“Meeting at the Bank of Yamuna”
Meeting on the Bank of Yamuna, 1986, Watercolour

During his walks through the winding by-lanes of Vrindavan Mumbiram became friends with a householder, named Shankar Pahilwan, who ran a chai-shop in the Athkhamba area in the old bazaar. Shankar Pahilwan had discovered and ‘inherited’ a hut on the sandy banks of the Yamuna. It had become a meeting place for independent seekers to commune and meditate. Mumbiram would spend long quiet afternoons in this hut reading and making sketches.

A Maharashtra devotee named Gaikwad was a frequent visitor. He sang devotional songs while playing tabla rhythms on the floor. Gaikwad nearly never talked otherwise. You would have called him eccentric. Nobody cared to nor did know much about him.

Artist Mumbiram found Gaikwad fascinating. He was a dark man with a lean but strong face with chiselled facial features. These attributes do not fit in the Indian stereotypes of male handsomeness. These are expected to be found in the lower caste working class men. In India a handsome man is expected to be well-fed and well-protected from the sun. But that was no ordinary place. It was the same manifest Vraja where Krishna appeared on our planet. It was the leela-sthali where Krishna Ghanashyam of the complexion like a dark blue cloud  charmed everything and everyone with his handsome looks. It was bank of the Yamuna and it was association of devotees.

One afternoon Mumbiram began to make a miniature sketch of Gaikwad soon after Gaikwad arrived and took his usual singing position. Gaikwad did not mind. Before long Mumbiram had coloured it and completed it with great alacrity and aplomb.

The expression of his eyes is captivating.
The expression of his eyes is captivating.

The details of his face have been captured with the great ease on that long hot afternoon. The expression in his eyes is captivating. His slightly open mouth and stubbly beard are extraordinary detail that are presented with great awe and rverence. They surely conjure the magic such as can turn the ordinary and humdrum into the unforgettable and eternal. Everything else is left almost blank. Only a near invisible line is seen that defines his simple white attire that consists of a ‘kopri’ and a kneelength loincloth.

Mumbiram used a single fine tipped brush to make this remarkable portrait of the illusive Gaikwad. The great wonderful detail that is captured in the face shows how precious the artist thought every nuance was. Yet it appears so effortless, so proportionate so graceful. The high facial bones and the sunken cheeks are so lovingly manifested. The sparkle in his dark eyes appears to be coming from another world. But zoom in. Do you see the head of the artist reflected there ? His nostrils are delicate but so are his earlobes. Yet there is more. His slightly parted delicate lips reveal a set of very ‘well-designed’ set of white teeth. The stubble of his beard is sparkling white. It betrays Gaikwad’s age but it also exposes the artist’s consummate perception and skill. All this would have been enough for a standing ovation. But how can one not mention Gaikwad’s Henna-coloured crown ? The man has a full head of hair which he has swept all back exposing a hairline that nicely shapes his forehead. Mumbiram’s brushwork has captured all that mighty eloquently.

On hot summer afternoons Gaikwad used to wear ‘kopri’ vests made out of white cotton and a white cotton loin cloth wrapped round the waist with folds tucked in. (This happened to be also Mumbiram’s personal choice of attire.) All this is captured with a nearly invisible pencil line. Besides his head we only see a sturdy neck and the side of his left upper arm that is of an indescribable hue.

Mumbiram’s paintings were never made as illustrations to scriptural episodes. They arose from his own life experiences. A life dedicated to the aesthetic ideal and a sincere longing to connect with one’s own original spiritual identity. That is why his paintings have an unmistakable déjà vu quality that reminds you of a scriptural personality or episode.