How this person of determination is making strides as a 'mouth and foot painting' artist

World record holder Manoj Bhingare who will be in Dubai on March 2 tells his winning tale of grit and resilience

By Manju Ramanan

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram


Published: Thu 29 Feb 2024, 9:00 PM

And then there are those who dare to push the boundaries to reach the stars, and some like artist Manoj Bhingare from Surat, India, who beat all odds to draw portraits with their mouth. To them adversity has no meaning; what drives them is their will, and a resolve to not capitulate to fate.

At the age of 10, Manoj Bhingare, while travelling by bus with his parents, met with an accident. Most passengers were grievously injured; so was he. He and his parents were admitted in separate hospital wards and couldn’t see each other for a while. After their recovery, when his parents went to meet Manoj, they were shocked to see their only son with an amputated arm. “More so when the doctors suggested that my second arm has to be amputated too,” says Manoj. He was a regular ten-year-old, cycling and playing cricket like all kids till then, and suddenly he had lost both his arms.

His father, depressed with the situation, even attempted suicide. “He tried to hang himself from the ceiling fan but our next-door neighbours rescued him,” says Manoj. That one year passed in severe agony; the family was unsure of how to proceed from there. “We lived in the slums and were not well off,” adds Manoj.

It was a meeting with Dr. Manish Trivedi, physiotherapist at Apang Manav Mandal that gave Manoj a ray of hope. “He encouraged me to use my feet just like I would use my hands, and said that I could do anything if I set my mind to it.” In that one year, Manoj trained himself to balance a spoon between his feet and feed himself, use a comb to brush his hair etc. The next year he joined sixth grade in school.

“I took a keen interest in drawing and when I won trophies in school contests, I felt happy to see the joy in my parents' eyes.” In 1999, Manoj won a national award for his work and his parents accompanied him to The Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi to receive the award. “We had never travelled out that far and now we were in the capital of India,” he adds. After he received the award, several organisations supported him in his artistic endeavours.

Manoj then cleared his 10th and 12th grades and decided to pursue Fine Arts but he was refused admission everywhere. He tried again the next year, taking sketching classes to perfect his craft. He taught himself to paint with his mouth and feet.

“This time, the management of CN College, Ahmedabad, took me around the campus and told me that I wouldn’t be able to weather the arduous work done by Fine Arts students. I begged, pleaded, fought and convinced them to try me out on a trial basis. If they found me unsatisfactory, they could let me go. They agreed.”

“I started doing all my assignments with a brush held between my mouth. It was really tough when I had to sketch live models. Most able people could do it quickly but I had to watch them, paint with my mouth and then look back at them, that took time. So I trained myself to paint with my feet. My efforts were successful,” he adds.

Then he learnt that there were artists like him worldwide and there is an international society of disabled artists called Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (MFPA). In India the Association currently supports 30 artists acoss the country. “This organisation gets us work and orders for hotels, live demos etc.”

But his mother had other worries on her mind. Who would marry her son? “My wife Bhavna is related to us. When I met her, I told her that life with me would be full of struggle. She agreed and we were engaged for three years. After that period too, I asked her if she was sure and she said yes; she had made up her mind.” The couple has been married for 11 years and have an eight-year-old daughter and a six-year-old son.

Which was the painting that changed his life? “ONGC once had a competition under the theme ‘Gujarat and Water’ and my painting was chosen and I was paid 1 lakh rupees (Dh4,300),” he says.

So how did portraits happen? “Before joining Fine Arts, I had joined art classes with Shukla Kankaria sir and he helped me get portraits right. The trick is to get the character and personality of the person into the painting and it comes with practice,” he adds. “I look for that special thing in a person. It could be the eyes, the smile, a dimple, the hair etc. In fact, I recently painted Dubai-based businessman Rajan Lall’s portrait and I am glad it came out well, especially his eyes. That way, I painted Home Minister Amit Shah’s portrait too and that is life-like. I have done

Sheikh Mohammed’s painting and would like to present it to him,” he says.

Has it happened that a portrait has gone wrong? “Once I presented a sketch to the former President of India, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, and he said, ‘Do I look this young?’ because I had used a photo taken in his younger days.”

Manoj has visited Singapore and Qatar with his work and will be in Dubai on March 2 at Frond L, Villa 15. “A huge thanks to you and Rajan Lall sir, this has been made possible,” he adds. In India too, he is grateful to “Anar ma'am from Ahmedabad”, who counselled him, and educationist Mahesh Savani who supported him.

Manoj has created a world record with a 5ft by 50ft painting on October 31 2023, working for 15 hours at a stretch. “I am aiming for a Guiness record and a solo exhibition,” he says, adding, “And I want to drive a car with my feet, go swimming and go paragliding.”

More news from Lifestyle