She may have been a hardnosed
bureaucrat for close to four decades going through the stress of
work in key positions but the artist in Sudha Pillai, an IAS
officer, has always remained alive, drawing landscapes, faces of
women and much more.
The painter in Pillai, an outstanding IAS officer and the
member-Secretary of Planning Commission with the rank of union
minister, came out in full bloom at an exhibition of her work now on
at an art gallery here.
The exhibition, featuring 37 of her paintings evocatively brings out
in beautiful colours the subjects of Pillai - "Mumbai at 7am,"
"Autumn In the Black Forest," "The Advent of Spring-Geneva," "Paris
by Night" or "Blushing Maidens" among others.
An overwhelming majority of her works are on ceramic tiles—26 of
them to be precise but one can also see Pillai's mastery of paper
media, synthetic fabric and Pune silk, khadi shawl and rice paper
and canvass to express her skills.
What instantly attracts the viewers is the restrained use of colour
in the paintings highly evocative but not garish and just the way
one would want to seek.
Sudha Pillai's paintings of women in "Mother and Daughter" and
"Blushing Women" — drew appreciation from French Ambassador to India
Jerome Bonafont who said at the inauguration of the exhibition here
recently that "most of the faces of her paintings are of women, very
serene faces". Speaking later, the painter agreed with Bonafont's
view. Like many others present at the inauguration, Delhi Chief
Minister Sheila Dikshit was surprised by the artistic side of a
seasoned bureaucrat. And all agreed with Dikshit when she said
Pillai's "paintings are reflective of life and nature".
Kapila Vatsyayan, eminent scholar of arts, says "I'm deeply moved by
the spirit of Sudha Pillai's works and her command over different
mediums of paintings. "This speaks a lot of her artistic skill",
According to Pillai, she has chosen that are of direct concern and
relevance to her. "My paintings celebrate life in its infinite
manifestations and in creation and creativity".
Pillai believes "painting has to be distilled through a lot of
motifs. It cannot be direct, otherwise it becomes propaganda. There
should be certain amount of ambiguity in it”
How does Pillai, the 1972 Kerala cadre IAS officer, manage to find
time for painting after fulfilling her role of a senior bureaucrat?
Well, she does her creative work mostly at night after the stress of
a busy day in office, says her husband and Union Home Secretary
Gopal Krishna Pillai, also an officer of the same batch.
Painting, Sudha Pillai says, helps her to keep calm and focused
after a stressful day in office. "I paint to unwind myself".
A masters in Psychology from Panjab University and in Public
Administration from Kennedy School of Government at Harvard
University, Sudha Pillai, a Punjabi, married her batchmate from
Painting has been the passion of Sudha Pillai from her early age and
has remained so even when she chose civil service as her profession
and thereafter served in different capacities.
According to the painter, "painting reaches deep into the
psyche—even subliminal thoughts one may not be aware of find ready
expression with a brush. When I start painting, I do not have
anything in mind. The painting takes shape as I draw".
Jerome Bonafone described Sudha Pillai as a "civil servant with a
heart". One can add to that by saying "a creative heart". It is not
only the artist in Sudha Pillai that came through the paintings but
also the green activist in her.
One third of the sale proceeds of the exhibits, which will be on
display at the Art Gallery, Paharpur Business Centre (PBC) in Nehru
Place here till April 10, will go to former US Vice President Al
Gore's "The Climate Project—India" for supporting Delhi government's
initiative in taking the climate message to 5,000 schools in the
national capital covering one million students in the next few