Sara Hussain was not prepared for the tryst with god. Sachin Tendulkar stood mesmerised by her paintings while the painter pinched herself to see if she was dreaming.
“I am no authority on paintings. But I have never felt drawn to a painting like this in all my travels around the world,” the cricket legend told Hussain. He bought three of the paintings in her collection to adorn his house in Mumbai.
Hussain's paintings present her hometown in a different light. The Kochi harbour and the narrow alleys of Mattancherry turn into fantastical landscapes under Hussain's palette knife.
Hussain's has been an extraordinary journey. “My father died when I was just 12 years old. My mother struggled hard to raise me and my younger siblings. She worked in a prawns processing unit to support the family,” Hussain reminisced her difficult childhood.
“I loved to draw and paint from a young age but I did not dare to participate in any contests. Yet I used to draw pictures for my classmates and seniors,” she said.
Her student days were cut short by illness. As soon as she joined a pre-degree course in the Islamic College in Thrissur, she was hospitalised with an ear infection. “I had to be operated upon. I did not complete the course because I was advised not to travel. Anyway, I was more interested in art.”
She found an early admirer in her grandmother. “She liked whatever I drew. She would fetch a dried leaf and ask me to draw it. Finally I gathered the courage to tell my mother about my wish to join an art school.”
Hussain was depressed when she went to the RLV College at Tripunithura. She could not join any courses because she had not completed the pre-degree course. Then another door opened.
“My mother and grandmother were going somewhere when they spotted an ad for a private art school. They let me join the school. I had to pay Rs 100 per month as tuition fee. We struggled to raise that money and the cost for the daily bus travel. But I wanted to complete the course and get a job to support the family. I thought I could get a job as an art teacher in schools.”
Stroke of luck
Hussain's career was launched when she chanced upon Onyx Paulose, an artist and sculptor based in Kochi. “I met him 16 years ago. I used to assist him in the early days. One day, he bought me a canvas and a set of paints and brushes. I painted whatever I felt like. Those paintings were exhibited in Ernakulam in 2004. After that I started getting orders for paintings,”
Hussain started a studio of her own at Mattancherry 12 years ago. She has also put up a gallery attached to a cafe near the synagogue.
Hussain focuses on acrylic painting even though she is equally deft with water colours and oil painting. She picks her subjects from her surroundings. The streets and wharfs of Kochi and its people find their way to the paintings. “I want my paintings to be pleasing,” she said.
“I respect all religions and cultures. I have painted a lot of Ganapati figures. My works have been bought by churches. People from Italy, Britain, Germany, and Malaysia have bought my works. I feel happy when my works travel the world.”
Tendulkar was struck by the beauty of her paintings hung in the hotel he stayed during one of his visits to Kochi. “He has offered me all the help to organise an exhibition in Mumbai,” Hussain said.
Hussain has more than made up for her incomplete academic career. She has earned a B.Sc in multimedia as well as a BFA. She also intends to pursue a master's degree.