Quest for the canvas

- October 19, 2023
| By : Mohd Shehwaaz Khan |

Defeating partial paralysis, an octogenarian picked up the brush to paint a picture of her indefatigable spirit

Indrani Satpati, an 85-year-old woman, does many things at once. She is a painter, a poet, and has completed 2174 levels of Candy Crush in her smartphone. An ardent fan of Doctor Strange films, which she has watched over five times, she often spends her time roaming around a four-room apartment in Vasant Kunj.

“I want to become like Doctor Strange,” she often tells her daughter, Babita.

When she was 83, Indrani faced a life-altering moment after she went through a cerebral attack injury that resulted in partial paralysis. This happened in 2021, when she was visiting an art fair in Delhi.

As an active woman, who loved to do things on her own, the diagnosis was initially devastating. Despite the hardships, the octogenarian, who is also an ardent reader of spiritual books, was undeterred.

Even her doctors appreciated the kind of spirit that she brought along during the rehabilitation sessions that lasted for a month.

VERSES: Indrani Satpati reads one of her poems

Soon after, her life took a turn when, at the age of 84, she picked up a paintbrush for the first time. It happened when Indrani found herself captivated by the creative process while visiting Babita’s home studio.

“She held her right hand in her left hand, and painted. It was such a special moment for me that even when I think of it today, I smile. The fact that she could not move her hand yet decided to paint was an inspiration for all of us,” says Babita, who lives with her mother.

“There were many difficulties after the attack. I chopped off her hair because this would make putting on clothes easy. There was no movement in her right limbs,” she adds. Despite that, Indrani continued to paint.

“She told me ‘I am not going to deceive myself’ and brought back her discipline,” Babita recalls.

Indrani’s first painting following the attack was special for the family for many reasons. It was inspired by a memory when she visited Badrinath, where her husband, Arabinda Kumar Satpati, was posted as an army officer. The artwork features a serene depiction of pine trees.

“I remember that she asked us to stop and gazed at the pine trees. She loves nature and often used to spend her time in it,” Babita says.

Her artistic inspiration, however, was drawn from a deeper source — the Ganga, which is often featured prominently in her work, sometimes personified as a woman. In one of her paintings, Ganga is paying tribute to Baghirathi rishi; in another, she is portrayed as a bold woman, as its water engulfs what looks like the face of the river.

“Our entire life has been spent near water bodies. In Kolkata, there was Hooghly. In Nandigram, there were many ponds. So she takes her inspiration from rivers a lot. Ganga is significant in her paintings because it is a mythological river; it purifies the soul and the body,” Babita says.

Indrani is keen on sharing her work with others. For this, she often uses Facebook and Instagram, where she shares pictures of her garden, her paintings, and her days spent at different exhibitions. She was also inspired by an 80-year-old woman from Siberia who skates, and shared a DW video report featuring the same.

In Babita’s words, she is a “modern woman”, who wants to learn something new every day. “This is also what she teaches us. In a way, she is our inspiration.”

Babita says that Indrani wakes up early in the morning, around 4 am, and first performs her prayers. Then, she turns on the TV to watch the news.

“‘To always learn what is happening in the world’ is her mantra,” Babita says.

SOLACE: Studio of Indrani Satpati and Babita Satpati

Indrani has also written three spiritual books in Bangla, two of them translated works of religious texts. After the paralysis, she took to poetry and has written over 109 poems in Bangla till now.

All the poems are handwritten in a notebook and many of them give a universal message. “Spirituality is a subject she often returns to. It is also what guides her way through life,” Babita says.

She will be presenting her work at The Haat Of Art, Mumbai, in November and also at an exhibition in Pragati Maidan, New Delhi, in January.