We wanted a small landscape painting from a street artist in India, as an inexpensive reminder of our trip. It was our last day, so the pressure was on to find one. When we left our hotel in Varanasi that morning, a local tour guide was in front, waiting for a client. We asked him if he knew anywhere we could buy an inexpensive painting of the city. He said his brother was an art student in town.
By now, we were used to being sent to people’s relatives and we weren’t expecting much. When he said his brother worked at a chai shop just down the street, we were even more cautious. But, what the heck, it was our last day, and there was nothing else we had to do, so we made our way down the street, past the pilgrims bathing in the Ganges River and the “Untouchables” carrying piles of firewood for the funeral pyres.
There were two brothers at the chai shop, which was simply a table set up in the street. As we sipped the pro-offered cups of chai tea, we visited with the brothers. One of them, the older of the two, knew more English, and it was apparent that he was the “slick” one. He was dressed Western style, and his long, curly hair, sunglasses, rings, and cell phone would have fit in Los Angeles. His younger brother, Naresh, was his polar opposite: quiet, less English, and more traditionally dressed. But the younger one was also more interesting. He worked part-time at the chai shop, went to school full-time, and was studying to be an artist. He wants to design fabrics, like those used to make saris, and he whispered that his dream was to someday go to Paris to study art.
We explained to Naresh that we wanted to see some of the paintings that he had created for art class, and he agreed to get some from his locker at school and meet us back at the chai shop. When the appointed hour arrived, there was Naresh, with a small bag of his work.
He does mostly landscape pieces, in ink and water color. Many of them depict what he sees as he sits tending the makeshift chai shop — scenes of the riverbanks and the buildings of Varanasi. His work is good for a first-year student, and he likes to paint in vibrant colors: yellows, oranges, and greens. He called it “modern” art (his favorite artist is Piccaso), which is a bit of an oxymoron for this ancient city. But we liked it. We picked out 2-3 and lined them up on the table. We were leaning toward one, and he said nothing until we asked his opinion. He pointed to another similar one, which he preferred because it had more color and more work in it. We went with his choice, and he proudly wrapped it in a bag.
We asked how much he wanted for the painting. He took a deep breath and told us he would like 800 rupees (around $13). We agreed, and handed over the money. Naresh beamed! We then quietly handed him another 1,000 rupees (about $16) and told him it was “for his dream.” He was really touched, and he took our hands and wished us Namaste. Off we went to our hotel and our lives.
think about Naresh whenever we look at his painting of Varanasi.
certainly not a masterpiece, and we’re sure he will develop
skill as he continues his studies. But it reminds us of our time in
Varanasi, and it reminds us that people everywhere have hopes and
dreams. We hope he becomes a famous artist and we hope he has a good
life. But, more than anything, we hope he makes it to Paris.