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The Extraordinary Life of the Mouth Painter Janarthanan Kesavan

There is only one attribute that describes the entire being of this artist – positiveness. Janarthanan Kesavan was born on this day 19 September 1991 in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, the southernmost state of India. On the evening of 4 March 2000, the eight-year-old Jana (as he is popularly known), while playing with his friends on the terrace of his home, accidentally touched a high-voltage electric cable with an iron bar. The severe electric shock resulting from this injured almost his entire body. As a consequence, his right arm had to be amputated at the shoulder, his left arm at the elbow and his left leg at the knee.

Most people in his position would have resigned themselves to the misery of life, envisaging a future of incomplete dreams and aspirations. The eight-year-old Jana could not be expected to feel anything otherwise. Distraught, a fortnight after the accident and operation, he asked a simple question to his doctor, “Why have you amputated my arms and leg, doctor? Now how will I go to school after all this? How will I go normally, like I used to go earlier?” And the even simpler answer to this question changed his life forever. He recalls, “The doctor just told me that he knows many people who write with their mouth, and I should also try.”

Courtesy of The Better India

Something sparked within him. That very evening he asked his father for a pencil and notebook. “When I entered his room during visiting hours, he asked me for a pencil and notebook, and that shocked me. The next three hours, I wondered what he wanted to do,” says his father. Jana started with the alphabet and the 26 letters took him 15 minutes. He kept practicing every single day and after a month he could get a hand-like writing. One day, he saw his mother drawing some flowers in a notebook. It struck him then that he could try drawing and painting as well. So he did. And after several days of hard work, he succeeded at that too – painting with posters and watercolours.

Courtesy of IMFPA

Noticing his talent, people at the hospital suggested he participate in a painting competition conducted by Victoria Technical Institute, Chennai, for differently abled children. Janarthan participated in winning the first prize. The event was decisive in boosting not only his but also his parent’s morale. He soon started participating in drawing contests across the nation and surprised everyone with his feats. To date, he has won more than 150 prizes and that includes competitions where he competed against physically abled children. He is also the only physically disabled boy, who in, 2004 and 2005, received two national awards from the Indian President, Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam for “Best Creative Child” and the “Balshree Award.”

Courtesy of Janarthanan Kesavan

Later, he finished his education and started working as a graphic artist. His prowess in the field was taken note of by his colleagues who in an interview mentioned his skills in techniques like reverse editing which were new to the field but quickly learned and mastered by Jana. He exhibits his personal and commissioned work on his website and other social media platforms. Jana’s will to improve himself is reflected in the fact that he aspires to enhance his skills and become a prominent film director in the coming years.

In addition to this, Jana has been an important public figure in motivating people through his incredible life story and conveying the message that no matter how difficult circumstances one finds oneself in, there is always a way outside if one approaches it with a positive mindset.

Jana has been a member of the Indian Mouth and Foot Painting Artists Association, a branch of the international body called Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (MFPA), since 2007. The role of institutions like MFPA has been instrumental in creating avenues for disabled artists across the world. With over 800 artists from 74 countries, the MFPA instils in its artists a sense of self-respect and dignity that comes from earning an independent, honest, and secure livelihood through the sale of their artwork, free from any charity. In a global environment in which modes of exclusion are being acknowledged and fought against with greater sensitivity, it is essential to reflect upon and work towards mitigating the disadvantage that disabled artists like Jana face.


  1. The Better India- Janarthan Mouth Painter Chennai
  2. imfpa.org
  3. imfpa.org – Janarthan Kesavan

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