I went to visit him at his hermitage art cottage this morning at Boudha in Kathmandu. It took a while for my colleague and me to locate his house because he couldn’t give me proper directions-“I am a primitive man,” he said on the phone. He didn’t even know that there was a school nearby his home. How would he? Manuj Babu Mishra has not left his house for more than 20 years now.
His wife welcomed us. Wearing a red sari, she was well-groomed and her bright red lipstick stood out against her white hair. Manuj Babu stood inside the green gate, “Who’s kanchan?”
I woke up early in the morning to read through Sangeeta Thapa’s book on Manuj Babu: ‘In the Eye of the Storm’. I couldn’t think of a different angle to write an article on nor could I think of questions to ask him.
Manuj Babu showed us to his studio/study room. Load shedding was on and with all the curtains closed, it was dark inside. Adjacent to the space, is his bedroom–separated by a hand painted curtain. He doesn’t live in the main house. He sits down and sips water from a huge bottle of juice which has a long pipe attached to it. Manuj Babu suffers from diabetes and insomnia.
‘I is loss of memory,” he put in heartily as he kept on asking my fellow colleague’s name again and again.
I don’t have much to write about him because it was the experience of visiting his hermitage that made all the difference and I can’t really describe it in words.
Between a bowl of noodles and a cup of tea we talked of Goya, Chagall, Christo, Ernst, so-called modern art, politics, his nocturnal habits, ink, bamboo pens and of his children.
“Don’t think of the resemblance,” he looked up from the page lifting his eyebrows, and took a moment to replenish the ink in his reed. I had asked him to sign my book. I was fortunate that he wanted to make a sketch of me instead. It was quite an honor.
The phone rang.
“My art to me is like my shit,” he stated loud and clear for the person at the other end. I was at my wits end.
“They want me to write about art,” he said hanging up the phone. “I don’t have anything to write.”
Manuj Babu showed us his monumental sculpture of Arniko. He plans to have another one commissioned on Yalambar. I left his house inspired to draw and ashamed of not being able to commit time to drawing. I somehow found a new purpose to draw and to come back to share them with him.
I walked away happy with four handmade reed pens–a gift from Manuj Babu. “Take as many as you want, I have plenty of them.”
Besides the title of this post, my second best favorite quote of the day is: “Drawing from photographs is committing an art suicide.”