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Saurabh Mohan: Defeating Disability Through Art

Colors are a way to communicate with the world for Saurabh Mohan.

Interspersed with bold strokes of rust, gold, green and fuchsia and emblazoned with the recurring outline of a glowing candle, Saurabh Mohan’s paintings are a tool to communicate with the world.

“I like to paint because I like to show beauty85Colors play their role in making my paintings beautiful,” he explains via an e-mail interview.

Born deaf, Mohan, 29, stumbled into painting almost accidently. He was barely 7 when he received a certificate of merit in a school drawing contest. Mohan says that what started as an escape from studies in higher classes became a journey to discover the joy of colors.

The visitor’s book at the American Center in New Delhi, where Mohan held his first, solo “Art is Ability” exhibition in October, turned out to be a barometer of his tryst with the brush. “An artist with a promise,” wrote a guest. “There is positivity in all portraits,” was another response. Yet another praised the “confidence and maturity” of his strokes.

Though his paintings follow no set pattern, many comprise multicolored geometric shapes in stark acrylic colors on a canvas base. Mohan says he does not decide the colors beforehand and adds more hues as the painting progresses. “When I paint, my mind opens up and I like to paint more and more,” he says, adding that some of his initial work conveyed the issue of global warming. “The squares, the blocks, the blobs, the circles and the streaks take shape as I proceed. Sometimes they resemble buildings, sometimes people, sometimes forests, sometimes an aura and sometimes water. I leave that to the viewers’ imagination.”

“His exhibition at the American Center has proved a successful training ground,” says his mother, journalist Kumud Mohan.

Recounting the chaos that prevailed in the family after discovering that their second born, healthy son was in fact, profoundly deaf, Mrs. Mohan recollects how her initial days were filled with grief. 

Help came in the form of the John Tracy Clinic in Los Angeles, California, an education center for deaf children and their parents. Its services include free correspondence courses for parents of hearing impaired and deaf children anywhere in the world.

Mrs. Mohan says the course gave her the direction and support she desperately needed. “The course I did with John Tracy Clinic, Los Angeles, gave me tremendous faith, which probably translated to Saurabh’s self-confidence,” she says.

The clinic has served over 300,000 families since its establishment in 1942 by Louise Tracy, wife of American movie star Spencer Tracy. When their infant son, John, was diagnosed with profound hearing loss in 1925, Mrs. Tracy devoted her time and energy to studying how deaf children could be taught to communicate with the hearing and speaking world. Through her patient guidance, he gained an understanding of language and lip-reading and learned to speak, says the clinic. When other mothers of deaf children asked for her help, she founded the clinic. John Tracy became a cartoonist and polo player among other accomplishments and died in 2007, leaving a son and grandchildren.

“Though we never met her, somehow Mrs. Louise Tracy, the founder of the clinic85became one of the finest people to enter our lives,” Mrs. Mohan wrote in a November 1986 article for SPAN.

“It used to take 20 days to a month for the course material to arrive by ship. The same amount of time for the answers to reach from me to them,” she says. The course lasted just over a year. Today, however, parents have a much easier option. The John Tracy Clinic provides material on the Internet which is available for downloading at http://www.jtc.org/services/distance-education/index.html

An avid photographer who has traveled extensively across India, Mohan loves long-distance driving and spends considerable time practicing his speech. Mohan says he is grateful to have his family’s support in all his endeavors, including painting. Though silence may reign in his life, he says color has filled it with happiness and tranquility.