“I was born with conjoined fingers in both my hands. Since childhood, people used to look at my deformed hands and tell me that I would be a failure in life. They would taunt and mock me. They would say I am physically challenged and will not succeed in life. Those words used to affect me a lot, and I decided to transform my deformed hands into a brush and paint,” says Aasutosh Panigrahi, a Delhi-based art and theatre enthusiast.
Born and raised in Odisha, Aasutosh suffers from a physical disability. His conjoined fingers in both hands were a subject of mockery by his conservative family, but that didn’t deter him from pursuing his dreams. Embracing his impairment, he turned his deformity into an opportunity, transformed his hands into a brush, and started painting. Using those very hands, he painted the world’s largest indoor mural painting, and his name gained entry in the Guinness book as a World Record Holder.
“I have won the Guinness Records twice. I created a 98 metres long mural painting which was the world’s longest indoor mural painting. Sixty artists in Australia got together and broke my record in one and a half years. After that, I broke their record within seven days and seven nights. We worked non-stop to achieve this feat. Nobody could break that record. Now, I have again broken my own record by making a painting of 26,000 square feet within seven days and seven nights. My team and I really worked hard to achieve this milestone.”
Aasutosh won the Guinness Records first in 2003 when he painted the world’s longest indoor mural painting at the Golden Palms Spa and Resorts in Bangalore. The Mural painting was 98 metres long and was completed within 28 days. In 2004, his record was broken by a group of Australian artists when they created the world’s largest indoor mural painting. In 2005, the work of the Australian artists was beaten by Aasutosh when he once again created the world’s largest indoor mural painting measuring 9731 square feet within seven days and seven nights (non-stop). The painting was created in Gwalior at the Shyam Vatika Cultural Centre. His record stands unbeaten as of date. In 2018, in order to break his own record, Aasutosh once again recreated another mural painting; this time, the artwork measured 26,000 square feet, which was completed within a span of seven days and seven nights (non-stop) in the Grand Venice Mall, Greater Noida.
“I did this mural painting with a team of five assistants. But because of Covid-19, the entire process got delayed. It has been a very long wait. I am hopeful that my name will be announced soon by the Guinness Records team.”
Aasutosh is also a theatre artist and has won several awards and recognitions for his plays. He has performed in over 500 plays in Delhi and other states. “I have won the Sanskar Bharti Natya Kendra award for best actor and director in 2003. I have also won the Hindi Sahitya Akademi award for best actor in the mono acting category in 2019. I have a team of young and old artists. We have been touring different states and giving performances. We also do nukkad nataks (street shows) in slums on social issues.”
It was not an easy journey for Aasutosh. Coming from a humble background, his family was against his passion for art and theatre. “Money is an important element in life. Without arth (money), life has no arth (meaning). I was not financially sound. My parents could not afford my education. They did not want me to become an artist. I would get beaten up every morning because of my interest in art and theatre. My father would often throw my colours into the stove or throw them into the well. I would steal from my father’s pocket and my mother’s purse and buy colours.”
While continuing with his passion for art and theatre, Aasutosh also pursued higher studies. “I wanted to become an artist through higher studies, not just by roaming about working. I wanted to take my studies along with my art. I did a five-year degree course in Odisha, and I completed my Masters Degree and Mphil, both from Agra University. I am currently doing my PhD from Chitrakoot and will be awarded my degree in the next four months.”
Aasutosh is currently a teacher in a Delhi government school. He spends most of his time teaching art and theatre to students. “When I was young, nobody gave me an opportunity on a platter. I really struggled a lot. I didn’t get mentorship from anyone. So, I know the value of having a good mentor. I also teach a lot of children for free. We are undertaking various initiatives to get more children to develop an interest in art and theatre.”
While Aasutosh eagerly waits to hear from the Guinness team, he reminisces about his childhood and the difficult years. “I have struggled a lot. When you don’t have money to eat, how can you afford the materials? In my class, there were 52 girls and just two boys. Both of us boys were good at painting. We would paint those 52 girls. They would give us materials to paint. They would also cook food from their homes and carry it for us. We would select whose food we should eat amongst the 52 during the day. But then we would be tense for the night. During the daytime, the girls would take care of our food, but what about the night? I have spent several years like this.”
Aasutosh’s story is a story of grit, determination and perseverance in the face of extreme challenges. Today, he continues to nurture talent in art and theatre for many underprivileged children. He says, “The biggest turning point in my life was when I found ability in my disability. I want to share my knowledge and empower the younger generation, and I only ask God that until my last breath, my hands must carry the brush, and my body must perform on the stage.”