Chennai-based digital artist Bhavya Desai’s new series celebrates the men and women who build our city before the first ray of light hits the streets
Thrice every week, before 5 am, artist Bhavya Desai has his eyes peeled as he travels from his home in Thiruvanmiyur to his karate class in Besant Nagar. He studies every passer-by: the man who sells tea to the watchmen wrapping up their night shift, the sanitation worker sweeping her last lane for the night, the milkman segregating packets into crates, and the newspaper man about his route.Each of these people makes their way into Bhavya’s latest series, ‘While you were asleep’. The characters, in his trademark style, are cartoonish, with wide eyes, spindly arms, and in goofy situations.
Since he picked up his pen to draw in 2015, Bhavya’s work has often reflected the spirit of Chennai — from colourful bustling tea stalls to porters scooting across the platforms of Central Railway Station. He says, “All these years, I have been drawing whoever I see around me. This time, I wanted to draw those that we don’t see on a regular day,” the ones who worked under the cloak of night.
“These are the people who make a big difference in our society before we have even begun our day. Our economy starts with them,” he says. The characters he draws are imaginary, although they are inspired by real people. “I exercise my own imagination in creating narratives, but I try and take characteristics from them: their body language, and expression.”He prefers to observe the people he caricatures without interacting with them. “For this series, I didn’t want to intrude upon them while they were working, I want to see them as who they are, naturally.”
This was not the case in his previous series, where he was commissioned to illustrate the pre-Independence heritage eateries of Calcutta. “I would ask the cooks if I could take 15 minutes of their time and speak to them about their work, families, and backgrounds. They gave me their 100% while speaking to me, but after that it sounded fake if I asked them to go back to what they were doing. They would become very conscious, so that’s why I didn’t want to do that this time,” he says.His first sketch, that of an egg-seller, received immense response especially from late risers, with people suggesting what other professions he could cover. This motivated him to continue the series. He chose 12 in total in case the sketches could one day be turned into a calendar. “I think practising karate also gave me that discipline to stick to a project and not get distracted by other ideas,” he muses.Bhavya is happy he is developing the skill of giving a theme and context to his caricatures. “When I started, I was just drawing everything in sight, without any backstory, like a headless chicken!”