Drawing The Veil

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We wait for Gopal to bring chai.

He is taking a long time and we begin to suspect that although he came up to the office to take the order, he has now in fact left for the day. (This turns out to be right.)

I am in the meantime feeling down about faces. I like to draw faces. I do not do it terribly well.

I’m okay with little children. With children, it’s usually good enough to just draw sweetness–simple lines.

Adults are more difficult. The lines are creased.

I had thought I might be able to do teens–no wrinkles–which is why I started up on the Muslim girls in the car. Here’s what happened:

There is traffic and the one squeezed a seat away has taken my picture – for some reason, Indians like to have photos of Westerners– and so I take out my notebook and start to draw her. She is the girl in the burkha, a very pretty sweet girl. (It is not a classic burkha, but a cloak with a tight black head covering and a veil over her face.) I figure that will be simple, if a bit strange,

It is not so simple though. I haven’t drawn anything but cartoons (i.e. elephants) for a while, and when you are actually drawing a person, you want to show at least some aspect of them, something that they will recognize as themselves. Which, in the case of this girl meant it almost all had to be captured with the eyes.

Well, she has slight circles showing under the eyes, so I get them too. And the individualized hairs of brows and lashes.

But it is so difficult. My vision is not good (so many excuses!)–I cannot see the page well. Finally, I take off my glasses, which seems to help–the shape of the veil covering her head is also surprisingly hard. Hair can be drawn quite gesturally, but this has to be more accurate- she has a very slender scalp I check the closure – the way the veil that covers her nose and mouth laps over the head veil.

She is pleased. I tear off the page and give it to her and she is very pleased. She does not seem to think that the idea of a portrait in veil was odd, and now her friend, who sits just beside me, wears blue and not the hot black, and is not veiled, looks expectantly, and traffic still sluggish, so I begin again, making all kinds of excuses that they do not understand about how bad my drawing is, especially in the jerking car.

I make these in part because I can tell from the start that she will be more difficult. To me, the most important part of amateur portraiture aside from capturing some aspect of the face, is that you make the person look pretty. (Honestly, I think prettiness is probably even more important.) This girl is pretty, but she has bigger features (well, features), and it is hard for an amateur like me to capture the idiosyncrasies but maintain the strong prettiness.

I erase as much as I draw–it is surprisingly hard to do her nose stud in a way that does not look like some weird extra nostril or pimple.

But I get something down and she too is pleased, and now we have arrived, and I turn to the third girl, in black burkha but with her veil down (face showing), and I imagine that she looks disappointed–we are on a rough dirt street, sandy, brick and trash strewn, and we say goodbye, and I offer to do hers, I would be happy to try standing here in the street, but I know they cannot understand my English, and my portraits are so bad, I hate to make a big deal of it –so we say goodbye, walk on around the corner, go up to the office – they are on their way home.

To get to the office, we have to go through another building, onto a dirt alley, and then up an external stairwell. On one side of the stairs is a a view over a Hindu Temple; it is jammed into very narrow space beside some poor shanty-type shacks, charpoys (crude cots) on the dirt alley, where extremely poor people, naked babies, sit or lie down at the end of this hot day. Just next to this alley is the overpass of a large bridge that goes over an expanse of river, mainly dried up right now, the strands of remaining water deep green, the dried silt bed littered with garbage that people seem to pick through or pick their way through.

As we get upstairs to the office (where now we wait for tea), I look down the stairwell – it is open to the world – the alley, the bridge, the jam of temple, and there see the three muslim girls just across, on the concrete overpass of the bridge, beside the whizz and honk of traffic. They are standing there, on a part of the overpass opposite our stairs, clearly waiting for us to look down to them; they all three wear their black veils now, head and face coverings —even the girl who does not wear black, whose face I drew in full, and the girl I missed, the one I still regret, who wore the tight head veil but not the face covering.

I wave at them. They wave back. I imagine that they smile. Their eyes smile.

(I took a photo of the three girls, but two of them did not have their faces covered and although my daughter does not think that their photos would ever been seen, I feel worried to show their faces online, so have cropped the picture only to show the one girl who always kept on her veil. These girls are among the group studying computer at SEWA, the Self-Employed Women’s Association. I rode in a car with them from the SEWA poetry reading, which they also attended.)

PS — thanks so much to you all who read these posts. I’m sorry that I don’t have much time to edit – i.e. shorten, and haven’t written poetry, and tried working on novel. I really appreciate your stopping by though. It means a great deal to me to have someone to write to. K.

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9 Comments on “Drawing The Veil”

  1. janehewey Says:

    I’d enjoy seeing some of your portrait drawings, karin.

    Chai sounds wonderful right about now.
    jane

  2. claudia Says:

    so enjoying your written portraits k.. and love me some good indian chai..hmmm

  3. grammalynn Says:

    Just describing the daily minutiae of a culture so alien to my own is poetry to my eyes. It makes me wonder how you would write / draw the culture of the hands (the Deaf)? Keep it up! I feel as if I’m with you too along with my own lousy eyesight! L.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks so much, Lynn. You know the deaf have this unbelievable ballet/modern dance with their hands that would be marvelous to write about. (Maybe someday.). I so appreciate your kind comment. K.


  4. k. this is such an enthralling write ~ so good to see people from another land described with such care and respect.

  5. hedgewitch Says:

    So much of traveling is like this–we never seem to extrapolate it to our ‘home’ selves though–there is a wonderful openness going on, to experience and to examine and touch all the differences that seem stark and amazing and unique–to me reading anyway. I think the separation from our normal cocoons of friends and habits makes us so much more interested and open to others–just another reason why traveling is the bomb. And whether your drawings are works of art or not, they are meaningful in the context in which you made them, perhaps more so than the ‘best’ one you ever thought you did. Thanks for sharing your trip, k–I’m really enjoying it.

  6. ds Says:

    I love what you’ve been writing–and your attempts at drawing those girls. It takes a special kind of traveller to see beneath the surface of her destination, and you are clearly that type of traveller. Visitor I should say; will read every word.


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