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The Mural Project 3

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on June 21, 2021

IMAGE: MANJULA PADMANABHAN

The week begins with a journey: My sister collects me from Elsewhere in her beautiful silver grey chariot and sweeps me away to her home in Hartford, Connecticut.

I spend 10 days surrounded by tall trees and hungry birds. My sister’s bird-feeder looks like a popular restaurant on the first day after pandemic distancing rules have been relaxed! Recently a local black bear decided to pay a visit too. It has a tag in its ear and looks friendly, but of course human-bear interactions usually do not end well. So the bird feeder is now filled with fiery-red birdseed, enhanced by chilli powder! The birds can’t taste the difference but mammals won’t touch it.

My shingles attack has settled down and the blisters have mostly faded away. However, I’ve been left with a very annoying after-effect: A sensation of phantom ants running about in my left eyebrow and up into my scalp. These effects are confined to the left side of my head because the shingles tends to follow a single nerve-pathway, along one side of the body. Confusingly enough, the surface of my skin is slightly numb. So the wretched ants are not only tickling and occasionally biting, but I can never brush them away.

It’s difficult to stay calm with armies of invisible creatures marching about one’s own head! Fortunately, there are some wonderful distractions at my sister’s house. During my stay, we watch two TV series: Mare Of Easttown and Charles Dickens’s Bleak House. They’re both, in their extremely different ways, about the social chains that keep women bound up and frantic to break free. Kate Winslet stars in the first one, Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlock in the second. My sister and I watch these stirring dramas at night, with cookies and ice cream to help us face the tragedies.

Meanwhile, at a distance, I keep track of the Mural Project back in Elsewhere. The other two paintings are now complete. I’ve seen photographs and they look frankly gorgeous. The three of us have all chosen marine subjects: Elsewhere is after all by the sea and famous for its seafood. So we’ve called the three-piece mural “Found At The Reservoir”.

By the time I return, the separate panels have gone up and been taken down again a couple of times. To begin with, adjustments were needed to accommodate the names of other residents in the building. That signboard shares the front panel with one of the murals. Then, though we sealed the painted surfaces of the plywood panels with polyurethane, we forgot to seal up the backs! The other members of our team have done that in my absence.

Next, one of our members has a close encounter with wasps and barbed wire! But he’s apparently indestructible! And incredibly focused. This weekend, the panels go up. We’re expecting a bit of fanfare and press attention. We’ll pose for a couple of selfies. Then it’ll be time to move on to new paintings, adventures and challenges.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this column

Published on June 21, 2021

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