We interviewed Avinash Godbole who suffered a stroke that paralyzed his right side, was encouraged by his Neurologist Dr Shirish Hastak, and miraculously transformed into a prolific painter with his left hand. He had never painted before.
Tell us about your life.
How did you seek treatment for stroke?
When a doctor says that there’s no further treatment – there is no thing in medicine that can treat you – you know it's a dead end. If I had gone to a doctor earlier, within four hours of having a stroke, then I may have had a chance of a treatment.
But whatever happens to you, you have to face. I took treating my condition as a challenge. Whatever or whoever told me about a treatment – some people would say they’ve heard of a treatment – I would try it. I was under a regular course of treatment under my doctor which I never stopped. But side-by-side I tried everything: be it acupressure, acupuncture or ayurveda. I am not blaming any line of treatment, but whatever I tried did not work. Maybe I have failed the treatment, perhaps.
What changed the course your life was taking?
One day I shared with my doctor, Dr. Hastak, “I want to do something about whatever I have gone through in may life. My intention is to create an awareness: whatever I have suffered, somebody else should not." He asked me, “Why don’t you take up painting?” Another gentleman who had given me treatment of acupressure also helped me. And I had my thoughts, my experience. Everything combined together got me started on painting.
With which hand do you paint? Was your regular hand affected by the stroke?
I was right handed. But my entire right side is useless: there was no me... So I had to change all that I did, from right hand to left.
Before the stroke did you paint with your right hand?
I was never a painter. I worked with an advertising agency. I was a creative consultant. My entire life, 40 years of my work, I spent in advertising.
Can you talk about your work? Where did you start work?
Maybe you don’t know name, but I started work in an agency named MCM (Mass Communications and Marketing). Most of the creative people had their beginnings in this
agency: Panna Jain, Sudharshan Dheer, Ramakant Juwarkar – have you heard these names? The agency had the finest people in art, from creative to administrative. It was the only agency, in those days (1968 to 1975), most famous for its creative work and ideas. After that came other agencies – J.W. Thompson, FCB Ulka.
Ulka was my last place of work. I worked under Ambi Parmeshwaran; he was my boss for almost 8 years. I was almost 60 years old when I had my stroke. I continued to work for a year even after my stroke, and then I retired at the age of 61. Now I’m 73, going on to 74.
Your paintings say a lot about your desire to do something and change something in people. How are you spreading that thought?
In the last 2-3 years we had an exhibition in Bombay, and one in Delhi. Then I attended an exhibition in Brazil where there were other people like me.
What did you do in that event? Did you paint there or did you show your paintings?
There were totally 7-8 patients, artists like me, in that event. We all talked about our experiences, what we went through. But from among them, only 2 painters, me and another person, displayed the painting we did after our stroke. The other artists had displayed whatever work they had done earlier in their life, before their stroke.
What was your main treatment for stroke? Was it more of rehabilitation and physiotherapy?. I went through physiotherapy for almost 3 to 4 years at that time. Then I got fed up with physiotherapists mentally, physically and financially – it was costing very much, too much at that time... nowadays it seems they charge Rs 900–1,000 per session. That is nonsense. And the moment they stop, you are back to where you were.
But did physiotherapy help you move around?
While they are at it, it does help, in a way. But when you stop... there seems to be no permanent effect.
Can you, by yourself, do some of the exercises you were taught?
Yeah, I can do it, but it’s too boring, yaar.
What is boring about that? You say it helps.
It’s too boring. It’s wasting time.
Seriously. Otherwise I can spend more time with my painting.
How did you learn painting?
I was a painting person when I was young. I had the inclination for painting from very beginning. Before I joined Art school, I had worked with film-maker V. Shantaram.
What work did you do with him?
I was working as a set designer. In those days a set designer was totally different, not like nowadays. It involved at least 30-feet to 100-feet of painting work.
For which film did you design sets?
You may not know the name: It was great to work in that. It’s old, and not that famous, I would say.
I then spent a year studying architecture. And I got bored. So I joined JJ School of Commercial and Advertising. I wanted to do painting but in those days a painter was a useless person.
What kind of a lifestyle did you lead before you had a stroke?
Since I was from advertising, I had a colourful life.
All of it?
Yes, all of it. That was the style in those days.
Did you never make any attempt to stop any of that?
For what? Just like that.
The awareness about anti-tobacco, anti-smoking, it’s all happening only now. It was not there then. The anti-tobacco movement started, I think, in the 1980s – in everything related to tobacco: smoking, chewing tobacco, having tobacco in paan. It wasn’t perceived as that dangerous then.
After the stroke, were you advised to give up smoking?
After stroke? Yeah. There was a total ban on everything.
But were you able to do it?
Yes. But certain things... earlier I used to have whisky and wine; that is allowed even today. But nowadays, for more than 3 years now, I don’t drink.
Did you have hypertension before?
Did you check?
Yes, checked everything.
Had you checked for that before the stroke?
No, I think it was checked only after stroke. I had my first injection only after stroke. Otherwise I never had any health issues.
You’ve always felt healthy?
Did you use to go for walking or any exercise?
Are you able to even now? Do you?
I don’t walk.
You don’t? You can, can you? You can, but you don’t try? You don’t want to? I’m asking you a very direct question....No. I don’t walk much. The maximum I walk is till the gate of my house, get into the car, and then get driven out of this place by my driver. I walk only that much. Even that I try to avoid.
Do you do any exercise at home?
No. I used to.
You should. Why don’t you? You should!
Yeah. I don’t.
Do it, yaar.
In fact, besides this stroke I had this corn. It got septic. I had it operated thrice. With that, all my activities stopped. Otherwise I could walk. Because I was going to office.
Where was your office?
Worli. I was staying then at Film City, Goregaon. From there it used to take almost one hour for travelling to work.
Other than your wife, does anyone else live with you?
My son is in Dubai. My daughter, she’s in Delhi. So it's only me and my wife here.
Can you talk about your art?
So far nothing has stopped me in my art – I mean I don’t stick to one style. And why? Because every moment I am changing. I don’t believe having one style of art. I’m a changing person; so is my art. People have this same question – I tell them I don’t have a style. And I will not have any style.
For instance, see these 7 paintings on the wall of this room. They are my creations. But from one painting to the next painting, there is no link, there is no connection. Even when I was working in advertising I was known for this different kind of thinking: every day, a new idea, a new concept.
Do you listen to music?
What kind of music?
Only classical. Hindustani or any form of classical music.
Who do you listen to the most?
Pandit Kumar Gandharv, Veena Sahasrabuddhe, Kishori Amonkar – she’s the best – and Lata Mangeshkar. And I still love the music of Kitaro, a musician who plays the piano and saxophone. He’s really good. Then there’s L. Subramanian. I love his playing of violin.