Janarthanan is a 24-year-old mouth artist. He lost both his hands in a devastating accident at the age of eight and has been facing each day like a challenge since then. He has won more than 150 prizes in painting competitions since 2003, including two national awards. This is his story of determination and grit, narrated with his beautiful art.
“People always feel that they can’t do something or the other because they concentrate on a lot of negativity. But remember how we used to play many different games as children? We would focus on something – a puzzle to solve or a game to finish, and be completely positive that we will be able to achieve success. If we could think that way as kids, why can’t we have the same attitude as adults? One just has to feel positive,” says Janarthanan, a young man who lost both his hands and a leg after an accident when he was 8 years old.
Today, this Chennai resident is an accomplished mouth painter and has won over 150 prizes at different painting competitions.
It was March 4, 2000 – just another day for young Janarthanan who returned home after school and went to the terrace to play with his friends.
“I found a seven feet long iron rod on the terrace and started playing with it. I was spinning it while standing near the edge of the terrace and didn’t notice a high tension electric line adjacent to the building. The rod suddenly came in contact with the line,” recounts Janarthanan.
He fainted due to the electric shock and the nearest transformer burst into flames. Hearing the noise, his parents and neighbours rushed to the spot to find the little boy burnt and unconscious. He was immediately taken to a nearby private hospital but the doctors there had never seen such a case. Janarthanan had suffered 99% burns and they didn’t know how to treat him. So his father was advised to take him to the Government Stanley Hospital. A group of 13 doctors, headed by a child specialist named Dr. Seeniraj, treated Janarthanan.
As the injuries were very deep, they had to amputate his right hand up to his shoulders, left hand up to the elbow, his left leg till the knee, and the toes of his right foot.
“I was cured after eight months and eight operations. Dr. Seeniraj told my father that this child has got a second chance and it means that he will achieve something great in life. It gave my parents a lot of hope,” smiles Janarthanan.
He asked his doctor a simple question during the recovery period – “How will I go to school after all this? How will I go normally, like I used to go earlier?” And the even simpler answer to this question changed his life.
“The doctor just told me that he knows many people who write with their mouth, and I should also try. I started trying that evening only. And kept practicing for days till I finally succeeded,” he says.
After his treatment, Janarthanan went to the Government Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine in Chennai to get a prosthetic leg. His family had spent a lot of money on his treatment by then, and this was the maximum they could afford. Soon, he started walking, after fighting immense pain with his unbeatable determination during the practice sessions.
All this while, Janarthanan also continued to practice writing with his mouth. One day, he saw his mother drawing some flowers in a notebook. It struck him then that he could try drawing and painting as well. So he did.
And after several days of hard work, he succeeded at that too – painting with poster and water colours.
This was when some people at the rehabilitation centre advised him that he should participate in painting competitions because his work was so impressive.
“Earlier, I used to feel very shy and bad about going out. But when I did finally participate in one competition, I ended up winning the first prize. It really encouraged me. Everyone was talking about my victory and there were posters about my recovery at the hospital to encourage other patients like me. Every time I saw those posters, I used to get motivated to participate in more competitions,” says Janarthanan.Partner Story#MGChangemakers - Episode 2: THE 21-YEAR JOURNEY OF CHANGE | Driving India Into Future
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He practiced his art himself and never joined any training centre to learn painting or drawing. Since his first victory, he has participated in many big and small events, winning in most of them.
The first time he participated in a national level competition was in 2005, through Bal Bhawan in Chennai. The competition was held at three levels – zonal, district and state.
Janarthanan went on qualifying at each level to finally reach the finals, which were organized in Delhi.
“I didn’t participate with children with physical disabilities. The competition was for everyone, and it was really tough. A few months after the event they sent me a letter saying that I was selected for the National Award and had to go to the Rashtrapati Bhavan to receive it. I didn’t expect anything like that, and it was a priceless moment. I met Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. ‘You should be a role model for others,’ he told me. I am still living by his words,” the artist remembers.
He has won more than 150 awards since 2003, and received a recent one from musician A. R. Rahman.
Janarthanan wrote all his exams with his mouth, including his class 10 board exams for which he was granted some extra time.
With his desire to become a computer graphics designer, Janarthanan did a course in multimedia, followed by a visual effects course from Loyola College.
After that, he joined a media channel and worked there for three years.
Currently, 24-year-old Janarthanan is working as a freelancer in the field of film editing and is concentrating on learning more about film direction.
“I face each day like a challenge, and without the support of my parents and sister, I would not have reached so far. I just want to continue being positive and do what I love,” he concludes.
Janarthanan, you really are an inspiration for many. Here’s wishing you the very best for all your future projects.