Rukmini Varma might have renounced her claim over royalty but she, to date, has remained seated on a throne of history. Through her lives on the legacy of one of the greatest artists this world has seen, Raja Ravi Varma. She wielded her brush at the age of 6 inspired and totally in awe of her great great grandfather’s works. Recently, she picked up her pen to bring forth stories about the painter narrated by her grandmother Maharani Sethu Lakshmi Bayi and another interesting, least expected source — notes penned by Ravi Varma himself, within the pages of two of his books. “When I read what he had written, everything seemed to fall into place and the missing links in his life appeared to join, weaving together the loose ends. It exposed, what seemed to me, the workings of his Inner Psyche and his life’s secret goal,” the author writes.
In conversation with DTNext, Rukmini Varma shares more on the painter, the book and herself.
You’ve been exposed to Raja Ravi Varma’s history all these years, but why did you feel this was the right time to publish Hidden Truth?
RV: I grew up in the shadow of Raja Ravi Varma and was no stranger to his life’s history, just as all the other members were also not unfamiliar with it. But of late, there has been an increase of interest in his works due to the fact that collectors and investors are realising their undying, timeless quality. The question, therefore, naturally arose as to what exactly makes his works stand out. My book tells the story of how this became possible.
Why did you prefer self-publishing as opposed to the traditional route?
RV: For one thing the time factor, as it could be done faster this way. For another, I did not have to change anything in the book.
A lot of the traditions mentioned in the book, be it pre and post-natal care for a woman or methods of exorcism, have changed or been diluted over the years. Are you in favour of change?
RV: Many changes in tradition and customs have taken place since RRV’s time with the advent of modern technologies and progressive ideas of education, and the old tharavads are hardly what they once were. Some of these changes, as for example those that have their basis upon superstition and ignorance are, in my opinion, for the good. But there is much to be said in favour of some of the old values of honour and integrity, upholding which might give us a better society today.
As you came across Ravi Varma’s paintings, can you describe the effect they had on you?
RV: I was completely blown over and enamoured by my great great grandfather’s works. I wanted do similar work, which I have been doing, while retaining my own identity.
One artist whose works appeal to you today.
RV: Amrita Sher Gil.
Did any of the stories about Ravi Varma inspire you to take up painting?
RV: It was not so much the stories I heard about him as much as his work itself that inspired me to paint. I have always been painting — since the age of six — on various mediums.
You mention towards the end of the book that you did not have a life to look forward to and that writing this book was your only solace — why was it so?
RV: By that time, I had reached a stage in life where everything materialistic appeared to have no meanings. I wished to go deep into myself in search of something more profound. It was not just writing this book alone that gave me solace. I wrote a great deal on ancient civilizations of the world, for I felt that the past had a message and was the original source of creativity.
Ravi Varma had a lot of connections to Madras. What’s your connection to the city?
RV: My connections to Chennai have been long! My aunt Indira Bayi (Maharani Sethu Lakshmi Bayi’s youngest daughter) came to live here with her family. As children we were always very excited to visit her during our school holidays.