At a time when most news and opinions are about unhappy events, I think it is important to bring to the public notice things that are quietly happening around us and appreciate the wonderful people who make our lives brighter.
The following piece is about an incredibly talented youngster I have had the privilege of teaching and interacting with during the SBI Youth for India Fellowship.
At the recently-held Public Arts of Gopalpur (PAGo) festival at the famous Gopalpur beach, a quiet, unassuming teenager could be found showing a group of school children around. Anyone could have assumed that it was an enthusiastic volunteer or someone accompanying school kids on a trip.
As a matter of fact, this youngster, Laxman Majhi, was probably the youngest artist participating in PAGo. He has worked under the guidance of the well-known contemporary artist Ms Satyabhama Majhi on the massive mural titled “Ashore but Alive”. This mural, which was painted on a wall measuring 260 feet by 40 feet facing the Bay of Bengal, shows the unfortunate fate of blue whales whose dead bodies wash up on the coast of Odisha with depressing regularity.
Laxman Majhi, who sat for his high-school finals in March 2017, is only 16 years old. He comes from a tiny village called Mothan in the Kalahandi district of Odisha, which has a population of less than 300, comprising around 20 families.
Laxman says that there is power and water supply in his village, now, and even a road on which some buses ply to and from Bhawanipatna, the district headquarters of Kalahandi. Mothan is one of the Gram Vikas villages – which has benefitted the village, concerning water and sanitation issues. In fact, the much-acclaimed water and sanitation programme of the Gram Vikas NGO has also been implemented in Mothan. However, telecommunications in the village remain patchy at best, and it has to be a lucky day when cellular communications are successful on the first try.
Laxman’s father still lives in the village – his mother having succumbed to illness a few years ago. His elder brother Sushant, whom Laxman credits with teaching him the basics of art, is shouldering family responsibilities and is now working in Kerala so that Laxman can continue his studies. It is difficult to miss the note of pride and affection for his brother in Laxman’s voice.
Thanks to his brother’s efforts, and with the support of the NGO, Laxman has continued his studies and his love for art. For the last eight years, under the aegis of Gram Vikas schools – first in Thuamul Rampur, Kalahandi, and then at Kankia, Ganjam – Laxman has been quietly collecting laurels that would be the envy of older and more experienced artists.
For years, Laxman has been regularly participating in (and winning art) competitions at the block and district levels. For two successive years, he has participated in national level competitions as well. His portfolio, preserved lovingly by Arabinda Swain, the headmaster of Gram Vikas Shikshya Niketan, Kalahandi, provides glimpses of a multi-talented child who has grown into a mature artist.
In addition to various awards at district levels, Laxman also has the following: a certificate of merit from the Odisha State Talent Scholarship Examination in 2012, a certificate of merit for a quiz competition organised by the Department of Energy, Government of Odisha on National Energy Conservation Day in 2013, and the two certificates of merit awarded at the National Child Art Contest in 2013 and 2014.
When I talked to him, Laxman seemed genuinely surprised that someone wanted to ‘capture his story’. Nevertheless, he went along with it in good humour. ‘Good humour’ is probably the hallmark of the person that Laxman is – gentle, soft-spoken, intelligent, and never without a smile on his face.
This is also reflected in his initial desire to specialise in caricatures and cartoons. He will tell you that he was not very good at this, in a very modest and unselfconscious manner. According to Siddharth Vashist, mentor of creative capacity building at Gram Vikas, who has known him for three years now, Laxman is very good at “working with different materials, origami and water painting, an intricate art form.”
Nowadays, Laxman specialises in sketches and paintings, besides always being ready to learn new things. In this endeavour, he has received help from many sources, whom he speaks of with great respect.
Shalini Krishnan, SBI Youth for India Fellow then working in Gram Vikas High School, Kankia, had conceptualized and helped set up Kalpanadham (literally, abode of imagination), a creative arts studio in the school. Laxman arrived in Kankia just in time to witness the inauguration of Kalpanadham by Dr Joe Madiath, founder and chairman of Gram Vikas. Most of the infrastructure of Kalpanadham – including its Godrej almirahs (used for storing supplies and a sound box) which are a huge favourite of the students – owes its presence to Shalini.
Shalini says, “Laxmi is a sincere, quiet learner and an ardent observer. He likes to absorb and understand first before actually getting to the doing part, something that is seen less among youngsters of his age. If provided the right guidance and support, Laxman can truly do well in whatever he chooses to become.”
Debendra Dash, an assistant teacher at the school who volunteered to take the Kalpanadham initiative forward, chose Laxman (who was then in the ninth standard) as the leader and mentor of all the budding artists in the school. One of these children, Subash (from the Gram Vikas Residential School, Kankia) has recently won a gold medal in the International Child Art Exhibition organised by the Odisha Modern Art Gallery. Laxman is delighted about the recognition received by his protege.
One of the most endearing things I have seen him do is transforming the spare blackboard in his classroom into a canvas with an ever-changing vista. With nothing but a white chalk to work with, Laxman would create works of art on the blackboard that would light up the classroom. One would walk into the classroom each day, eagerly waiting to see what the blackboard was displaying. Some days, it would be cartoons – on others, calligraphic designs. As the board exams neared, the centre-piece of the art became, quite obviously, a countdown.
Now, having finished school, Laxman wants to study further and dreams of becoming an English teacher. He understands that English is the language of communication at a global level, and he wants to meet and interact with people from different parts of the world.
The thought of Laxman Majhi teaching English to young, eager students is a happy one. While a picture may be worth a thousand words, a teacher who can paint words as well as he can paint colours would be extraordinary indeed!