In Depth

Dumped as a disabled domestic help, Saima on way to become an artist

After a Kashmiri family adopted her from Bangalore some two decades ago, she served as a domestic help in Kashmiri households. It was until she fell ill, became crippled and was cast off. In her state of abandonment, the girl found refuge in her art, now becoming her new identity.

On a rainy March afternoon in Srinagar, ward 5 of SMHS hospital is lined with rows of beds with gloomy faces writhing in pain. There’s a family member trying to support a patient who wants to vomit; some patients lie motionless on the bed, while few others are surrounded by attendants—eagerly waiting for a doctor to come and check on their ailing loved ones.

In the farthest and poorly-lit corner of the ward, a bed is positioned in an elevated position. It’s draped by a bright blanket, which looks like a canvas. A girl donned in a purple loosely fit shirt and red scarf sits on the bed. Her face is shaded by jet black flicks of hair as she bends down, fully immersed in a painting.

Saima painting on her hospital bed. (FPK Photo/Khawar Khan Achakzai)

With paint brushes all around her, Saima with her crippled fingers paints spring on a drawing paper with water colours. She occasionally lifts her head to see if anyone has come for her. Her large black eyelashes stare, as if to say: Phir koi aaya dil-e zaaar, nahi koi nahi… there is nothing except moans and painful tales.

“Saima, look someone has come to meet you,” a soft voice calls out to her. It is Dr. Bilal on ward duty, who accompanies me to her bed. A twinkle appears in her eyes, and a ready smile rises on her lips. The green colour drips off the paint brush settling on the branches of an almond blossom on the paper.

(FPK Photo/Khawar Khan Achakzai)

Saima, 35, suffers from rheumatoid arthritis. She has been in the hospital from the last several months, and is completely bed bound.

Her tale is a tale of betrayal, and abandonment.

The girl was brought to Srinagar twenty years back from Bangalore. She stayed for two years with the family in Shalimar area of Srinagar. Afterwards, she was taken by another family at Buchpora, where she spent eighteen years of her life as a domestic help.

“I frequently suffered from fever in my childhood. In the later years of my life, my foot soles started to develop immense pain, and I was taken to an orthopedician. The family thought I’ve some issue with my bones,” she narrates.

Her medical report adjacent to her paintings in SMHS hospital. (FPK Photo/Khawar Khan Achakzai)

The pain grew over a period of time and last year, her body started to develop deformities. The family noticing the transformation in her body decided to send her away.

“They took me to many doctors for treatment but last year when I became completely crippled, the family said that I should leave the household,” she says.

Abandoned and forsaken, she sought refuge in art.

Her tryst with art began as a child when she saw the eldest girl of the family at Buchpora drawing paintings on MS Paint.

One of Saima’s recent paintings. (FPK Photo/Khawar Khan Achakzai)

“I yearned to take the mouse in my hands and click on the colouring tools. Didi would let me use her desktop although the elders in family didn’t like the idea of me using the computer. They thought I might end up doing some mischief,” she recollects.

Despite that reprimand, Saima loved to paint the long flowing dresses that she saw girls in the family wearing on festivals and wedding ceremonies. After shifting to hospital, her flair for art was discovered by a nurse named Shazia who is also good friends with Saima now.

“She often saw me looking at the videos of paint tutorials and artists on Youtube. One day, she told me that she will buy me water colours if I was willing to paint. This is how it started,” says Saima with a smile.

Water colours brought by nurse Shazia for her friend Saima. (FPK Photo/Khawar Khan Achakzai)

After a month of painting with a real paint brush and water colours, Samia has drawn a collection of paintings which are themed on dresses, landscapes, and seasons.

The journey towards art was challenging, even in a place, where nobody knew her. The attendants often trouble her by asking questions about her family, and her penchant for art.

“Few days back, a lady standing near my bed whispered to her son that I’m painting solely to earn money. I overheard her and it really hurt me. Once a girl came to me, and asked how I urinate since I’m bedridden. These questions really affected me mentally,” laments Saima.

Braving the odds, the strong-willed wannabe artist uses her colour-pallete and paint brushes as a sword and armour.

Saima posing with a landscape she painted recently. (FPK Photo/Khawar Khan Achakzai)

“I’m surrounded by misery and pain but as long as I’ve a paint brush in my hand, I feel accomplished and free from the worries of the world. The feeling after finishing a painting is as if a load has been lifted off me,” she says.

Saima mostly uses subtle colours in her drawings and wants to spread hope and happiness through her work.

“If I could remove the word dis from disability through my art, it’ll bring me the greatest joy in the world,” concludes the happy-go-lucky girl, for whom, a few good Samaritans and a group of doctors in the hospital are now planning to organize an art exhibition, where her paintings will be displayed.

From a domestic help to a promising artist, the journey has been rollercoaster for smiling Saima.

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