Interview: Anand Narayan – Banker with a Penchant for Stencil Art

Banking and art – they don’t seem to have much in common. But here is a banker who found expression for his creativity through stencil art. Meet Anand Narayan, a Mumbaikar, who lives and works in Hong Kong as Senior Trader with HSBC Asset Management. An alumnus of the St Lawrence High School, Santa Cruz, Mumbai, Anand also holds a post graduate degree from the Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies.

A Painting of Ganesha Photo courtesy: Anand Narayan

Edited excerpts from an email interview: 

Veena Narayan: I understand you were born and brought up in Mumbai. Any childhood memories that you would like to share?

Anand Narayan: Plenty of wonderful memories growing up … We were a family of four – Dad, Mom, my elder sister and me – and lived in a small 500 square foot apartment in Santa Cruz, Mumbai (it was Bombay back then) in a building called Jayvilla. Our lives were simple and the needs were basic. Having said that; I must say my father did ensure that we had a comfortable childhood.

As a kid I was always very active. Every evening, I would play with friends from my locality. Most of the games involved a lot of running, hopping, hiding etc. The later years also included lots of cricket that we played on our building terrace; and badminton too. And because of all the running and jumping we would invariably end up with bruises, cuts and skin peels …I don’t remember wearing shoes until I was a lot older …most of the other kids would also play barefoot. We didn’t have too much of TV time back then and there were just a few hours of programming by Doordarshan. Chaya Geet, Chitrahaar and Sunday movies were the only meaningful programs to watch. That meant very little screen time.

Our birthday parties were simple too. They would always be at home. We would have a few friends over and there was this cake, which would mostly be from this famous cake shop called Monginis, served with samosas and potato wafers. And for drinks we were served Rasna.

VN: And then there were the festivals …

AN: Yes! Bombay was always great for community living. We celebrated all the popular festivals including Holi, Diwali, Ganesh Chaturthi and Navratri. And these celebrations would start at least a week before the actual festival. A few weeks before Holi we boys would sneak up to our terrace with lots of water balloons and throw them on unsuspecting passers-by on the streets. Not everyone appreciated that and on many occasions we’d have these strangers kicking up a fuss, some even threatening, to come into our building and complain to the concerned people or parents. Holi day was a day when we would be drenched in coloured water and our faces smeared with powder in multiple colours. We would return home in the afternoon after playing Holi only to realize that we’d have to spend a considerable amount of time removing all the colours. The next day after Holi would be especially interesting as many of us would turn up some colourful faces thanks to the fast colours which wouldn’t wash away easily.

Anand Narayan

Diwali was all about great yummy food and bursting a lot of crackers. We would also try and salvage some of the gunpowder from the unexploded crackers and make our own fire bombs. A day after Diwali was New Year, celebrated by the North Indians especially the Gujaratis. We’d all wear new clothes and visit everyone in their houses wishing them. Most neighbours and friends would invite us over and give us yummy Diwali snacks.

VN: Any special memories of Juhu beach? I think you stayed pretty close to it.

AN: We stayed pretty close to the Juhu beach and I also remember going to the beach regularly. In fact during our summer breaks and on Sundays we’d go to the beach in the mornings and play in the water with the waves. I don’t think that’s possible these days given the rising pollution levels and the deteriorating water quality. We’d build sand castles and also hide under the sand. I remember having Bhel puri, samosas, sugarcane juice and the colourful ice golas.

I could go on …they were wonderful days.

VN: And how about school? Were you considered good in academics?

AN: As a kid I was average in studies. In fact in my later years of school my grades started dropping. I remember failing in many of my tests and exams. Luckily, I never repeated a year in school. I remember this one occasion during my grade ten when I avoided going to school on the pretext of feeling feverish. The teacher knew that it was just an excuse as I had to submit my homework and it was overdue. She also knew where I lived and she sent the peon over to get me.

VN: What were your interests as a young adult? Did these include painting?

AN: While I did enjoy painting, it wasn’t something that I would always ended up doing. We did have drawing as a subject in school, but unfortunately that didn’t really have any academic weightage. I however distinctly remember that I expressed my creativity through poems and short stories.

VN: When did you discover your interest in painting? What were the events or emotions that led up to the discovery?

