Swapna Augustine, 40, never complained about her physical condition till the age of 12. Born without both the arms, little Swapna, a native of Paingottoor in Kerala's Ernakulam district, believed that her arms are yet to grow out of her body. At 12, she somehow realized the bitter truth that nothing might be done about her condition and there was no looking back thereafter!
An internationally acclaimed painter and therefore the winner of 'Icon of the year 2018' honor by the planet World Malayali Foundation, Swapna Augustine shares with Onmanorama her story of survival and rise also as her thoughts on 'disability.
An internationally acclaimed painter and the winner of 'Icon of the year 2018' honor by the World Malayali Foundation, Swapna Augustine shares with Onmanorama her story of survival and rise as well as her thoughts on 'disability.'
Her parents -- Augustine, a farmer, and Sophie, a homemaker enrolled Swapna at a home for the disabled in Changanassery when she was six and she or he attended a faculty nearby. Perhaps, it had been this youth far away from home that made the eldest child independent and assured despite her disability. She would head home for Onam and yuletide, but the remainder of the time, the sisters taught her to try to do everything together with her feet including eating and writing and in fact, drawing and painting, which might later end up being her calling in life.
Swapna hails from an agrarian family in a hilly village of Kerala's Ernakulam district. Eldest of 4 children of Augustine and Sophie, Swapna was born without both hands. The baby was short with a disfigured spine. Sophie discovered the condition of her daughter hours after delivery.
"I was assisted by my mother for all activities until I turned four. At four, an area tutor (aashan) called Ayyappan started giving me home tuition on the way to write by holding a pencil between my toes," Swapna recalled.
Swapna had the dexterity of legs and started performing with them, all that one does with hands.
The elder daughter of an agriculturist and housewife, she has been drawing as a toddler. These were mainly pencil drawings. As a six-year-old, she enrolled as a student of St. Theresa’s School, Changanassery, while staying at a mercy home to travel by nuns there. This helped her do daily chores together with her feet. She, however, began to draw actively after she completed her graduation in History from St. Joseph’s College, Alappuzha.
“It was Denny Mathew, a teacher at Nirmala highschool (Muvattupuzha), who nurtured my career in arts. He taught me drawing and painting by taking classes at home,” says Swapna.
Swapna is actively involved in social activities. She frequently exhibits her work among students and motivates them to never hand it over. Her talent has been recognized by various magazines, organizations, and youth journals. Her paintings have also been published in many newsletters and youth magazines. Swapna has also been a member of Mouth & Foot Painting Artist since 1999.
After her graduation in History from St. Mary's College, Ernakulam, Swapna returned home as a painter who was ready to organize an exhibition of her amateur works. After attending a workshop on painting with acrylic, she adopted professional means and shifted to canvas. No later, she was introduced to a community of mouth and foot painters in Kerala by one of her friends. From there she was selected together among the 27 Indians and nine Keralites to urge a membership within the International Mouth and Foot Painting Artists' Association (IMFPA.).
After attending a workshop on painting with acrylic, she adopted professional means and shifted to canvas.
The young artist doesn't have big dreams about her future. She possesses some humble ambitions to satisfy, sort of a trip to scenic Switzerland to accumulate some good inspiration for her paintings. She wishes to continue her journey with the colors within the future too, no matter future health issues.
"I was so reluctant to interact with the traditional people at a younger age. But all folks at the Mercy Home were sent to usual schools where normal children study. It's enhanced my social interactions. I feel children with disabilities shouldn't be enrolled in special schools unless their condition is that worse. Mingling with the mainstream society will help both the parties accept one another," she says.
Swapna sells her paintings at the IMFPA forum which pays all its members with a minimal remuneration every month regardless of their contribution.
Swapna says that people born with disabilities do not expect sympathy from mainstream society but expect public places and infrastructure are accessible to them.