Painting a bright future
I left for Bahrain to work as a caregiver in 2007, and it was only five years later that I revisited my passion for art.
Ever since I was a young boy back home in Nepal, I used to love drawing. I did not go to a school that encouraged arts and craft, but I would often find myself doodling pictures of flowers, or doing calligraphy whenever I got a chance in my personal time.
It made me feel good to make these drawings, and as I grew up my passion for artwork increased. I was not able to give it the time I wanted because life and responsibilities took over.
For the first five years after arriving in Bahrain, I was not able to devote much time to painting because I did not have time and my work was demanding. But once I started getting comfortable with my job and my employer, I could start taking out time for it.
Now in retrospect, it is as if the stars aligned to make sure the artist that was always in me was allowed to blossom, even though I had to leave Nepal for a job overseas.
As fate would have it, my employer happened to be an accomplished artist. What were the odds? It was providence. I admire his paintings a lot, and he is a genius who inspired me deeply. Having lived with him for over 15 years now, I have greatly benefited from his mentorship.
Read the previous installments of Diaspora Diaries here.
From the very outset, when my employer noticed I had a talent for drawing, he encouraged me and was generous with his time and guidance. He gives me constant feedback and buys me art supplies.
I stick to pencil drawings because my work does not lend itself to oil. I have to take care of my employer all the time, and oil painting can be messy. The colour mixes can dry up in the palette if I do not take care of it for too long, and I would not feel good wasting paint. So I stick to pencil art which I quite enjoy. After 300-400 portraits, I think I have got better at it.
The nature of my work also allowed me to spend endless hours drawing. My employer had a stroke that has paralysed him, so needs assistance throughout the day and night. But there are long hours when he is resting or sleeping when I have to be nearby looking out for him, but do not have any real work to do.
And that is the time I spend making portraits of loved ones, and of strangers I admire. Each portrait can take anywhere between 5 to 15 hours, and I lose myself in the work during that time. It is therapeutic, to just forget the world and disappear in my own creative space.
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When I eventually return to Nepal, I want to take up art professionally as a full time engagement, and am grateful for the years in Bahrain where I was given the space to hone my skills, and have a mentor who encouraged me to keep at it.
Taking care of the same person for years, especially when the family treats me like their own, has meant I have become rather fond of my employer. He is now 81. We tell each other stories of our vastly different backgrounds. He talks fondly of his childhood. He used to be a football player when he was young and loves to show me the scars in his knee from the time he hurt himself while playing.
But he is not always cheerful, especially when he has to come to terms with his current reality. For someone as accomplished as him who has lived a successful life with a loving family, an artist who has made phenomenal oil paintings but can no longer paint, an engineer who is stuck in his wheelchair, he is often despondent.
When he is especially down, he talks about how this is the end for him, how things will only get worse from here on, and that he is just waiting to die.
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Over the past 15 years, I have grown rather attached to my employer. When I refer to myself as his servant, he scolds me, and calls me his “son”. We have our disagreements, of course, and days when things do not go too well.
But that is the nature of all jobs, we all have our grievances and things could always be better. But I know that I have it fairly easy compared to many other Nepali workers, especially when they have to work in families that are not very nice to them.
Besides, my pay is fairly good and this has enabled me to build a house back in Nepal, and improve my family’s living standard. But most importantly, I have grown as an artist.
On his 80th birthday, I drew a portrait of my employer (pictured below). It took me 15 hours to do it, and it was a surprise gift. I asked his wife to help me frame it. When I gifted it to him, he was gleaming with happiness and hugged me.
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I am flying back to Bahrain after a two month leave in Nepal. I think this will be the last time I renew my contract. But I say that every time, and I extend my contract two more years. Whenever I have thought of returning home for good and he asks me to stay on, and I oblige.
There are of course practical reasons, including having this stable job with a good employer who is almost a father figure that makes me want to stay on. But there is also the attachment and the sense of responsibility I feel towards him after taking care of him for so many years.
I cannot just quit and leave when he is so fragile and dependent on me. How could I?
Translated from a conversation in Nepali. Diaspora Diaries is a regular column in Nepali Times providing a platform for Nepalis to share their experiences of living, working, studying abroad. Authentic and original entries can be sent to [email protected]