When advocate Bindu Gopinath steps into the hall with two large packets, Kusumakumari runs to take it from her. “Bindu has been helping out so much, like a daughter,” beams Kusumakumari. They are standing at the corner of the Museum Hall in Thiruvananthapuram, watching paintings being hung for a new art exhibition. The artist is Mahesh MK, Kusumakumari’s son, who was born with hearing and speech disabilities. It is Bindu and her colleague, advocate J Sandhya, who arranged the exhibition for Mahesh and his wife Smitha, who was also born with hearing and speech disabilities. They will display their respective works – his paintings and her fabric art on saris.
Bindu and Sandhya, advocates in Thiruvananthapuram, met the family from Kollam regarding a property dispute. While talking about their financial struggles, the family casually mentioned that Mahesh could paint as well, but he wasn’t doing much these days, depressed over the turn of events. That night, Kusumakumari sent pictures of Mahesh’s paintings to Bindu, over WhatsApp.
Mahesh with his mural paintings
“That’s when we realised how talented he is,” Bindu says. Mahesh has never had an art exhibition before. He has been painting since he was a child. Recognising his skills, the parents first got a drawing master to come home and the child began winning prizes at school. When he grew up, he began going to the master’s place – an artist called Mohanlal.
“Later, he got interested in mural paintings. Artist Prince Thonnakkal would come home to teach him,” says Kusumakumari. The exhibition is mostly all mural paintings of various gods and goddesses. Mahesh has an obvious liking for painting Krishna murals, there are quite a few of those. On one side of a stand, are Mahesh’s reproductions of Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings and a few others.
Other works of Mahesh
The inauguration is happening on Tuesday evening when renowned artist BD Dethan will arrive to do the honours. “Everyone we approached has been really supportive. S Abu, the Museum director, is giving the presidential address. Vijayalakshmi, Museum educational officer, to whom I asked to consider the disability of the artists and offer a concession, said that we can take it for free. Jubia A, sub judge and secretary of the District Legal Services Authority, was all excited and is coming to offer felicitations. So is Mohammed Asheel, executive director of Social Security Mission,” says Bindu.
She adds that what is most admirable about all this is the spirit of the mother Kusumakumari. She is a retired government teacher, earning a pension, and it is on that amount that the family survives. “Despite being so soft-spoken, she's the eyes, ears and tongue of the family,” Bindu says. Mahesh’s father Mathanan Nair had worked as an accountant at a private mill. There is also a child in the house -- Mahesh and Smitha’s six-year-old son Bhavesh.
No jobs that Mahesh had applied for worked out for him. “We finally began an art school at home and children come to take lessons from Mahesh. When he got married to Smitha, he began teaching her too. She had an interest in painting and he taught her to do fabric work on saris,” Kusumakumari says.
Smitha paints a Sari
Mahesh painted murals on the walls of a temple in Kollam for free, hoping that someone who saw it might give him work. It is when all his hopes were dashed and the family also had to go through a property dispute that they went to meet the advocates.
Bindu, oblivious to how much of a relief she's providing to Kusumakumari, asks, “I suggested the name Ameyam (for the exhibition). What do you think about it?” Ameyam, in Malayalam, means infinite, that which can't be measured.