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Differently-abled artists paint a beautiful picture

Indian Mouth and Foot Painting Artists have been painting the city and country with the colours of courage and joy

At Malad’s InOrbit Mall recently, visitors were met by differently-abled artists painting in the front court. These skilled painters were the Indian Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (IMFPA) from a Non-Government Organisation (NGO) based in Andheri East.

Narayan Ramakrishnan
MASTER PIECE: Narayan Ramakrishnan paints a scenery

No hands
For a person to become a member of the NGO, not having hands or being unable to control the movements of one’s hands is a criteria. With about 18 members from all over India, the NGO is looking to expand its India membership to 100 in the next three years.

Ganapati Bappa
GO GANESHA: The ultimate form of worship, using your skills to draw god

A large crowd gathered to see Narayan Ramakrishnan as he was painting a beach scene at the mall’s main complex. The joy and happiness on Ramakrishnan’s face as he held the paint brush with his toes and painted in pure bliss was something that captured the hearts of all who watched him.

FOOT FIRST: Nadeem Shaikh paints at Inorbit Mall, Malad
FOOT FIRST: Nadeem Shaikh paints at Inorbit Mall, Malad. Pics/Nimesh Dave

His brother-in-law Anand Radhakrishnan explains, “RK as he is lovingly called, got acute jaundice soon after birth which developed into celebral palsy. Since, that day in 1969 he has no control over his hands and their movement.”

Neminath Phalke
Neminath Phalke

Ramakrishnan, 45, was first acquainted with art when his younger sister came back from school after her first painting class. The Andheri resident says, “It was 1989, almost 25 years ago when my sister shared her colours with me. I used my foot and started drawing and painting. I joined IMFPA in 1990 and have been one of the NGO’s oldest members.”

COLOUR PALETTE: With the paints all set, the painting commences
COLOUR PALETTE: With the paints all set, the painting commences

Majority of his paintings are drawn from imagination but Ramakrishnan also refers to a number of painting books and tries to emulate them as well. His brother-in-law says, “Two to three times in the week, we have a teacher from JJ School of Art who drops in to give RK some new drawing and painting tips.”

SMILING AND PAINTING: Bandenawaz Nadaf smiles as he paints. PIC/ATUL KAMBLE
SMILING AND PAINTING: Bandenawaz Nadaf smiles as he paints. PIC/Atul Kamble

Besides, his painting prowess, Ramakrishnan is also an avid chess player. His brother-in-law says, “RK is our household champion and wins most games in just 24 moves. He also likes going out in the society complex and meeting people. He is a very social person. He loves watching movies and makes sure to catch the new Bollywood releases every Friday.”

Ramakrishnan
JOY OF COLOURS: Ramakrishnan shows his wide array of paintings

Ramakrishnan says, “My favourite colour is green and I love painting sceneries. Every month, I paint at least four paintings that the IMFPA auctions or sells, I get 50 per cent of the profits and royalty. It takes me around three to four days or sometimes as long as a week to work on a painting.”

Foot writing and painting
Twenty-year-old Nadeem Shaikh was born without arms and is the youngest of six children. The Jogeshwari resident says, “I love painting portraits and am now very comfortable using my feet. I learnt to paint as well as write using my feet when I was in school. Slowly, I realised that I was good at painting and so started painting more and more.”

Shaikh is currently trying to get admission to the JJ School of Art. He says, “I always seek to become better and with JJ School, I am hoping to learn from the best and improve my art skills. I like sketching more than painting as there is a chance to shade and explore the inbetweens of black, white and grey. I usually observe a picture and then paint or sketch it, but I also use my imagination.”

His family is his biggest fan and Shaikh credits them for his success. “I joined IMFPA in 2007. Prior to that I had participated in a number of painting competitions and my art was exhibited in a number of exhibitions across the city as well as the country. This exposure helped me grow as a person as well as a painter,” says Shaikh.

“I wrote my own SSC and HSC exam papers with my feet and this impressed many people including my teachers and friends both in school as well as in college. Many of my friends say that my foot writing is much neater than their handwriting which is a huge compliment for me,” adds Shaikh.

