The rain began on Wednesday evening, no more than a couple of hours before Yusuf Arakkal's sculpture was to be unveiled on M.G. Road. To his wife Sara, being rained out meant a near-catastrophic blow - the journey, which began in 2014, had been rife with obstacles and close calls. Much to her relief, the skies cleared, mere moments before the unveiling was scheduled to begin, and the ceremony proceeded without a hitch.
"It was a miracle," Sara remarked later, incredulously, at her house on Friday afternoon. Nearly eight months after the passing of her husband, the legendary artist Yusuf Arakkal, Sara has thrown herself, heart and soul, into carrying forth his legacy, a story she recounts interspersed by occasional bouts of tears. “I took care of everything, even shopping for his clothes, he was quite picky about style! He was always immersed in his work and this was my way of giving him the space he needed.”
The sculpture had been commissioned by Biocon CMD, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, an old friend of the family, back in 2014. To Yusuf Arakkal, the project was a special one, taking him back to one of his deepest interests - aeronautics. "He was an engineer with HAL for 18 years and had the technical expertise to take on a project like this." Titled Science and Technology Takes Off, the sculpture was intended for the Visvesvaraya Museum, which was getting a facelift at the time. Arakkal would set out each week, sandwiches and a flask of coffee in tow, to Scorpion Engineering Works, where the design was being executed. The sculpture, said Sara, was finished in a little under a year, but much to their disappointment, didn't make it to the museum.
About a month ago, Sara received a phone call from Scorpion Engineering Works, which had been housing late artist Yusuf Arakkal's one-and-a-half tonne steel sculpture for nearly two years. "They were moving elsewhere and I had a week to get the sculpture out." But where? And how? Distraught, she appealed to Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw. The deadline had passed, but little progress had been made. "Kiran was busy too, but she put me in touch with Vasanth Rao of BMRCL. The rest fell into place in no time."
Six months after her husband's passing, Sara has thrown herself into putting his affairs in order and bringing unfulfilled projects to fruition. "That was what he wished for and I entered the art world only for him." Her eyes glisten, as she says softly, - "I spend all my time on this. And I'm doing it all alone."
The Christ Series came next. Yusuf Arakkal, who had a deep fascination for Jesus Christ, had hoped to donate one of his paintings to the Vatican museum. Their prospects looked bright; a team from the Vatican visited the studio in Bengaluru to look through the works and a letter of appreciation came from Pope Benedict VI. “Shortly after that, a new Pope was instated and things came to a standstill.” A month passed without a response and then six. Before they knew it, a year had gone by with no progress. “This is the project I’m working on now, because it’s what my husband wanted. I don’t know how I’m going to achieve it. All I can do is pray. God is helping me.”
“We had people from the Vatican visit to look at the series and we even received a letter from Pope Benedict VI. A new Pope was instated before the project came through and nothing happened after that. We waited a month, then six and before we knew it, a year had passed. Yusuf was very disappointed but there was nothing we could do then. Now, we’re starting from the beginning. Enquiries are being made at the Vatican now and we’re optimistic.”
A gramophone stands in one corner of the Arakkal's picturesque living room - "Yusuf's collectibles," she smiles. "He liked to play old Malayalam songs on this. And I had to listen, of course!" On the other side is a little keyboard, which belongs to her eight-year-old granddaughter. “Yusuf loved music – he was teaching himself to play the flute.” Their household help, Anthony, who has been with the family for two decades, supported this musical endeavour ardently, fishing out old tapes with songs Arakkal could learn. “Again, I was the unwitting audience,” she laughed, a burst of amusement which manages to alleviate the sadness that had crept into her eyes. “He collected pipes, too, although he had stopped smoking them!”
We pause on our way out to look at Arakkal's studio, spic and span and awash in sunlight. “I ensure it’s always clean and organised,” Sara remarked, as we stood, momentarily agape, before his Last Supper. Journalist P. Sudhakaran, is scheduled to visit too, to take a look at Orphan, a novel Yusuf Arakkal had been working on. “I think it’s a novel,” she smiled. “Yusuf didn’t tell me much about it, but we hope to have it published now.”
The list is long, but she perseveres, from publishing his writings to taking his final works across the country and helping young artists through her gallery. “I won’t stop as long as I’m alive. There are moments when I feel lost, but Yusuf always threw me into the deep end so I would learn to swim back to shore.”