Vishal vs Apartment

Vishal K. Bharadwaj, circa 1986, in the balcony of his family's apartment in Ghusais, Dubai. Photo by either Keshav or Sneha Bharadwaj.
My mother let me draw on walls. It was 1986, I was three, and we were living in a one bedroom apartment in Ghusais, back when there was nothing there except for a block of already decrepit government flats, Al Mulla Plaza (closed because of a border dispute), and a procession of electrical towers between there and Sharjah.

She got a lot of flack for it, of course. Neighbours would come round and wonder why on earth I was still alive after such a heinous crime, and then look worryingly at their own children as the young ones gaped at the sheer audacity of the red and green scrawls, their eyes luminous with the shock of seeing freedom, tolerance and understanding — and of course, whimsy — for perhaps the first time in their fragile lives. Several adults vowed never to bring their children into contact with my parents, not the first and certainly not the last time that was said to them.

The rationale my mother offered — since the simple truth of “Why not?” was far too much for others to bear — was that since it was a rental, once we moved out the landlord would paint it for the next tenant anyway as per the local norm; if the landlord objected, she was gladly willing to pay for the painting herself. They never objected, but I would have liked to see the look on whoever came to that apartment after we had gone. The building itself was torn down sometime in the 90s to make way for a compound of houses.

It was the only place I ever drew on the walls, and even I am not sure why exactly. The rationale to my three-year-old self probably had something to do with not wanting to waste paper, and the fact that if I drew straight on the walls it would forego entirely the costly and time-consuming framing and hanging processes.

Mostly I just wanted to draw, and my parents wanted great art on the walls, for which I gladly obliged.

Vishal K. Bharadwaj, circa 1986, at the door of his family's apartment im Ghusais, Dubai. Photo by either Keshav or Sneha Bharadwaj.