Since she could hold a paintbrush in her hand, Mehrunissa had in her an ignition, a fire, an incomparable passion to put the world down in sketches, and then to fill into them color exactly as God had done. At the age of ten in an outlandish rural precinct, she didn’t have much to utilize, but the paucity of resources never proved to be a hindrance for the young painter. While other children her age would have bought candy or toys, she saved up all her allowances and bought paints, brushes and canvases. From that age, she was unstoppable. Her inspiration instilled into Picasso and Michelangelo, nothing and nobody stopped her from gracefully painting the torrid, dusty streets of Mahiwal, the lives of the commoners, and even the delicate beauty with which chickens fed their babies. When she ran out of all that, she created fictitious scenery, for no one could stop her imagination from running wild. Her dream was to fill color in a fresco in another land. Her dreams of soaring, though, were curtailed when her lone father got paralyzed.


He couldn’t get up, he couldn’t move. It petrified Mehrunissa. Her uncle made her renounce her education and start dancing for a hundred paisas per show. From that day, her canvases were full of heavy apparel, meticulously smudged with a dash of rose there, a splotch of mahogany here; and sketches of a pubescent neckline laden with jewellery, chrome yellow and gold.


One night, her paintings depicted another world altogether. Sold to a prosperous merchant in East Karachi, the little girl found solace in her paints, eager to let out the aggression, the suffering that was indomitably inflicted upon her. The usual color in her work took on a monotonous note, where strokes of ash gray mingled with black, the darkest of its kind. A saturation of ochre splashes limned her discovery of a new, totally different kind of life, marked by the barbarism of tyrants to nepotism, corruption, and the selfless ambition to gain what others had, come what may be the circumstances. She told her canvases a thousand stories, of a carnal pleasure that had bound enthusiastic youth into nothingness, of a soul stranded in the middle of an ocean, where the torturous waves lapped and thrashed, lapped and thrashed, threatening to devour her away, of a girl whose insides screamed futilely of a plaintive anguish that was heard only by the doves that nested on the wires outside.


During all this, her art never faltered. Her marmoreal, yet iridescent colors, managed to convey life with all its pain and suffering in one stroke. They exuded an energy that was not ephemeral or fleeting like a cloud passing through troubled skies, but an insistent force, instilling wonder into the minds of the alive. As time progressed, brighter colors took in; an azure blue accentuated by a lighter jade, which was suffused with amaranth dotted with pink offered a depiction of what could only be love. She felt deeply for the steward, Rahim Khan. Her paintings came to life again; they possessed a matchless intricacy of colorful feelings, times and challenges, and dichotomies unparalleled. The clouds became whiter, the skies brighter. The sun radiated a cream yellow hue which bathed her senses with peace. Life became worthwhile and her works full of color. After a long time she was finally happy, and the happiness was sublime.


A day came when Mehrunissa sat sketching Rahim, when her buyer came in, to sight her.

The last tinge of color on the canvas was a splash of red.


Written by: Sakina Batool

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