Long ago. I was in primary school, having just got to comfort level with reading story-books in Malayalam. 'Aitihyamala' was a favorite. Among its stories, I found 'Parayipettu Panthirukulam' especially fascinating (in an earlier post here, I have referred to it). It is about the adventures of twelve divinely gifted siblings separated at birth and raised in widely varying social milieus. Two of them were Agnihotri, who grew up to become an eminent Vedic priest and Perunthachan, the master-craftsman.
In one episode of the story, Perunthachan calls at his elder brother Agnihotri's house. He it told to wait because the latter is doing his daily Pujas. Rather than wait idly, the craftsman starts digging a pit in the courtyard; every now and then, Perunthachan would take a break and ask for his brother - and is told "he is now doing the Homam for Ganapati", "he is performing Siva Puja", "he is doing 'Salagrama Pushpanjali" and so on. For each different answer, Perunthachan begins digging a fresh pit. This goes on for a long time. Finally Agnihotri finishes his rituals and comes out to meet Perunthachan - and finds his courtyard riddled with several small pits. Perunthachan remarks: "I did a lot of hard work, but no luck; rather than dig so many, if I had dug just one pit persistently, I would have found water by now!"
One of those days, Pop showed me a historical introduction to Western Art which was being serialized in a leading Malayalam weekly. The author's name looked familiar. "It is none other than ---- uncle" said Pop. I tried reading it and found the activity rewarding - soon Botticelli, Leonardo Michelangelo... became familiar names and so did 'The Last Judgement' and 'Monalisa'. I remember talking, with some pride, to a school friend about those articles. He remarked: "Hey, I too have seen it. All those dirty photos of naked people!"
Once while rereading an article in the series, I noticed the following comparison between Leonardo and Michelangelo: "In terms of sheer talent there is very little to choose between them; but temperamentally they were very different. Leonardo, who tried his hand at almost all possible creative pursuits can be compared to the devoutly polytheistic Agnihotri. Michelangelo, on the other hand, limited his exploration to a few select fields and achieved incomparable depth - reminiscent of Pakkanar, who told his brother that instead to parallelly digging several wells, if one were to focus on just a single one, there was a greater chance of finding water!"
Voila, that was an error! It ought to have been Perunthachan, not Pakkanar (by the way, Pakkanar, a sagely Dalit, was yet another of the twelve legendary siblings). I told Pop about my 'finding'; he said: "Well, why don't you write to ----Uncle?" And that was the first time I ever wrote a letter - on an 'inland' - quoting from 'Aitihyamala' to prove my point. Uncle soon wrote back saying he was very happy I was reading his articles and that the error would be rectified when they would be compiled and published in book-form.
The series on western art mysteriously got terminated after an article on Goya (early 19th century). I had to wait a few more years to know van Gogh, Picasso, Dali and other modern masters.
Uncle passed away in 1992 leaving the series uncollected.
Much later, after the millennium, once, while browsing around at a bookshop in Kerala I saw a smart volume titled 'The Art of Painting...' Those articles had finally been compiled! The publishers, in their introduction, said the volume is a belated tribute to the author who had introduced the people of Kerala to the glorious history of western art. Soon, I found myself hurriedly flipping the pages, searching for the comparison I had spotted; and there it was, 'sahi salaamat': "Leonardo .... can be compared to ... Agnihotri; Michelangelo, on the other hand .... Pakkanar"!