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Art to fight Parkinson’s disease

December 31, 2002 15:43 IST



“I wish to emphasize the role of the thumb and the forefinger in the exercise of art. It is called the ‘Chin Mudra' and often used as a gesture for meditation. It is seen with deities in Indian and Buddhist art and indicates the activating of consciousness or intellect.


While painting or drawing, one employs these two fingers mainly, and it is believed to kindle the acupressure point related to the brain. Thus, through acupressure points, art therapy offers an individual means of escape from physical or mental stress and pain through intense concentration and involvement it calls for.” Rajny Krishnan, an artist and a sculptor who has been working with physically and mentally challenged children for quite some time, describes art therapy in these words.


While working with those children, what Rajny, an “art therapist” as she calls herself, wanted to find out was the answer to the question: how many of us who handle drawing pens and brushes every day use it as a tool to speak to, soothe or (re)discover ourselves?


“A unified approach to art must be ruled out at the outset since its depths cannot be easily gauged and most art is period, location, religion and culture specific.”

So, she felt art under the realm of art therapy could not or need not enjoy the same status as art per se.  “The goal is self expression and healing.”


After having trained herself in the technical aspects of art therapy through reading and intensive research, Rajny began her work with children through workshops. In one of the workshops for physically and mentally challenged children, she found that the impairments of hearing, movement or intelligence were the least intruding factors in expressing themselves. “Art therapy need not be painting alone. It can be music, it can be dance, it can be any other art but art can heal.”


Little did Rajny Krishnan think then that one day she would be trying the same therapy on her father.  Her father, M.V.Krishnan was a very active and strong willed person till he met with a road accident in 1989. Although he came out of the accident alive, he began showing curious symptoms, which were clinically diagnosed as due to ‘post-traumatic Parkinsonism.' Gradually his speech, handwriting, mobility and even sleep got affected and within three years, it was confirmed that he was suffering from Parkinson's disease. The very truth that he was immobile affected Krishnan's mental make up badly. He couldn't bear the ‘freezing' episodes and the involuntary movements of his body. His family could only remain mute witnesses to the mental agony and physical discomfort he was going through.


A person afflicted with Parkinson's disease gets trapped in a disobedient body which makes it difficult for him to get up from the bed in the morning, brush his teeth, wash himself, button his shirt; or to comb hair, wear shoes, eat, talk, take a walk or even sleep. Handwriting would turn into a scrawl and even signing a note could be exasperating.

Unable to bear the pain her father was going through, Rajny decided to try art therapy on him. “From my childhood, I had admired my father's beautiful handwriting, his precision with plotting an industrial diagram and do everything perfectly. But he was not an artist. Still, I decided to gift him with colours and material.”

Encouraged by the way his hands responded to colouring, Rajny supplied more and more colours and materials to him. Although his handwriting had become a scrawl, he developed an amazing control in colouring in no time.

Rajny stresses the fact that a patient need NOT know to draw or paint, learn or understand its high fundamentals. He only has to follow what the instructor tells him and also follow his own instinct. Rajny also feels that not all art used therapeutically needs the constant involvement or guidance of the therapist. “According to me, the role of the therapist is primarily to observe and facilitate suitable self-expression in an apt environment. All the other factors vary from case to case.”

“My father realised that he had to rediscover and live more fully that part of himself again,” Rajny

remembers. “As he is a very spiritual person, I bought him reference materials on Yantra and Tantra as well as on the power of lines and colours. He wished to create pictures that have meditative quality.”

Needless to say, Krishnan began feeling a new vigour in him. His family also noticed the difference in his disposition. “We began to note the changes in him. While he painted with concentration, his dyskinesias or involuntary movements were reduced. He could manage to point his brush at one place and that was a big achievement. At first, he would regret spoiling a painting. We then had to quickly move on to the next painting as he did not want to reveal flaws that spoke of his condition.” Rajny recalled.

Krishnan who at the age of 67, felt people had written him off, sat for hours thinking and sketching, unmindful of his discomforts and body aches.  Soon his painting got focused and he began spending the best part of his day with colours.


After nearly two years of work, Rajny decided to exhibit her father's work at Manasthala, a non-governmental, non-profit organisation that is involved in the promotion of Indian culture through the medium of traditional arts and crafts.

An excited and proud Krishnan travelled to ‘Manasthala' and sat through the inauguration. He spoke of his long journey without any difficulty but by the time he reached home, he had to be carried. “Painting in spite of my condition of either ‘freezing' or uncomfortable movements, slurred speech, fleeting concentration and troubled mind, has given me peace, hope and a sense of achievement. Now after two years of painting, my control and concentration have improved incredibly…” said he. He spoke quite clearly and coherently for a long time.


As I was talking to Rajny, I noticed a lady sitting on a chair in the middle of the exhibition hall, trying to concentrate on the paintings on the wall. She was Kalpana. 39 year old Kalpana was completely immobile till recently, her body seldom obeyed her and she found it difficult to speak even a few words.


Later, as I pored over the bundle of paintings of beautiful flowers in bewitching colours, I couldn't believe that they were painted by the lady who looked totally helpless, and whose body shook with violent involuntary spasms in front of strangers.

Kalpana became a victim of Juvenile Parkinonism at the age of 15 but because of wrong diagnosis, she not only became immobile and bedridden but had to go through a lot of mental agony. Her limbs were extremely stiff till recently.

It was an article about her in a newspaper that took Rajny to her house, and she volunteered to help Kalpana through art therapy. It was an enlightening experience for Kalpana to hold a brush after more than two decades.

“Kalpana is a born artist, and had done quite a few paintings before she got affected by the disease. From the day I met her, she has become my friend, a friend who has seen even more trauma than my father. Now, she views my father as role model of strength. After we started art therapy, she can use her right hand to paint, eat and drink, and with her strong will power manages to walk a few steps without support. I supply her with art material, and I feel so happy to see her as a changed person once she starts painting. I have created a trust (Krishna Nupur Cultural Trust) for the work that I do for children, and I can manage to give her all the materials that she needs.”

Rajny feels that painting will make a difference in Kalpana's life for now her parents are worried about her once they are gone. “I am sure that Kalpana can lead a comfortable and independent life as an artist. She can lead her own life. This is my conviction, and everything is going according to plans.”

Rajny is preparing Kalpana for an exhibition of her paintings but she wants to wait for some time. She doesn't want anybody to view her paintings sympathetically just because she is afflicted with a disease. “She is a born artist and she should get credit for her work….”

Rajny Krishnan can be contacted at



Photographs by Sreeram Selvaraj