Putting pain on paper, colouring it bright

Putting pain on paper, colouring it bright

 NO SUFFERING Life is what you make of it. And Rohini Sen has an inspiring art exhibition to show for the two years she lost to a baffling foot injury, writes Jisha Krishnan.

There are parrots, emus, rats, turtles, octopus. Each one has a story to tell. So does Rohini Sen, the artist. “The ideas about pain are vintage, just like the vintage Japanese Kozo paper I’ve used for my drawings,” says Rohini, as she walks me through The efficacy of exquisite pain.

Rohini’s tryst with pain began about three years ago when she tripped on a granite plank during a marathon in Bangalore.

Dismissing it as a mere sprain, the 23-year-old ran another eight kilometres and completed the run.

Next morning, the left foot refused to get into the shoe. “The swelling subsided though, as my coach put some ice on it,” says Rohini.

But something was amiss. And the runner knew this when she struggled to complete a 25-km marathon. “It took me five hours!”

Despite consulting eight specialists across India and nine abroad – all MRI and bone scans were normal – Rohini continued to limp. “I even went to a counsellor thinking, probably, it was psychosomatic.

She told me it wasn’t… I took three cortisone shots, which really messed things up,” she says.

Rohini was wheelchair-bound for the next two years. When allopathic medicine failed, ayurveda was the next resort. While she was admitted in an ayurvedic hospital, she looked at her pain with new eyes. As Haruki Murakami says, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”

The artist decided to put pen to paper and draw. “My art wasn’t a catharsis of any kind. These are my observations about the process of pain and healing,” clarifies Rohini, who is currently adjunct faculty at Srishti School of Art, Design and
Technology in Bangalore.

Rohini makes a conscious decision not to use human figures, but find visual metaphors for her drawings.

The rats in her drawings depict “the plague of memory”, while the turtles drive home the slow and steady motto. The octopus with its eight arms stands for belief in oneself and paving one’s own path.

“Even after my foot got better, I continued to limp. The sight of a flight of stairs still made me very uncomfortable,” she reminisces.

To break free of painful associations, free the mind of agonising memories, accept the reality, recognise “the choice between freshness and decay”, make new associations, one has to let the healing process begin.

“For any kind of healing, apprehension is, perhaps, the first step. Apprehension treads the fine line between belief and doubt, where the mind has, subconsciously, several iotas of acceptance open,” she explains.

Trained in Madhubani art at Rishi Valley School in Bangalore, Rohini has done her Bachelor's in visual art from Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath. In 2012, she did
MA in Art Education at the Rhode Island School of Design, USA - while suffering from the foot injury.

“It was a turning point. My parents were worried, though. Fractures and snow don’t make friends, you know,” she says.

Rohini stayed in a foreign country by herself, even as she struggled to walk
without assistance. “Unlike India or even London, US is very handicap-friendly.
When my fiancé visited me, we would go to art galleries – me in a wheelchair – and there was no awkwardness; nobody would stare,” she maintains.

In the last two years, Rohini has exhibited at quite a few galleries in Japan and Belgium. And now that she is back in India with her first solo show, Rohini has donned the running shoes again.

She successfully finished the TCS 10km marathon recently. “My running team, Jayanagar Jaguar, has been very supportive. Given that I don’t have my earlier endurance, they assigned two people to run at my pace, so that I still feel like a part of the group,” says the runner, who has been pain-free for nine months.

Reconnecting with friends and acquaintances has been a tricky issue. “I want to meet new people, nobody who knew me from my fit days,” she confides.

It’s not just the 12-kg weight gain and loss of athletic form, but also, perhaps, some internal battles that are still being fought.

She doesn’t nurture marathon dreams anymore. She’s very grateful for whatever her body grants her. “When one part of your body can’t perform its function, the other parts have to put in that much more effort,” she explains.

The accident that caused so much heartburn also helped her “recognise her primary identity as an artist, who is also a teacher and a marathon runner”. Rohini has already got cracking on the next two series. Collaboration with a Pakistani artist is also in the pipeline.

(The efficacy of exquisite pain is on till July 4 at Gallery Five Forty Five, Bangalore)

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