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In illness, teen finds hidden talent for art

A 14-year-old cancer patient who didn’t know he could paint until illness struck a year ago has toiled nine hours a day for over three weeks to complete a canvas to fund his treatment.

Class IX student Arpan Sardar, fighting acute lymphoblastic leukaemia for more than a year, finished his 6ftx4ft Buddha portrait a week ago and hopes to get his first cheque soon.

He hopes the price his labour of love fetches would be enough to pay for his treatment over the next few months.

Arpan’s father is a gardener earning Rs 3,000 a month. His parents had arranged for Rs 1.5 lakh by selling his mother’s jewellery and their only asset, a bigha of land in Budge Budge. Doctors at the Saroj Gupta Cancer Centre and Research Institute in Thakurpukur helped collect another Rs 3 lakh through some NGOs. The entire amount has already been spent on chemotherapy and medicines.

Arpan needs at least Rs 2 lakh more, half of which could come from the management consultancy firm that has offered to buy his painting. “I didn’t know how to properly hold a paintbrush. But painting is my only hope now,” said Arpan.

His painting depicts the moment when Buddha attained enlightenment under a banyan tree. According to art therapist Papri Saha, the company that had offered to buy Arpan’s work would mount it on a wall of its Delhi office.

“A senior official had seen a miniature version during an exhibition last month. He agreed to partly fund Arpan’s treatment if he could replicate the work on a bigger canvas,” said Papri, who taught Arpan to paint in hospital.

His Buddha portrait is likely to be shipped to Delhi by the end of the week.

“I had seen the boy and his paintings during one of my visits to the hospital. The boy is a natural…. If he can overcome the disease, he has a very bright future as a painter,” said artist Samir Aich.

Arpan’s prognosis is good. He has had 42 sessions of chemotherapy since June 2012 and needs another 12. “He had an early diagnosis and that has improved his chances of survival. But it was only after he started taking an interest in painting that he showed progress,” said Arpan’s doctor, Soma Dey.

The 14-year-old discovered he had a talent for art when he was asked to replicate illustrations from Sukumar Ray’s Abol Tabol. He was soon creating original images after listening to the poems and rhymes.

“I had difficulty moving my hand at first, but it became more and more flexible with practice. I also became so fond of painting that I would sit with my drawing book even a day after chemotherapy,” said Arpan, who dreams of studying at the Government College of Art and Craft.

Art therapist Papri is delighted to see her student discover a talent he didn’t know existed and use it to motivate himself. “When Arpan first came to our hospital, he could not walk and move his hands properly. He would look outside the window all day. But after a month, he began opening up and that’s when I made him paint,” she recalled.

For his parents, seeing their son take up art has been the one bright spot in their lives since he was diagnosed with cancer. “His interest in painting has kept him and us going,” mother Jayati said.

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