A Palette of Emotions - The New Indian Express

A Palette of Emotions

Published: 18th May 2014 06:00 AM

Last Updated: 18th May 2014 09:11 AM

Just as we step inside the artistically done apartment of the Munjes, a huge dog welcomes us. Rajendra Munje, Rupak’s father ushers us inside and we settle down as Rupak walks in with a grin. He consciously avoids looking at us but we notice a child-like excitement on his face. His father tells us that Rupak understands what we are saying. Rupak’s mother Ranjana Munje reminisces how Rupak was the perfect child—very quiet and hardly in trouble. It was only when he turned 18-months-old they realised something was not quite right.

He wasn’t talking, even the earlier babbles had stopped. He used to play repetitively, couldn’t keep social contact and even hid under the bed sometimes. It was then that he was diagnosed with autism. Even as the family overcame the initial shock and anger, they realised their child needed professional intervention. Ranjana recalls, “He was so active that he would not sleep for two days in a row. Back then, there weren’t many options in Hyderabad, still we gave him speech and play therapy.” Then the family decided to move to Chennai for better treatment.

Piecing together a puzzle

It was at the age of six that Rupak started his schooling. He went to a private school for special children, but again the school was for slow children and an autistic child like Rupak found it tough. Meanwhile, they kept dabbling with other therapies. It was in a workshop that they chanced upon the work of We Can—a resource centre for autistic children. After an initial assessment, they took him in. “It was at the age of 12, they had a breakthrough and he started on some activities.” Ranjana who also started teaching at the centre after special training explains that they follow two methods of intervention—verbal behavioural analysis and applied behavioural analysis. While the former focuses on sign language and picture depiction, the latter is child-specific programme that teaches them how to alter their “bad” behaviour into “good” behaviour.

His tryst with art

It was during one such art session that Forum Art Gallery stepped in to work with the kids of We Can. For close to two years, American art therapist Melissa Enderle judiciously worked with the kids, teaching them to paint. Rajendra says, “I happened to be in one of their sessions and noticed how Rupak enjoyed working with colours. He had no concept of form but was happy to work with different mediums ranging from regular brush, foam rollers to kitchen utensils.” Shalini Biswajit, artist and director, Forum Art Gallery, tells us how the kids have been very receptive to their art therapy sessions, “Children are very comfortable and art comes naturally to them. Rupak has a very supportive family and the father beautifully interprets what the child has executed. Consciously or unconsciously, there is a balance in Rupak’s work.”  After Melissa relocated, Rajendra has taken upon himself the role of Rupak’s mentor. Rajendra recalls that Rupak’s first painting was exhibited and sold at Planet Autism 2012 in New Delhi. His first solo exhibition was held in April at Forum Art Gallery, followed by another solo exhibition in June at Dakshina Chitra Art Gallery (in Chennai). His solo stalls, earlier this year, at Kalashetra Foundation’s Dastkari Haat Samiti Craft Bazaar and ‘By Hand, from heart show’ at Poes Garden sold over 19 paintings in total.

Art heals

His mother opines that the painting process matters as much as the end product. It improves his fine motor skills and helps him calm down. Artist Shalini Biswajit adds that the children use art to communicate too. We saw Rupak pacing up and down during the whole interaction and kept repeating a singular hand movement. But the moment his father placed an empty canvas, strangers became oblivious to him and right there, with just a wooden ladle, he did an abstract painting, pausing between strokes in a pensive mood. The elation in him was obvious as he completed the work in minutes.

A strong support system

Ranjana says it has been a challenge managing a special child and taking care of his elder sister simultaneously. “I have seen families torn apart because of the stress. But we have been lucky with our family and friends who have been extremely supportive. Our next step is finding a home for Rupak after us. Parents like us have been discussing a possible home or community for autistic kids as they age,” Ranjana says. Meanwhile, Rupak’s art ventures prove to be a solace for the entire family.

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