Remembering Smitha

Images: K.P. Subbaiah

I can still see her, sitting by the window, a winsome lady, brushing on light strokes on the ivory paper.

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All the cars that we owned in the past. From L to R: the 1960 Morris Woody, 1932 Plymouth PB Seven Passenger Saloon, 1954 Dodge Convertible, 1947 Daimler DB18 and 1967 VW Beetle 1300.

Water colour is a difficult medium. Layers and layers of paint have to be added, each merging with the other, masking and unmasking the layer below. Manet and Monet painted thus; light strokes, the white of the canvas signifying the sunlight. The paint never pointed out anything; it only hinted at objects, the lightest of blues for shimmering water, a dab of red suggesting a flower.

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The colour combination and the choice of paint shade on our 1947 ex-Mysore Daimler DB18 was planned and supervised by Smitha. The car looks spectacular in its new colour scheme.

Smitha painted like that; except that she painted old cars. Our cars.

Smitha stood beside me, as I indulged in my passion for vintage cars.  She always chose the colours; she knew which one enhanced their body lines and how the subtle change of shades highlighted their beauty.

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The Daimler on its maiden post restoration long-distance drive to the Shivavilas Rajmahal, the palace of the Ghorpade Royal Family at Sandur.

Our 1932 Plymouth PB Seven Passenger Deluxe Sedan, gifted by my father and with our family since 2009, was originally painted maroon with black wings.  Smitha checked the colour combinations available in 1932, and zeroed in on an eye-catching original combo of cream with mustard wings and red wire wheels.  We were the cynosure of most eyes in car shows afterward.

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A hint of our Beetle, with the Vidhana Soudha, the seat of the Karnataka Government, a Neo-Dravidian structure completed in 1956.

Our 1947 Daimler DB18 was a sombre black when we bought it. Smitha suggested painting its flanks cream. At once, the car transformed from a staid and formal palace car to a sportier creature, anxious for long drives. As I contemplated it at the Shivavilas Rajmahal, following its inaugural post restoration run to Sandur, I could not but admire Smitha’s sense of design and style.

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This eye-catching colour combination chosen by Smitha for our Plymouth ensured that our car was the centre of attraction at most shows.

She lived my dream to the fullest. For a restorer, it is often an unfulfilled dream that all one’s cars are ready and running; there is always one that needs work. But there were no constraints on Smitha. She lined them up in the order that we had purchased our beauties and painted their profiles, sporting their original registration numbers.

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The winged goddess radiator ornament of the Plymouth, brought alive with this painting.

But our happiness was not forever. Struck down by a slow and debilitating illness, Smitha’s ill-health restrained her from traveling and participating in vintage car events. Brushing aside portends that she well knew as a doctor herself, the ivory paper became her solace, her escape. She supported her right wrist with her left hand, as the brush strokes became more laboured. She painted the Plymouth’s winged goddess radiator ornament, perhaps a yearning for what might have been.

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The front of the Plymouth, captured in coffee decoction by Smitha!

Smitha left us all for eternity in December last, leaving an immeasurable void. I was incredibly lucky, to live in the embrace of her unconditional love, for twenty four years.  Her last painting was that of the vibrantly shaded Plymouth, with its face turned away, parked in a verdant grove.

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Our Plymouth in Bangalore’s Cubbon Park; Smitha’s last painting.

In my mind’s eye I can see her in the gentle sunshine, painting lightly, immortalising our cars in colour even as her life ebbed away.  When I contemplate all that she has left behind for me, I am overwhelmed beyond measure.  Smitha rests in peace, but memories of her will live forever on ivory paper and dabs of paint.

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A pensive Smitha concentrating on her passion.


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