The Malabar Caves

Published on 27 October 2023 at 22:01

Medium: Watercolor on paper

Date: 1976


This week, I'd like to present to you my artwork, "The Malabar Caves." Within this composition, I've depicted a radiant yellow elephant with captivating blue eyes, overshadowing what appear as two brown eyes with pristine white pupils. These brown eyes, based on the title, seem to represent mysterious cave entrances. A serene river flows gracefully past the elephant and these caves. Upon the river, two women energetically row their boat upstream, one adorned in red and the other in blue. But what inspired this intricate scene?


My inspiration stemmed from E.M. Forster's poignant novel, "A Passage to India." Central to the narrative is the enigmatic Malabar Caves. Forster described the caves as embodying "the impression of a muddle and the sense of an inexplicable mystery." When readers yearned for clarity on this mystery, Forster responded, wishing for the enigma to "remain a blur." This mirrored his personal sentiment of the uncertainty that shrouds many life events. Within the novel's pages, a trial unfolds to uncover the mysteries of the caves. Yet, the protagonist is declared "not guilty," and the heart of the mystery remains veiled. (Reference: Project Muse)


I was compelled to translate my interpretation of this conundrum onto canvas. The elephant's yellow hue in my painting symbolizes strength and certainty, contrasting with the rapidly flowing river that portrays life's unpredictability. The two rowing women, draped in vivid red and blue, encapsulate the emotions and turbulence I felt while reading. Although the images are vivid and intense, the inherent ambiguity of their exact interpretation mirrors the obscurity of Forster's narrative. To me, the painting remains an enigma, much like the book which, despite resonating with millions, left its core mystery unsolved.


Soon after completing the painting, a close friend visited. She admired the artwork and inquired about its price, also expressing interest in having it framed. I quoted a price equivalent to my month's rent – an amount I currently lacked. She purchased the painting, allowing me to cover my rent. The frame I crafted for it was made of heavy wood, which I varnished, painted, and sanded to resemble 17th-century Dutch antiques. I used black velvet for matting and double-thickness glass, giving an illusion of peering into a profound, enigmatic pool. Interestingly, we never discussed the painting again after that transaction.


Over the years, I've often pondered about the painting's whereabouts and its current home. I believe she took it to Paris, France, and presented it to a friend there in 1984. Regardless of where it might be now, I hold a deep conviction that the message embedded within a painting is timeless. Just as stories find their listeners, paintings too have a destined path. Ultimately, every artwork will discover its rightful place, fulfilling its inherent purpose and communicating its eternal message.


Since that fateful sale, my artistic journey has been enriched with numerous creations, each carrying a piece of my soul. Yet, the memory of "The Malabar Caves" remains vivid, almost as if it was painted yesterday. Every brush stroke, every choice of color, and the emotions interwoven within its canvas continue to resonate with me. The painting was more than just an artistic expression; it was a bridge between Forster's world and mine, a bridge I had hoped others would cross and find connection.


As an artist, one aspires for their work to leave an indelible mark, to be a beacon of emotion and thought that stands the test of time. While paintings might change hands, and their physical locations might shift, their essence remains unchanged. They become like old melodies, forever imprinted in the recesses of our minds, resurfacing in moments of reflection. Wherever "The Malabar Caves" might be today, I trust it continues to evoke wonder, curiosity, and a sense of timeless connection in every observer. This is a testament to the universality of art and its power to bind souls across continents.


(Source: Project Muse. Jo Ann Hoeppner Moran, "E.M. Forster's A Passage to India," MFS Modern Fiction Studies, Johns Hopkins Press, Volume 34, Number 4, 1988, pp. 596-604.)


Add comment


There are no comments yet.