Excerpts from tête-à-tête with Yusuf Arakkal, a world renowned painter, sculptor, poet, writer with ISBR student Rashi Sharma.
Rashi: How liberating is painting and sculpting to you personally?
Yusuf Arakkal: It is a burden for one’s soul when creative ideas and imagination are being accumulated in mind. The greatest gifts God has given to human beings are creative imagination and the ability to realize it. When the ideas that emerge in one’s mind are realized in some form of other –it could be just a line, a word, a gesture or even humming a note – it is liberating for your soul. After the initial idea is conceived and the first stroke is applied it is hard work and full dedication that leads to a sculpture or painting. The great satisfaction that brings,even momentary is indeed liberating.
Rashi: You say ‘There is an anguished being, disturbed and in distress somewhere deep inside me. A human being who yearns for a meaningful existence.’ Can you elaborate on it?
Yusuf Arakkal: I have gone through indescribable anxieties and anguish in my life, especially as a child losing both parents by the age of seven. That disturbed being is still deep inside me. May be it is this anguish that prompts and contributes to my creativity.
Rashi: We heard that you are writing a book, which is part-autobiographical, part-fictionalized book. What is the novel all about? How has the experience of writing a novel been?
Yusuf Arakkal: I have been writing ever since I had the command of language. While I tried writing in vernacular in the beginning it is English that I settled in. It is in the seventies I began writing professionally after getting a bit of journalistic training from a great journalist – Mr.Abraham Tarakan who edited the tabloid City Tab and ran the Tab institute of Journalism. A number of wellknown journalists like Raj Chenkappa, Allenn Mendonca, Janaki Nair, .K.Meena, A.R.Ramesh and many others came out of this institution in the seventies and eighties. I began writing for Tab. I have published my articles-basically on aspects of art- in most of the Indian publications and periodicals like India Today, Times of India, Illustrated weekly and others. For the last ten years I have been doing a monthly column for Sunday Express. It is this background that prompted me to attempt a book basically based on my life. It is in the process and being shaped up. I do not know how long it would take or how it would turn out. I wouldn’t categorise it as a novel or other right now.
I have been writing poetry for a long time. Have a few published and might bring them out as a collection some time.
For me writing, painting or sculpting is not any different. They are different forms of creative expression and of course it takes different approach to its realization.
Rashi: You are a multi talented and a multi faceted man,you paint, you sculpt, you write poetry and novels. Is that what makes you ‘Yusuf Arakkal’ or there’s more that most people don’t now?
Yusuf Arakkal: I have never tried to categorize myself as I said all these are different forms of creative expression for me. At times it gives me lot of creative satisfaction to sit and write a few words, in prose or poem but there are times that I am compelled to paint or work on a hard stone with hammer and cutter. Most of the time, once the idea is conceived; it is beyond my control. But I also realize that in creativity for its proper realization lot of discipline and technical abilities are required. Without possessing these essential requirements one cannot go on. For example if you don’t know letters, words and its grammar you wouldn’t be able to write. There is a lot others don’t know about me-positive and negative. May be it is all this that make makes me what I am. But in my life I never wanted to be Picasso as I realized that you can only become like him, not him. Then why don’t you try and become you. And that is what I am trying.
Rashi: You won this year’s Raja Ravi Varma Puraskaram,how do you feel about recognition and awards?
Yusuf Arakkal: I have won several national and international awards including the Lorenzo de Medici gold medal and silver at Florence International Biennale of Contemporary Art.
I never sought awards and recognitions but many came my way and I am grateful to God about that. Ravi Varma Puraskaram was a recognition I got at my own home so it is some thing special.
In 1983 when I won the national award for my painting I wrote some thing behind the certificate. ‘Success is a disease, prevent it getting into your head’ and this is my attitude towards the words fame and success.
Rashi: Initial days of struggle…how rewarding and gratifying have they been when you look back today?
Yusuf Arakkal: I think the struggle in my life to survive and to become a creative person was the best thing that happened to me because it is that struggle that prompts me to go on even at this age. As a teenager I spent one and half years on the streets of Bangalore. Today I think that was my best University. It taught me what life is and gave me a lot to infuse into my work from that experience.
Rashi: Anything that you would like to tell the young generation of today?
Yusuf Arakkal: I am very proud of today’s generation and the courage they show to go to the unknown and achieve something in life. The future of our country is with this generation. I would like to tell them that there is no easy way. The only way is hard work; struggle to achieve what one wants. The attitude of ‘never give up’.
Rashi: Can you give us some insights of about your son Shibu (a photographer) and your wife Sara?
Yusuf Arakkal: I am extremely glad that my son is a creative person and he has achieved some success in his field. It is satisfying to see he puts up a lot of hard work and initiative into his creative attempts.
My wife Sara is very supportive in my life and on her own she is into art promotion, especially to young and emerging artists by supporting them. Her establishment ‘Galerie Sara Arakkal’ promotes lot of young talents while showcasing the established ones.
Rashi: Thank you so much Mr. Yusuf Arakkal for taking out your valuable time and speaking with us. It was indeed a pleasure getting to know you.
Yusuf Arakkal: Pleasure’s all mine. Thank you for featuring me in your magazine ISBR Voice.