A Canvas for the creative mind – The Financial Express

The Financial Express
In a foreword to a rather unique book to showcase the art, thought and emotional skills of differently abled children from across India and abroad, Dalai Lama, the highest spiritual figure in Tibetan Buddhism, shares a telling thought: “We are not all born equal. Despite being part of our one human society, some of us are born differently abled…children with special needs are often talented and intelligent in very specific ways.” It is to celebrate this very attribute that Neena Rao, mother of Harshvardhan Rao, diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism, that drove her to put together “Mindscapes: A canvas of emotions in a special world” – a coffee-table book compilation of select drawings and writings by 39 children from across India and abroad.
Helping her in this endeavour has been Margika, an NGO that she established in June 2017 while coping with her son’s diagnosis. The aim of the NGO, she says, “is to work towards mental health awareness, inclusive education and services that were all aimed towards special needs children.” The book is to her, an endeavour towards ensuring quicker acceptance of the differently-abled by the families and also getting to mainstream these children. The book showcases unique skills and is meant to build their self-esteem and inspiring others.
The book carries several endorsing quotes by celebrities like actor Aamir Khan, Shashi Tharoor, MP, Subroto Bagchi, co-founder, Mindtree and Shantha Sinha, child rights activist. The 39 pieces put together in book are mostly from the children themselves or by a close relative. The children, hail from different parts of the country – Kashmir to Kerala and from Florida in the US and are in the age group of 7 to 26 years, though emotionally many of them could be much younger. The link node running across the 250 page book, that took about two years to take shape from its ideation to printed edition, has been to provide a medium wherein they can all communicate and express their emotions in ways they are most comfortable doing.
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The book, which also carries a second foreword, has Dr Matcheri Keshavan, academic head of Psychiatry department at the Harvard Medical School, quoting data from the World Health Organisation: “one in every four persons world-wide suffers from one or other challenge in functioning of the brain and mind.” Dr Keshavan describes the book as one that through the medium of “visual art and poetry (text) reflects one or other aspect of the creative mind.”
Prior to the book and pointing to the reason that triggered Rao to launch the NGO, she says: “it was because of the experience that we were, in a sense, forced into. But then, seeing my son doing better after getting proper support in the US, I got even more encouraged to bring in some of the best practices from the US to India and organise training for the differently-abled and also for all the stakeholders in this space.” Rao, who is with her son in the US and spends her time between US and India, says the mission to ensure early acceptance by the family and to mainstream these children into the larger society and community through inclusive education.
Rao sees part of the problem also triggering from situations where rather than extending the initial care and compassion, the societal construct, ends up complicating and compounding the problems for the differently-abled and their families. Part of it reflected in the infrastructure and community-level support systems, apart from the sigma. Be it the hurdles for a person on wheelchair having to undertake a train journey or the degree of integration and curriculum that schools at large extend to the differently-abled children. Though, she says, the National Education Policy now intends to correct some of these but then, it is still early days.
Through the pages of the book, there is S Bhanu Goud’s drawings and writing that put across his anger while also the role that art and education is now playing in his life.
Ashti Gupta has her drawings with messages on women empowerment accompanying them. Ch. Meghana, exhibits mother-child bond in her drawing depicting mother’s face as an extended cloth swing tied to a tree branch that lets a baby rest.
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Through their mind and brain looking at their life experiences they all come across as individuals who can connect better, have an innate ability to relate to the things they see around them and the skill to display their abilities subtly but clearly.
Rao’s son, now 24, who has apparently progressed well, is now in college and pursuing horse riding as hobby. In his essay on horse rising in the book, he says, “I am considering horses as a career option, where I could become a horse-riding instructor and exploring it as a possible career option too in the US perhaps as a riding instructor, a tourist guide on a horse or an equine therapist.”
Book review:
Mindscapes: A canvas of emotions in a special world.
By Neena Rao.
Published by Margika
Pages: 248.

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