At the age of two, Siddharth Muraly Nair suddenly fell silent. He stopped talking. Seeing him drooling at one end of his mouth and his muscle power weakening, his anxious parents rushed him to doctors who duly diagnosed him with Asperger’s Syndrome — a medical condition which makes it difficult for an individual to engage in socialising and meaningful conversations.
“I wanted him to say something. He wouldn’t say if he is hungry or even if he is in pain,” Nair’s mother, Jayashree, who practises as a pathologist at a private hospital here, told the Indian Express.“But he used to feel happy when he saw colours. He couldn’t distinguish between morning and night. So I used to paint them for him and then he would understand,” she added.
It was Jayashree’s hand-holding through the world of colours and images that rekindled the same in Nair. He began painting, using pencils and acrylic and watercolours, replicating what he saw at home, at school, at his grandparents’ home and the places he visited, onto the white canvas. By the time he reached the eighth grade, his father said, Nair’s teachers recognised the artist in him and compelled him to devote more time to the art. His speaking skills, though restrained by Asperger’s, had improved as well.
This week, the young painter’s delightful artwork is gracing the walls of the prestigious Durbar Hall Art Gallery in Kochi in an exhibition being held during January 3-7. On Friday evening, as Nair dressed in a red shirt neatly tucked into his black pants, shyly posed for photographers, his parents seemed upbeat. For them, the exhibition is a milestone in their son’s familiarity with art and the manner in which he chooses to visualise his memories through the paintings.
The acrylic paintings and the tiny innocent side-notes attached to them are, in many ways, a virtual glimpse into Nair’s memories. In one, he draws a young lady holding a baby and looking into a mirror, likening it to his memory of him and his mother. In another, he paints himself as a young boy staring at a lake full of swans. The note attached says, “We lived in a place called Nyon in Switzerland. There was a big lake there and it often had swans swimming. I used to play in the water too, in the summer.”
Nair’s troubles with words also comes across in another painting which shows him sitting on the porch of his grandfather’s house with an umbrella, paper boats floating in front of him. Colourful silhouettes of people at the side can also be seen. The attached note, evoking nostalgia in many ways, read, “I always used to sit alone and play. It is not that I didn’t want to play with other children, My language was a block, and other children often did not understand me. So I was left alone. Here in the rain, paper boats glide in front of my mom’s parents’ home. Rain, grandfather and umbrella again were a lovely combination in childhood.”
Jayashree says Nair never paints at a single stretch, always starting with something and then working on it for several weeks. Now a class 11 student at a private school in Thripunithura, Nair loves to cook and often tries out some dishes at home. In 2016, he scored 7.7 in the CBSE examination, learning subjects like English, French, Maths and Science. Ask him his favourite painting among the lot, he gleefully says, ‘Thrikkakarappan” and points his finger towards one. The painting portrays an afternoon during the festival of Onam when his grandfather, at his insistence, made him a pyramid-shaped clay idol of Thrikkakarappan, worshipped during the festival.
Like many others at the exhibition, the artwork, a perfect postcard from a Malayali boy’s childhood, is a window into Nair’s mind. He may have trouble with words, but his art compensates for it.