AN: Painting developed as a hobby only recently. It all started with recycling old bottles. I saw a few videos on bottle art and considering all the alcohol and wine bottles that we were throwing away I thought converting them into pieces of art made sense. I even used them as bottle lamps (using these lights that we’d order from Amazon). There was one problem though. We didn’t know what to do with the painted bottles and we were running out of space. Hong Kong is a great place to live but one of the biggest disadvantages of this city is the expensive real estate. Which meant that we didn’t have enough space to store these bottles. I had to think of some other medium for my art work. That’s when I stumbled upon this technique of stencil art. It was trying to use a stencil and create outlines and then colouring them. I started off with simple and small images – but then later went on to large pieces. Initially I started with acrylic on paper and then I gradually moved on to acrylic on canvas. There was a period when I used this technique to paint pictures of some loved ones who passed away. Now I focus only on large images as they seem more fulfilling and the final outcome is extremely satisfying. My favourite theme is Buddha, although I do work on other subjects as well.

VN: Did you get any formal training? Are you planning to attend a course or do you think it is best to discover craft through trial and error?

AN: I’ve not received any formal training as this was always an activity which was pursued as a hobby. I would gift my paintings to family and friends and my work was well appreciated. More recently I’ve been contemplating joining an art course to get an understanding of latest techniques and styles. Just a few days back I visited an affordable art fair here in Hong Kong to get a perspective of what’s out there. I did come back feeling quite confident that my work was pretty presentable. I even approached an art teacher whom I know and she’s promised to come over to give her views on my work and possible suggestions on how to improve. But she also mentioned that art is very individualistic and the value of it is determined by the one who sees it. So while I am still contemplating going to an adult art school to learn the techniques and stay informed – the focus is to continue to discover myself through the process. I took up art because it was extremely satisfying. In some way it’s very therapeutic and is almost like meditation. And when people appreciate the final product that’s again very gratifying

VN: All of us have to earn our bread and butter. It’s only the lucky few who can do so with their art. The rest of us have to balance what we do for a living with what we do as a passion. How do you manage to balance these two aspects of your life?

AN: As mentioned earlier – this is an interest/ hobby and not my profession. I paint during my free time especially on weekends and holidays. And despite many who think I can make some money selling my work – that’s never been the intention or the motivation. I’ve only gifted my work to friends and family who have been appreciative of my work and have displayed it at their residence.

 For me, painting is extremely calming. It helps me relax which in turn helps coping with stress. As a trader my job comes with a lot of pressure. Art helps me ease that a bit. My goal however is to try to spend more time exploring art – but that’ll only depend on how soon I can hang up my boots as a trader. For now I’m not anywhere close.

The Buddha, one of Anand’s favourite subjects.
Photo courtesy – Anand Narayan

VN: As a follow up to the previous question: Mary Oliver, the celebrated American poet has this to say about creativity: “It learns quickly what sort of courtship it is going to be. Say you promise to be at your desk in the evening, from seven to nine. It waits, it watches. If you are reliably there, it begins to show itself – soon it begins to arrive when you do. But if you are only there sometimes and are frequently late or inattentive, it will appear fleetingly, or will not appear at all.” Do you manage to keep this appointment with your creativity every day? What are the challenges you face? And how have you resolved them?

AN: I completely agree with what the poet says. While we all have that creative genius in us it’s important to find it. And once you find it – it’s even more important to use it. Unfortunately in today’s material world every activity is measured by its potential tangible return. It’s all about how it could help you make money or build a career. So, creativity is suppressed to pursue other money seeking endeavours.

I’ve realized that flow in creativity is extremely important. I’ve often found myself having creative blocks when I’ve not painted for a while.

But the beautiful thing is once you start and you get the rhythm the magic unfolds. And the flow only gets better. Your creativity gets amplified when you’re in the zone. And I don’t plan too much. I just let the moment decide what needs to be done.

Considering that I have long working hours and I am particularly focussed on my physical fitness I get very little time during the working day to focus on painting. But as a habit I’ve always had ‘Today’s Art’ written down in my daily to do list. It could be a simple scribble or a doodle. But that’s enough to drip feed your creative genius into growing.

VN: Thank you for agreeing to be featured on my blog, Anand. May you discover exciting new worlds through your art.

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