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Glimpses of Nilgiris

SHALINI UMACHANDRAN

M. Babu's works capture the pristine beauty of Nature


HE'S A self-taught artist, who draws his inspiration from Nature. Art has been a hobby for him — until now. M. Babu, who lives in Kotagiri in the Nilgiris, is having his first exhibition in the city at the C.P. Art Centre.

His scenes are life-like, everyday and local. Two children pose in front of a wall dressed in their traditional best while a little girl peeking from a doorway, laughs at their headdresses and costumes. A young girl tries balancing on a bar outside a cowshed, with a black and white dog and a cow as audience. Picturesque mountainside scenery and serene lakes hang next to a Nilgiri thar grazing peacefully on the mountainside, roosting migratory birds and leopards on trees.

Babu's rendering of depth and dimension is perfect and when viewed from a distance the paintings seem almost real. One can imagine oneself on the bank of the lake looking into the water and seeing the reflection of the trees of the shola forest. In another frame, an imaginary breeze lifts the shawl of one of the three Badaga elders standing near a stream. The hills seem to stretch endlessly behind them, green and brown.

"The beauty of the Nilgiris is deteriorating with too many people and too much litter. I want people to realise how magnificent the hills are and make an effort to keep them that way," says Babu.

He's painted the Upper Bhavani, Mukurthi Peak, Lamb's Rock, Rangaswamy pillar and other local landmarks.

One striking work is a black and white elephant that seems to be walking through a curtain. Another is that of an elephant in a bamboo cage. "The elephant is one of the Sri Lankan species. It's rare in India because neither the male nor the female has tusks. The elephant was injured in Kerala and crossed over to the Nilgiris where it was trapped by forest officials. It was neglected for a long time until an American stepped in to help."

The message Babu wants to convey through his art is simple — Nature needs preservation and unless you can admire it, you can't even begin to protect it. Though oil on canvas is his preferred medium, he's equally adept with ink and watercolours. Sometimes, he works straight and sometimes he photographs scenes and then heads home to paint them. "Painting was a hobby right from school. I began by making caricatures of teachers for my friends," he says. After he finished school, he joined his family's spare parts business but continued painting as a hobby. "But businesses in the Nilgiris are not doing well at present. An acquaintance from Chennai saw my paintings and said she would help me organise an exhibition. I was rather apprehensive but now that I'm here, I hope I can hold more exhibitions soon."

A painting of a leopard takes pride of place in the room — gazing down serenely yet intently from a tree. It is priced at Rs. 7,500. The rest of Babu's paintings are priced between Rs. 1,500 and Rs. 4,000. Though one may think the tags are a little steep for "an unknown artist and a beginner," the artist's talent and love for Nature come through in his attention to detail, justifying the prices. The exhibition is on till November 4, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the C.P. Art Centre, 1, Eldams Road, Alwarpet.

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