Life plays strange tricks on us and some of them come with a ‘pleasant surprise’ tag. Oeishik is one of the lucky ones who winded his way through two different learning disabilities through art and writing that worked like magic on his personality and his creative imagination.
At 34, Oeishik has the world within his grip. But this did not come easy. “I spent my childhood in some of the most enchanting places throughout this great city,” he says, confidence flowing out smoothly from his handsome, dusky persona.
This writer met Oeishik at his first solo exhibition organized by art curator and collector Shounak Chacreverti at the Weavers Studio in Kolkata. Chacreverti aptly named the show, Alo, Lalon and Others. Alo and Lalon are Oeishik’s two bullmastiff puppies he took into his life in 2015.“Others” stands for his tribute to the Mother Goddess in brilliant primary pen-and- ink paintings. Alo and Lalon are line drawings in black pen-and- ink while the “Others” are in brilliant colour,offering an enlightening male perspective of the Goddess from the Hindu pantheon.
“Life changed drastically in Darjeeling. Having been a pampered child, I could not imagine sharing a dorm with sixty other boys. When I left Darjeeling, I carried fond memories of my friends along with the visual memories of the Kancenjungha rising beyond the rose garden in front of the school’s main building,” he says.
He then found himself in a small village in East-central Illinois, Danville in a public high school going on to the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign followed by Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan, crowning this at DePaul University in Chicago. But by conscious choice, Oeishik gave up a career in law to do what he loves doing – writing and drawing.
Oeishik, as a child suffered from dyslexia and from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.“I was a slow reader with little patience and a mediocre student too. I had the edge over others in that I had a very strong visual memory and I unwittingly saved information in pictures. Everyone at home went crazy with my passion for drawing on any empty space I could find – the walls, table-tops, cupboard doors, everywhere.” And with his slow but steady involvement in the two creative functions of writing and drawing, one fine day, Oeishik discovered that his intellectual challenges had disappeared for good.
Some known symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are – the child lacking in focus because of uncalled for distractions, unable to follow instructions, difficulty in sitting still,fidgeting, distracting other kids, restlessness, forget fulness, making careless mistakes, unable to wait for his turn, butting into conversation etc. This may be present in minor form in all kids. But in ADHD children, it reaches beyond what could be termed ‘normal’ by psychiatrists and educational counselors.
Dyslexia is characterised by (a) difficulty with the three R’s – reading, writing and arithmetic,(b) inability to follow things, letters and numbers in sequence, (c) inconsistent performance, (d)problems of recognising mirror images – “p” for “q”, “b” for “d”, “18” for “81” and vice versa, (e)illegible handwriting, (f) inability to write or draw within lines or squares, (g) shoddy work and spelling errors. About 15 per cent of school going children in India is dyslexic. An integrated 2 remedial education programme must be included in the school system. The labelling of a child is easy. So one has to be cautious. Sometimes it could be a temporary thing, resulting from an emotional trauma or distraction. Parents should seek guidance in time from counselors and trained teachers.
But the key to Oeshik’s problem was not creativity alone. The basic spine towards cure was defined, formed and fleshed out by his father’s soothing and ceaseless company. Says Oeishik,“Most days after school I would spend some time with my father, either at his tailoring shop in Gariahat or his office and warehouse close to the Hazra crossing. I had a formidable collection of mythological storybooks. My father nurtured my habits. He introduced me to his most sacred influence – his friend and mentor, Suchitra Mitra. A surrogate grandmother and the linchpin of my understanding of myself, my voice and my creative potential, Gaanthamma was the best part of any day!”
He remembers Suchitra Mitra as the loving friend who would cut up mangoes for him while humming lines from Krishnokoli, told him never to use an eraser while drawing. “Make mistakes,learn from them; have faith in what you draw, she would say. Circumstances took me away from her when I left for the United States. I never saw her again – but her teachings became foundations of my faith,” Oeishik reminisces fondly.
“Around 2011, I started The Tribute Projects as part of my curriculum at DePaul. As the experiment matured, it grew from a nascent understanding of my personality to an exploration of my creative potential. Somewhere along the way my learning disabilities turned into developmental enhancements. I wrote for fifteen minutes, skipped over to sketching for thirty, and back to writing for twenty. I wrote and drew what came naturally, from memory, and never used an eraser. In fact, I inadvertently began sketching with ball-point pens.” His first art collection Shorbomongol came out in 2012
“No matter what I sketched or wrote, I always came back to my roots. For over a decade,through heartbreaks and fallouts, challenges and failures, victories and lessons, I had locked away myfoundational identity behind the curtain of social conformity. I had forced myself to go with the grain despite being the outsider. I could no longer keep that up,” says Oeishik.
By 2014, he had done hundreds of sketches and written dozens of stories but still found something lacking. This ‘vacuum’ is filled with this solo exhibition in Kolkata aptly titled Aalo, Lalon and Others comprised of sections called Nature, Sleep, Shorbomongol and Melange.
He insists that his works through writing and art are metaphors and concrete symbols of his‘intersectional identity’ which he defines as – “a singular human identity built as a result of one’s
personal response to all competing social paradigms (sex, race, sexuality, nationality, etc.) within one’s life.” May his tribe increase!!!
Written byShoma A. Chatterji
Dr. Shoma A. Chatterji is a freelance journalist, film scholar and author based in Kolkata. She has 20 published titles, has won the National Award twice and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rotary Club of Kolkata Metro. She has done her post-doctoral research on cinema and has juried at national and international film festivals over time