Swimming and karate ace
Bandenawaz Nadaf, besides being a foot painter at IMFPA is a swimmer. He has won three gold, five silver and three bronze medals in the Swimming Championship for the Disabled.

The 27-year-old is also a karateka having obtained a yellow belt. In 2003, he even participated in the Third National Open Karate Championship. “I do my daily chores by myself from shaving to taking a bath. I also have a shop near my house at Saki Naka where I repair mobile phones and laptops. I also use the space to paint. I visit art galleries and exhibitions often, to get new ideas,” says Nadaf.

He reveals, "I was not admitted to school for a really long time as the schools we sought admission in said that I would be a hindrance to ‘normal’ curriculum. Finally, I got admission to the Society for the Education of the Crippled where my personality was developed. I learnt to paint as well as live life, normally. I joined IMFPA about a month ago. I first heard of the NGO in 2006, but was unable to join earlier. Now that I am a member, I feel part of a larger family.”

Paresh Padia, Senior Manager of IMFPA, Mumbai says, “We arrange for the artists to show off their talent at various places in the city as well as across the country. The NGO also has an international arm from where most funds come. Our aim is to help our artists get maximum exposure and grow to become better artists. We plan on opening an art gallery to showcase their work in the city, soon.”

Around the country
Manjibhai Ramani, 66, lost his arms in an accident when he was 10. “My hands got crushed in a sugarcane machine in the 1970s. I started using my mouth to write and gradually started painting. I went on to get a Fine Arts degree from CN College, Ahmedabad. I now teach aspiring painters how to paint here in Ahmedabad.”

Ramani became a member of IMFPA in 2006 and has more than 200 paintings that find a place of honour in homes across London and Toronto. He says, “My students are from three-year-olds to 50-year-olds. They are often inspired that I have no hands but still paint so well.”

Like Ramani, his student Manoj Bhingare, 26 who now lives in Surat is also a Fine Arts degree holder from Ahmedabad’s CN College. “I joined IMFPA about eight years ago. In an accident when I was 10, I lost my arms while on the way to Nashik for a holiday. I met Ramani Sir and learnt that I can use my mouth and feet to paint and write which inspired me. I decided to follow in his footsteps,” says Bhingare.

The foot and mouth painter lives with his wife and parents. He says, “I love painting portraits of live objects. Travelling across India and inspiring people makes me feel proud that I did not give up saying that I am an invalid.”

Aurangabad resident Neminath Phalke, 48 lost the use of his hands and feet after an accident in the army. A member of IMFPA for the last 22 years, Phalke says, “About 30 years ago, I had just enrolled in the army and was at Belgaum, Karnataka when during Physical Training six months after I enrolled in the army, I had an accident and paralysed my shoulder and below. I then started using my mouth to write and paint as I only had control till my neck. With more than 100 paintings, I have shown demonstrations of my work in Mumbai, Pune and Delhi.”

Phalke who lives with his wife and children says that he loves to paint flowers. “IMFPA has helped me grow as a painter as well as earn my own bread and butter. My paintings have been brought by many and my work has also been appreciated a lot,” he adds.

Helping hands
“Various corporate companies, malls, schools, colleges, etc have been helping create awareness about IMFPA and the artists associated with our NGO. Prakash Reddy’s Corporate Social Focus that promotes corporate social responsibility has been printing pictures by our artists in their magazine. This is also helping us get more exposure, with many people becoming aware of the needs of talented people without hands,” says Padia.

As a worldwide NGO with bases in more than 74 countries, Mouth and Foot Painting Association (MFPA) has more than 800 members. “A monthly stipend of Rs 8,000 to Rs 10,000 is given to the artist depending on his or her painting skill. They have to submit a certain number of paintings to the NGO which we sell and market, 50 per cent of profits are given to the artists and the remainder is used by the NGO. The royalty of the work is given to the creator. At demonstations across India, many people have been inspired by the courage of these artists who have beaten the odds,” ends Padia.

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