Thumbelina in the time of Corona

Easterine Kire

Senganglu Thaimei lives in Delhi with her husband. She teaches English literature at a Delhi University college. Sengmei, as she is known to her friends, claims she is not a professional artist, and for her, drawing is moreof a relaxing hobby. Her delightful drawings appeared in social media during the early phases of the lockdown. They were such a welcome sight after the complaints and accusations and actual tragic stories that inundated our lives. 

Sengmei says she draws for pleasure and by way of bringing a smile to friends who are fortunate to get her productions as gifts. The lockdown caught her quite unprepared. Though they had bought essential items, Sengmei had not thought of getting more sketch books, and when the lockdown stretched on and shops remained closed, she had no way to get more supplies. Stationery stores were not considered essential services so they remained closed. As the lockdown was extended, and she unpredictably went into a period of great productivity, her ever supportive husband found innovative ways to help her carry on. Sengmei’s husband works as one of the pastors at Bible Bhavan.

With classes closing down and the luxury of time on her hands, Sengmei’s inspiration to draw continued. In this period, I became a grateful recipient of many of her drawings. One day she confessed to me, ‘I think I haven’t told you this, that all the drawings I have sent to you so far were drawn on the back page of excess xerox copies of church programs.’ Sengmei had completely run out of paper two weeks before and had to improvise as the drawings kept coming forth in spite of the scarcity of paper. She remarked that it was very ‘interesting how one can push one’s potential in times of scarcity.’ Some of her drawings during this tremendously productive period were made on the backs of old calendars! Her husband found her a pencil when the last one got over. There was always a sense of urgency in the emails we exchanged when she would confess she was down to her one remaining pencil and eraser and ‘used’ sheets. 

It reminded me of the widow who used the last of her flour to make a meal for the prophet Elijah, and after that, discovered the miracle that the flour never emptied and the oil would be replenished repeatedly throughout the time the famine lasted in Israel. Something of a similar miracle was happening for Sengmei as she kept finding paper that could be recycled for drawing purposes. And her beautiful drawings kept coming. Some nights, if insomnia kept her awake, she would put that waking time to use by simply making more drawings. Sengmei and her husband have many spiritual children in their lives. 

The drawing of Thumbelina was made for her niece who had entered her early teens. The transition from a keen listener of fairy tales to an avid user of a smart phone is captured so well in this drawing with its charming details of ferns and woodland flowers, and tropical plantains which adds a touch of magic to the thumb-sized figure atop a toadstool. The other drawing dedicated to super moms was Sengmei’s gift to mothers of young children who bravely fulfil multi tasks of mothering and looking after a house with its myriad demands. Both pictures are good illustrations of her natural gift. Despite her obvious skills, Sengmei has not had any thoughts of using her art in a professional capacity. It is something that gives her joy and stimulates her positively. I can agree that it is probably a good and sensible thought not to turn some activities into professions because of the danger it poses to creativity. We should let things we love remain what they are and avoid bringing a consumerist mindset to it. There are people who have made a living out of what they love doing. But in Sengmei’s case, she also loves her teaching job. Drawing is what she does to rest and destress.  I look forward to enjoying more of what her resting periods have to give us.