suffer from mental illness. When I was thirteen, my mother must have sensed something in me because one night she confronted me, along with Dad at the kitchen table. They asked me to continue painting but not think stupid stuff… Kai’s angry outburst made me wonder if I actually deserved it. Everyone has feelings! I have seen Mom cry, Dad cry. They embrace each other, comfort each other. But I myself can’t cry… If I cried, they would have hugged me too… If.

In West Germany, it must have been 11 at night.

Kai was chronically ill and needed to rest. So I could not reply back but I kept awake most of that night, I usually did and the following day I suffered a panic attack and did not tell anyone. I just found a headache excuse to keep to the bed.

A few days after this, I noticed a photo hung on my bedroom wall. It had three big sunflowers. That night, I suddenly got out of bed and started painting it. My hands took over. They put the colors on the paper without even asking me. I would have laughed out loud if it was not 2 in the morning and everyone in my and my neighbors’ family was not asleep. Only the dogs were barking. My mind played flashes of my whole life, the happy things, the sad things, the deaths I should have cried at and did not, the funerals, necessary stuff, best friends, laughter, joy.

Then there were the tears. I did not even know there were… and there were so many of them, rolling down my cheeks. I had found myself again. And there was art. There was life.

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