M. Pologanathan turns the sights of India into stories on canvas

  • People
  • Thursday, 06 Nov 2014

Xxxx: Pologanathan’s Fighting Bulls And A Referee.

A retiree demonstrates that creativity has no age limit.

Nothing escaped M. Pologanathan’s keen eye as he travelled extensively throughout India. The retired piping designer captured the fascinating streetscapes and colourful rural scenes in his oil paintings and colour pencil sketches.

As buses or trains wound through verdant fields in the countryside, Pologanathan, 60, caught fleeting images of grazing cows and goats.

In a village near Tiruchirappalli (or Trichy) in Tamil Nadu, Pologanathan witnessed a dog barking at bulls fighting, hence his painting, Fighting Bulls And A Referee. He also sketched a man walking beside his two cows (My Pride And Joy), perhaps after some contract work to transport goods or plough the land.

Sometimes Pologanathan trained his camera on poignant scenes of how the poor lived and eked out a living. He came away with haunting memories of a boy squatting outside a temple, coaxing sweet strains from a traditional musical instrument in return for a few rupees from the kind-hearted. In the painting, My No.1 Fan, Pologanathan painted a little bird (the fan) which seemed to appreciate the melodious music produced by the lad.

It was heart-rending for him to stare at poverty in the streets: beggars in tattered clothes and children running after tourists to beg for money.

Just when Pologanathan took pity on a beggar who seemed all alone, he was surprised to find that the man had an unlikely companion – a puppy. It was probably his only friend and loyal companion.

Though he did not take any photos of the street beggars as it would offend them, he could not shake off the image of the old beggar.

My No.1 Fan tells the story of a boy who squatted outside a temple, playing a traditional musical instrument in hopes of getting alms from passers-by. The little bird is his No.1 fan.
“While passing by Jaipur (the capital of Rajasthan in northern India), I was captivated by the beautiful door of a palace. There were many peacocks in the vicinity,” said Pologanathan.

When he returned to Malaysia, he decided to paint the beggar. But he replaced the sackcloth over the beggar’s shoulders with a piece of dark blue cloth. And in place of the puppy, Pologanathan drew a dog with doleful eyes, leaning on its master. In the painting, The Beggar And His Loyal Companion, the beggar is depicted sitting on the stairs in front of a typical rundown house in India. A pigeon takes delight and roosts in a little nook it calls home.

Amidst the poverty, Pologa-nathan’s travels also offered him glimpses of India’s glorious past: majestic palaces and magnificent houses of the rich. Sometimes the fascades were intact and well preserved, sometimes they were decrepit.

He was inspired to import elements of what he saw to create Palace Door, a painting that captures the ornate carvings of master craftsmen during the glory days of the maharajas. He even included the strolling peacocks he saw that day.

Pologanathan also sketches rural life. There is a colour pencil sketch of a village woman and child huddled together; on her head is balanced the tool of her trade.

He explained: “She went around the village looking for work. For a small fee, she would separate husks and other impurities from rice.”

Morning Has Broken depicts a rural scene of grazing cattle, with the Taj Mahal seen faintly on the top right corner.
Peacocks And A Jungle Fowl is based on what Pologanathan witnessed at a temple in Brickfields when he gave away his jungle fowl.

On his travels to Delhi, Chennai, Mysore, Hyderabad and Bangalore, Pologanathan was captivated by the sights, sounds and smells of these teeming, vibrant cities.

“In some places, photography is disallowed. Hindu temples are a treasure trove of images of different deities in the Hindu pantheon.

“I saw magnificent statues of deities but I was not able to take any photos,” Pologanathan lamented.

He was awed by the statue of Ganesha at a temple in Halebidu in the state of Karnataka in southwest India. When he returned to Malaysia, he saw a photograph of the statue in a magazine while at the Indian Cultural Centre in Kuala Lumpur. Pologanathan wasted no time, and started work on a large oil painting titled Lord Ganesha. He took three months to complete this masterpiece, a three-dimensional depiction of the deity carved out of granite. He added a column on one side of the painting to hide a disintegrating wall; on the bottom left, he painted a little rodent.

“The mouse is a vehicle of Ganesha,” said Pologanathan, a Hindu. Ganesha, he explained, is the main deity worshipped by the Hindus.

The mythical Two-Headed Elephant is a painting based on a life-size statue at a temple in New Delhi. Pologanathan visited this temple in 2010.

Radha And Krishna And Friend is a painting of two Hindu deities, Radha and Krishna.

“It was based on a very old Deepavali card which I received

when I was 12 or 13,” he explained.

Feast Of Berries shows different birds having their pick of berries.
The Duel is about two birds engaged in a fight.

On the home front, Pologanathan has transferred his experiences onto canvas.

“Many years back, I gave a jungle fowl to a temple in Scott Road, Brickfields, after its mate died. When the caretaker released it on the temple grounds, a pair of territorial peacocks proved too menacing for the fowl. The bird was duly moved out of harm’s way,” said Pologanathan, who related the story behind his painting, Peacocks And The Jungle Fowl. The last he checked, the jungle fowl had escaped and its fate is unknown.

Pologanathan has done portraits of famous people like Mahatma Gandhi, Shirdi Sai Baba, Ramana Maharshi, Ravi Shankar and Rabindranath Tagore.

His eye for detail can be attributed to his training as a piping designer. “But design work can be stressful,” he said. “It involved a lot of fine details, exact measurements and high level of accuracy.”

An oil on canvas of Sri Anandamayi Ma.
A colour pencil sketch of Ravi Shankar.
Little Village Girl is a colour pencil sketch.


The first few years after his retirement in 2009, Pologanathan took on freelance design work. He had lots of time on his hands, and decided to travel extensively throughout India, the land of his forefathers. The colours of India awakened the artist in him which sought expression on canvas. Within the last three years, Pologanathan has produced over 40 pieces of artwork.

Painting and drawing was something Pologanathan loved during his school days.

“My father would buy art materials to encourage me in my creative pursuit,” said Pologanathan, who reminisced that his artworks would always get pinned up in class.

Sadly, he had to put aside his leisurely pursuits to meet the challenges of a demanding career. But after retirement, he returned to his brushes and easel to fill up his time.

“I find peace of mind when I paint. I feel very happy to create something,” said the father of two adult children.

“Art gives me the freedom to express myself. I want to express what inspires me, and paint what I like. My artworks are soothing for the eyes.”

Unforgettable memories form the theme of his paintings. He wants to capture these indelible moments and tell his stories on canvas. That is his legacy.

Pologanathan’s Fighting Bulls And A Referee.

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