For the past six years, Ramesh Barahi has been trying his hand at painting, but he does not have the comfort of boasting himself as an artist at various events and gatherings. Owing to a physical disability, he cannot move alone.
Yet, this 32-year-old man from Sundhara of the ancient Patan city in Kathmandu is committed to continuing his struggle to make himself recognised as an artist and support his family with the proceeds. He also wants to inspire others, ‘abled’ and ‘differently-abled’ alike.
“I love to paint when I am happy or bored,” Barahi says, “I never feel limited because of my condition.” Instead, he has perceived painting as a medium that would help him explore the world.
A person with short stature, Barahi suffers a medical condition named hydrocephalus, in which there is excessive cerebrospinal fluid in his brain. His bones are also fragile. Therefore, he cannot move whenever he wants. He needs a wheelchair or a walker to roam around.
“My parents were hopeless that I should live,” Barahi explains, “because my limbs were like cotton.”
Commuting has always been an issue for Barahi. “Public buses do not usually stop for us. Even taxis are reluctant to take us because of our wheelchair,” he says, “When they are ready, they ask more money.”
He loves to go around Mangal Bazaar, which is in a ten-minute walking distance from his house during the evenings, but the road turns out to be a hellish experience for him.
“The road is not as good as it was in the past,” Barahi expresses his dissatisfaction. “Normal people can walk there. They do not have experiences of using a wheelchair.”
Now, he recommends, “They need to understand our problem. In other countries, there are disabled friendly infrastructures. The roads should be equally accessible to everyone. Our needs are not prioritised much. And we are never into the limelight. I feel sad that the differently-abled are not in the government’s priority.”
Yet, so far, his confidence has been his lifeblood, and of late he has found the medium of colours to assert his presence. “Even if I cannot be mobile much, I wish my art explored the world. It would mean that I would be going everywhere through my art.
Struggle to make living
Perhaps confidence is not enough to make a living. Hence, this confident man turns restless whenever people talk about his earning.
“I am not as economically independent as I wish to be” Barahi reflects on his experiences. “People usually spectate. My paintings are piling up and I do not sell them much. People do not understand my needs. People have asked me to draw their portraits before. But when I quote my price, they think it’s expensive.”
But even in these hard times, his family has supported him. “I get very depressed sometimes but I talk to my father or meet my friends to forget these pains.”
“Others tell me that I am lucky to have very caring parents. They tell stories of other people living with different disabilities being locked or chained. They say I have freedom. I myself met a few people who were chained during my treatment at Patan Community-based Rehabilitation Organisation (Patan CBR).”
Barahi has found a brother is an employee of his father’s handicraft workshop because he, too, cannot speak and hear. Yet, the father has mobilised him in assisting Barahi in his daily activities.
“We go out together and he takes me around, pushing my wheelchair. I signal him and he understands my gestures.”
Now, Barahi wants some woman to marry him so that she could provide him emotional support whenever needed.
“I wish I had a life partner. I will not have my parents or Raj Kumar Dai (his dad’s employee) around me all the time. I might need someone to take care of me. But people laugh at this. They do not understand that I have a life to spend.”
Becoming an artist
Due to his disabilities, Barahi could not complete his school. He dropped out in the seventh grade.
“My school was half an hour away from my home,” he remembers. “Although I had good friends and good teachers, I couldn’t go to school anymore. There was a person in my father’s workshop that used to take me to school on his bicycle. Later he went abroad.”
The struggle to become an artist was even harder. “My legs are weak. I wanted to go to take art classes, but I could not. I used to cry. I wanted to learn but I had no one to teach me. “
Eventually, he started taking art classes with Erina Tamrakar, a renowned Nepali contemporary artist.
“At first, it was hard for my teacher to teach me painting. But understanding my condition, she changed her approach. She helped me put my hand in the right position to hold a pencil and held my hand herself so that I could move it on the paper.”
Building on her lessons, Barahi has had three art exhibitions so far. Currently, he runs a gallery, Barahi Kalaa Kwotha, near his home in Sundhara, Patan.
Once, Barahi had an opportunity to meet and gift the executive chief of the ruling Nepal Communist Party, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, his portrait during Dahal’s premiership. Barahi recalls, “It was one of my best experiences so far.”
Asserting the self
In a society where differently-abled people are treated well, out of pity or sympathy rather than respect, Barahi is trying hard to make his self-esteem high as an artist.
“Contemporary artists are more respected today than yesterday. I feel happy to be recognised. I get constructive criticism sometimes. In my exhibition at Bhrikutimandap, there were many who commented on what I could improve upon.”
But some of his social experiences are bad too. He frequently feels bullied by his neighbours and others. But instead of limiting his endeavours, such encounters make him stronger to assert the identity of differently-abled persons in society.
Therefore, he has recently gathered two other differently-abled friends and begun doing the art together. “We enjoy each other’s company very much. Sometimes, we dance together,” Barahi happily shares, “We worked together on painting and sold it abroad.”
Despite all the odds, Barahi is proud of what he has achieved so far. “I feel I have done respectable work. I am proud of my artworks. People talk to me with respect.”
“But I wish those who respect me would also buy my paintings so that I could live a dignified life.”
Published on January 26th, Sunday, 2020 9:29 AM