Thrissur: The meandering, narrow by-lanes of Kerala’s cultural capital Thrissur seem to be an artistic creation in itself, flowing out from the city centre where the magnificent Thrissur Pooram plays out each year. One of these little lanes leads to a modest house where a teenager is at work on multiple canvases that have suddenly caught global attention.
Inside the brick-coloured house Anujath Sindhu Vinaylal, 16, has begun work on a theme that belies his age – ‘ Reclaiming the Pooram’ – which is about how the state’s biggest temple festival was lost to COVID-19 restrictions last year, and how society can together reclaim the iconic festival.
Anujath, the younger son of M.K. Vinaylal, a graphic designer known for his book cover designs, and Sindhu Vinaylal, had shown outstanding talent for painting from a very young age. By the time he was 12, he had picked up a handful of national and international awards.
In 2015, he was honoured by India’s then external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj at the India-Africa Forum summit, and the following year he won the National Child Award for Exceptional Achievement from the then president, Pranab Mukherjee.
But even those do not match what has happened over the past week: A painting he did nearly four years ago about the unsung labour that women do all day is now doing the rounds on social media across not just Kerala or India, but globally.
The ‘Mother picture’
It all began when Delhi-based Shankar’s Academy called for entries for its painting competition two years ago. Participants could send any of their recent works and Anujath’s entry for the event was what has come to be known as the ‘Mother picture’.
Struck by the popular, false notion that women hardly do any work and it is men who keep home fires burning, Anujath had drawn a painting of the numerous tasks that his mother and other rural women do through the day – from cooking to drawing water from the well, from milking the cow to tending to the home vegetable garden, from plucking papayas to hanging out clothes to dry, and many other chores.
The painting won the top prize, adding to the young painter’s pile of awards, but lurking in the background was a major personal tragedy – his mother Sindhu, a great supporter of his work, died at the age of 42, following a heart condition. She had heard of the award, but to the dismay of Anujath, his elder brother Abhyuday and their father, Sindhu passed away just before the award came home in late 2019.
Anujath, who uses acrylic on canvas, had garnered accolades from all over, but it was a social media post by his father that went viral and brought him global acclaim.
“I am not very active on social media, but I posted how Sindhu was not there to share the joy when the award came. I actually tried to hide the disappointment, but what happened was just the opposite. It went viral and so has the ‘Mother picture’ of Anujath”, Vinaylal told Gulf News.
Anujath is barely expressive in words. Instead he would rather have his brush do the talking. “I observed the multiple tasks that my mother and other women do all day, and most of it goes unrecognised. So I decided to capture it on canvas”, says Anujath.
Almost all his paintings reflect life or nature around his home, and what stands out is an entire series on goats, titled ‘My goats, their lives’.
World calling Thrissur
The ‘Mother picture’ went viral for another time this week when the world celebrated Women’s Day and the phones don’t stop ringing at Vinaylal’s home.
There are requests for Anujath’s painting from around the world, with calls coming from Brazil, Portugal, the US, Canada, Costa Rica and many more countries. Callers are willing to pay huge sums for the teenager’s paintings, but the family would rather have them contribute to a fund meant for an art tour that the family is planning across India.
With his Class 10 exams round the corner, Anujath cannot oblige his fans from around the world, and he has committed a painting only to a senior Red Cross official from Canada. But even that will have to wait until his exams are over.