Celia Paul writes about 'My First Home'
The fourth of five daughters, Celia Paul was born in Trivandrum, India, to Christian missionary parents. The family moved to England when Paul was five years-old. Four decades later, she returned to India to visit the place of her birth. Paul’s painting, My First Home, 2016, is included in the exhibition House Work at Victoria Miro Mayfair until 18 March 2017.
"I returned to the house in Kannamoola when I was forty-five, forty years after we had left. My father had been dead for twenty-two years. I came back specifically to make studies of the outside of the house and garden so that I could do a painting from the studies when I returned to my studio in London. I had planned to stay in Trivandrum for three weeks but homesickness overwhelmed me and I managed to rearrange my ticket so that I ended up coming back home to London after only four days. I had arranged my return flight on the third day, before I had even seen the house in Kannamoola. I was staying in a hotel in Trivandrum and had intended to go straight after my arrival to visit the new occupant of the little whitewashed house that we had lived in: an Indian clergyman who was now principal of the theological seminary. There were no white people there now. The clergyman seemed reluctant for me to visit and soon refused to answer my calls. I thought that the whole trip was proving to be a failure. On the third day, however, just after I had booked my flight back to London, I managed to speak to the clergyman’s wife who, after a murmured consultation with her husband, invited me to the house at six o’clock the following morning. I would be returning to London in the evening, so it would be my last chance.
That night I didn’t sleep. The heat in my room was intense despite the attempt at air conditioning: a big rattling fan attached to the ceiling. I lay on my bed all night watching the rotating movement of the fan. At five-thirty I went down into the hotel lobby and the young waiter from the night before came out with me into the still dark street to help me hail a rickshaw to Kannamoola.
Even at that hour the streets of Trivandrum were packed with traffic and the sound of the horns from the rickshaws hooting incessantly was deafening and made me feel even more nervous than I already was. We passed the Hindu temple and headed out of the centre of town. Soon the streets thinned and became quieter and dustier. We came to some gates at the edge of a wooded area. The rickshaw driver informed me that this was the entrance to the Kannamoola theological seminary. I paid the driver and got out.
The sun had not yet risen. I made my way up the sloping path in the half-light through the trees until I came to the top of the hill. I looked down to the right. In a little dip, sheltering under great tall palm trees, was a little whitewashed house with a red-tiled roof. At that moment the sun came out and threw the shadows of the trees onto the whitewashed side of the house. The birds began to call. I sensed the spirits of the five little girls: my sisters and me, playing in the garden watched over by our mother, and I sensed the presence of my father standing there, looking out over the paddy fields and beyond."
This is an edited extract from an autobiographical text by Celia Paul, 2016.