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Rohan Sonalkar

As I open the gate, I am enthralled by the sheer talent and charm oozing from Rohan's paintings to which the walls in his house bear a mute testimony. ("Some of them are incomplete", says Rohan very defensively, "due to the lack of a bigger ladder"). I try to break away from the profusion of brilliant paintings and a trail of exotic images that assail my senses, as I am ushered into the house by a tall and affable lady who's played a pivotal role in Rohan's life. "My older son is not mentally retarded contrary to what people label him to be. He had a very normal birth and a normal childhood where he went through the usual phases of swimming, cycling, climbing trees, turning things upside down, with curiosity getting the better of him. Those were the days filled with sunshine and laughter," she explains.

Initially, school was a haven for Rohan, a paradise of sorts. Though later over the years teachers complained that Rohan was very restless and would never keep still. Come adolescence and Rohan's whole world came crumbling down, as if there was no tomorrow! He was becoming increasingly aware and conscious of the fact that he was different and he could neither comprehend nor overlook this painful yet growing awareness. Unfortunately, even some of his teachers began to discriminate and expected him to meet the same standards as the rest of the boys in his class. That's when he started feeling persecuted and started throwing tantrums in school. Isolated and at the receiving end of many a nasty joke, he started receding into a shell. His autistic tendencies made it difficult for him to comprehend the abstract, it was only the concrete he could hold on to . As years slipped by, his problem with communication skills which was getting more and more pronounced, pushed him to a point where he felt every finger was pointing accusingly at him. He imagined that every remark was made to belittle him. Unable to cope with the pressure he finally dropped out of school and this is Rohan's biggest regret, an open wound which time has not yet healed and which still evokes painful memories.

They tried to capture Rohan's interest in music, typing and various other maze of interesting activities. Eventually their patience and perseverance paid off because Rohan learnt typing and discovered a passion for singing as well. He had just begun a new chapter in his life when a family friend suggested that they should contact the legendary Mr. Wad who was then tutoring his kids to paint. The optimistic couple decided to give it a try, yet were so scared of rejection, that they sent him across with a well wisher and prayed for the best.

That day marked the turning point in Rohan's life. Suddenly his palette of life was brimming with colours. His canvas turned out to be a sheer release for all that unchanneled raw energy and fire in him. In Mr.Wad, Rohan found a mentor, a teacher who helped him touch new heights and experience the sheer joy that painting brought.

Each painting is a portrayal of a different emotion, each evoking awe and is a tribute to the artist. Painting and drawing is sheer pleasure and delight for him. He is so engrossed and enthralled in his own world that he loses touch with everything around him. Such is his power of concentration.

If Rohan is a thorough gentleman today with all his impeccable manners, it's due to his father Mr.Sonalkar. "To be accepted and live in society you have to follow certain norms and rules. You have to be disciplined," avers his father. The Sonalkars believe that they have started looking at life differently, thanks to Rohan. They have become more sensitive and aware of other people's problems and this has also reinforced their faith in human nature. In the final analysis, they perceive that if you are ready to acknowledge your problem, people are ready to bail you out of a tough situation.

Though concerned about Rohan's future, their attitude radiates their tenacity and pluck, as they take one day at a time!


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