Apart from collecting year after year kolam designs along the lanes of Mylapore or in Tamil villages, I like to learn drawing also. I may never become as skilled as many of the women I met but I enjoy assembling dot after dot a symmetrical canvas and join the little marks until imaginary flowers or powdered birds arise from the ground. My favorites are line kolam with double or shaded lines. Their basic structure alternate from an austere square to a wavier one. I understood that they respectively belong to two different traditions. The Shivaite kolam are strict parallel lines akin to a zen garden that is raked to represent ripples in water. The Vaishnavite ones undulate and form curly ribbons hosting flowers, fruits or birds at times with a baroque touch.

My great pleasure as soon as I reach Chennai and my hotel is to read The Hindu newspaper. One year, I came across a few lines mentioning the publication of a book on kolam. You can imagine how excited I was. Next day jumping in a rickshaw, I reach CP Ramaswami Aiyer Foundation in Alwarpet, bought the book and contacted right away, the artist Mrs Janaki Gopalan.

Her daughter to whom I had phoned previously, arranged a meeting and took me by bus to her house. At the gate, one of the most elegant Vaishnavite style kolam I had ever seen, welcomed us both. I was struck by the perfect symmetry and the translucent lightness of the lines. Pineapples and pomegranates sit on the four corners. Birds reaching out for blooming flowers connect leaf-like patterns. Curvy lines alternate with finely decorated pots. The concave square in the center appears fluffy, flimsy almost frivolous as the four lines delineating its body zigzag softly.  I had rarely seen such dexterity and artistry combined. I learnt a few designs; she drew for me with her magic hand and I am still dazzled by so much poetry and creative expression.

The book echoes her talent to create exclusive patterns and the feelings that flood her heart in the morning.

Janaki Gopalan