New Straits Times, 2 September 2011
Painting the past
by Kasmiah Mustapha

A father and son traverse Perak on a road trip — the former to revisit his roots, the latter to stake his claim, writes KASMIAH MUSTAPHA THEY were stories he had heard countless times when growing up. There were mention of places and people he visited whenever the family went back to Perak for family gatherings.

The stories connected him with the State although he was not born or raised there. So when his father wanted, yet again, to visit his childhood home in Tapah after a family holiday, Anurendra Jegadeva thought it would be the same experience. Instead, the layover resulted in a road trip with his father,
Jegadeva Kularatnam, across Perak.

Jegadeva said the trip traced his roots in Perak, from Kuala Kangsar, Tapah, Tanjung Malim and Telok Intan to Batu Gajah, Ipoh and Taiping — places he had been to as a child, a teenager and later, a family man.

“I was born in Kuala Kangsar. My father moved to Tapah and then again to Telok Anson (now Teluk Intan) where he died. Then my mother and my siblings returned to Tapah.

“For this trip, we tried to follow the route that I took so years ago. We went to Tapah, Ipoh, Tanjung Malim, Bidor and Teluk Intan. My wife was born in Batu Gajah and studied in Teluk Intan and Ipoh. We got married in Teluk Intan and had our honeymoon at the Tapah rest house,” said Jegadeva.

Anurendra, or Anu, said plans for the trip happened fast. As he stood on the hill in Tapah, overlooking the river where his father used to swim, he was struck by the beauty of the landscape and wanted to paint the scene.

One of the country’s leading contemporary artists, Anu was born in Johor as his father, a teacher, was posted there then. Jegadeva was posted to a few places before settling down in Kuala Lumpur. But the family still went back to Perak for holidays, weddings and family events and it was during these times that Jegadeva would tell him stories.

“Both my parents are from Perak. As far as I am concerned, I am not from Johor though I was born there. I am not from KL although I have lived here for the longest time. I’ve always considered Perak my home state. My attachment comes from the stories I hear from my father and mother.”

This time, the trip started in January and ended in July. To Anu, it was a geography lesson as well. Using his father’s trajectory as a broad outline, they crisscrossed Perak — driving to an abandoned tin mine and visiting his father’s old schools, among others.

It also was the first time in his adult life that Anu spent so much time with his father. They talked about the family — his mother and his older sister who lives in Wales.

“We had a good laugh and, of course, we argued too. Our interaction was good as we complemented each other. I avoided being too tied to the past. He got excited when he saw the river in which he used to swim when he was younger,” said Anu.

Jegadeva said: “Yes, he was forced to listen to my stories. Very often when I go to his house and I talk to him, he’s not listening. But during the trip, he had to listen.”

To Jegadeva, the trip was a bittersweet reminder of his childhood and a time when life was simple. Seeing development taking over his hometown reminded him that things have moved on.

“When I was in Teluk Intan, looking at the leaning clock tower, it reminded me of the time I used to stay there. Teluk Intan will be permanently etched in my mind.

“The trip was to visit my past and to see how I have moved from there. I am not clinging to the past but Perak will always have a special place in my heart.”

The trip resulted in 20 paintings titled Finding Graceland. To Anu, they are not about nostalgia but more about the beauty of the country and a way for his father and him to stake their claims on their roots.

“I wanted to weave my father’s stories into the landscape. His stories were the starting point but I also included people, historical events and current events into the paintings. I tried to incorporate all the stories into the paintings. While the paintings are my father’s and my stories, they are also the stories of other Malaysians. The stories are similar, regardless of where we come from.

“The paintings have the gentility of our past without being bogged down by history. There are lessons to be learned from the past but we should never try to create it.”

View Anu’s paintings at Wei Ling Contemporary Gallery, Gardens Mid Valley, Kuala Lumpur, until Sept 6. Opening hours are from 11am to 9pm. For more information, call 03-2260 1106.