Spare some decoction for me
Words and paintings by Peeyush Sekhsaria
How did the idea of using coffee decoction for painting come about? Subconscious creative processes triggered by copious amounts of Black Baza Coffee must surely have played a role!
I think the use of ripe mulberries (shahtoot) to fill in a drawing of a beautiful, simple mud house in a remote village in Chhattisgarh first piqued my interest in natural, organic colours. The innate attraction towards creating an aromatic painting probably left a stronger impression than altruistic motivations.
I have been drawing — scratching away, really — for some decades: while on the move, stuck at stations, drawing as a way of keeping myself engaged and engaging with surroundings, more commonly described as ‘timepass’. Two Holis ago, on holiday in the lovely Vanghat wildlife lodge along the Ramganga river, I was carrying watercolors and started off with a post-swim painting. The feedback was great. Painting gave me a great sense of calm and satisfaction. So I continued, often leaving early from home on my way to office. I live and work in Delhi; Humayun’s Tomb and Lodhi Gardens can be on my route if I choose so. My painting pitstops last approximately 45 minutes.
One day I decided, for the heck of it, to carry leftover filter coffee decoction from my morning cuppa in a clean jam bottle. I can’t remember what I painted that day, but I do remember it smelled heady. For many people, me including, it was quite something to see a coffee painting. Over the next few months I painted several times with decoction, sometimes pure, sometimes with other colours and gathering some spectators in the process. I soon started carrying decoction in that jam bottle in my check-in baggage on flights. More than once, I had to explain myself to airport security. I didn’t say I use it to paint, of course!
When it was time to visit the Soliga cultivators that grew the coffee I was painting with, I wasn’t actually thinking of doing portraits. My hesitation: I hadn’t really done portraits. I had drawn a few, more caricatures than portraits, of people on the Metro sleeping away, looking away, but very rarely had I tried that of a conscious subject. I wasn’t happy with some new paper I was trying out. The reasons were aplenty. But while Arshiya brewed coffee, I decided that I had to enter the discomfort zone. I asked her if she would spare some decoction. So, a bit stressed, and with decoction in a little bottle, we headed out for some visits.
Achukkegowda has stunning silver hair and the most striking and kind features. I tried painting him while he was conversing with Arshiya. I don’t think this drawing has done any justice to him and actually doesn’t even look enough like him. He was very kind in his appreciation of this attempt and I am sure amused, though in his gentlemanly grandeur he didn’t show a wisp of it. I also realized that the decoction was turning out too light; Aeropress coffee isn’t the best watercolour and the paper wasn’t helping much.
My next attempt was Sannarangegowda, Black Baza Coffee’s right-hand man. Soft-spoken, with an easy smile and ever-present — his wiry, lavish curled jet black hair made for arresting features.
These goats caught my eye while we were chatting. They were generally hanging around, nibbling on titbits, rubbing their sides against the wall, and showing off goatees. Arshiya had fixed the decoction a bit and it had become darker, though I am sure this is not what she drinks.
I found Nanjegowda at the ATREE centre as part of a group in an animated discussion. His luscious moustache caught my eye. He gave me a beaming smile on realizing what misadventures I was creating on the side…
We walked through Ramesha’s coffee farm. We stopped at a dark green nook on the roadside and sat on a culvert. He was the only one I asked to pose. I ended up making a sad and tired expression, the thing is that I asked him to hold an expression that for 5–10 minutes, a smile is difficult. He too beamed at my misadventures.
The paintings themselves may not be much to speak of. But making them, out of the decoction from the coffee the Soliga people had grown with their own bare hands was my own little way connecting back, a mark of respect, of appreciation of gentle friendship. And the paintings smelled delicious, of course.