“I was born without arms but my parents never treated me specially”

“I was born without arms but my parents never treated me specially– by the age of 3, Achan, my father, taught me to brush my teeth, bathe, write and do all my daily chores with my feet. I never complained because it was my ‘normal’.

He also put me in a regular school. Initially, it was a bit difficult to keep up with the pace of writing but gradually, I got used to it. After school, I’d go to a special school where the teachers taught all kinds of extracurricular activities– painting, dancing, singing. I enjoyed paintng the most. It gave me peace– I could paint all day.

On several occasions, I was made to feel different. I hated when people pitied me– my relatives would say, ‘Don’t be disheartened,’ and I’d get so mad! Whenever they’d visit, I wouldn’t even come out of my room. I’d kick my cousins if they teased me. Achan motivated me, ‘Ignore them, you’re meant to achieve greatness.’ Over time, the curious stares stopped bothering me entirely.

After high school, I stayed in a hostel to pursue my graduation. I got busy and didn’t get the time to paint. But after college, I took it up again. A friend told me about an organisation that teaches painting to those like me– I enrolled myself. They even paid me a monthly stipend of Rs.6000– I was so happy to contribute at home!

Achan was so happy the day I made my first landscape painting, he hugged me and cried. People would praise me for my talent but Achan kept me in check, ‘You have to do better next time,’ he’d say and sit with me whilst I painted.

From that first painting to today, 20 years later– I’ve sold over 4000 paintings. In India, there are only 24 artists like me. I’ve given talks, held exhibitions overseas and met artists from all over the world.

My only setback was when Achan passed away 7 years ago. I wish everyday that he was here to see that his little girl is doing okay for herself– since my brothers are settled elsewhere, I fend for Amma and myself. In 2018, I even won the ‘Icon of the Year’ award– I couldn’t believe it! Amma was grinning from ear to ear– you should’ve seen her!

I continue to paint, even during the pandemic– in fact it’s even better because my brother and his children have come to stay with us– I’m teaching the kids how to paint! That’s all I do– I honestly don’t step out much because of Amma, but whenever I do, I come back and first wash my feet and shower.

For me, normal is just a word and I’ve had to create my own definition of it. So the ‘new normal’ is just another day for me. My whole life I’ve done everything without hands. So if you think washing your hands is a chore– please think about me and realise that if I can wash my feet, you can definitely wash your hands!”

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