A creative person by instinct, Yasmin Sawhney is both a painter and a poet. The spray of colours in her paintings and the depth of words in her poety, express it all. Maintaining a perfect balance between her family and work, she has been an achiever at every stage of life.
Today at 67, Yasmin’s zest for life shows no signs of fading. In fact, the confidence and energy with which she lives every moment of the day should be an inspiration for all.
An extremely lovable person, Yasmin not only motivates others, but also is eager to help.
It was my privilege to interview Yasmin, as she so graciously shared the challenges, struggles, experiences and achievements of her life with me.
Read on, and you’ll realize being visually impaired or having partial sight has never been a disability for her. All because she believes in ‘the glass being half full.’
I think people are born with a talent and may or may not get the opportunity to practice it till the cosmic energy directs them to do so.
I started painting only after my children grew up and went away - one to National Defence Academy, Pune and the other to Xavier’s College, Bombay.
However, the zeal and passion came only after I lost my son because all my work is dedicated to keeping his memory alive.
I am a self -taught artist with a special ability to learn from books (which can be learnt by anyone). So I work on everything -, from ‘how to prime a canvas, to brush strokes, quality work and marketing’.
My work is not about making money but about succeeding against all odds.
In trying to succeed one has to tap the unused potential of the mind, understand the larger picture and strive to do as well if not better than the others.
“Life is but death, without the zest for struggle.”
I have a disability, but I focus only on my abilities.
On the practical side, I mark the paint-tubes and their lids with sketch-pen-marked labels, I always keep my materials in the same place and have magnifying glasses in every room. At times I have to use special lights.
As I say in one of my poems, "I am like a river. If I find a boulder in my way I just step a little to one side and carry on”.
My eye disease is a kind of macular degeneration. Specifically, it is Central Serous Retinopathy in which there is progressive loss of central vision or acute vision.
The condition was diagnosed in 1988 and the doctors gave me 2 to 5years of vision but I have survived 20 years on positive thinking and homeopathic medicine. I give due credit to Dr Kalyan Banerjee, an internationally known homeopath and adviser to the Government of India, whose treatment has helped restore partial vision in one of my eye.
I can still see from the periphery of the eyes. Since my eyes are extremely sensitive to light and heat, I have to stay indoors. I have been doing so for the past 14 years and it has never bothered me because “I fly by thought” through my poems – and everyday I thank God for what I do have.
I write for women, for the aged, against violence, for the grief-stricken, and for preservation of nature.
The following poem is autobiographical and comes from my heart. It is an inspirational poem for people who are grieving or restricted in some way:
Anguish, go wither off!
I differ from those three:
whose plans you thwart,
whose heart you rend,
whose feet you stay.
I’m spirit of a different mould.
Bereft of wings
I fly by thought
or with the Muse
of line and tint;
of mirrored words in verse,
sometimes of music too.
I wander on
and often circle in
and see below me
all your bonded beings,
and croon themselves to sleep
but never move.
Anguish, go drown yourself
and sing no more to me.
My sightless sight
on distant realms resides.
My hands on either side
are held by mates
called Hope and Faith,
I hurry on.
I’ve far to go. June 1999
Poetry is a passion but so was bringing up my kids, or painting or looking after my patients or home. Whatever one does – one should do single-mindedly. That is passion.
I think my main job in life was to bring up my two beautiful children, but I also believe every woman must keep 20% of herself for herself . So I always had some creative pursuit going on within me.
Flower arrangement came before I got married.
Dress-designing came after we settled down in Delhi after many postings in the Indian Air Force.
Homeopathy started as a correspondence course (1977-1979) while we were posted at the borders. In the house, I have a special room, professionally done up as a clinic, and have practiced for the past 27 years.
However I have always practiced for two hours a day 6 pm to 8 pm because I consider being a home-maker a priority and my medical practice and creative pursuits, very necessary, but only after my duties to the family.
Firstly each chapter has come at different times in my life and secondly I work in air-tight compartments. In the morning I don’t see patients and during clinic times I don’t worry about the house. Simple ‘time-management’ and good organising.
Each thing has to go back into its own place so that I don’t have to look for things.
My husband retired from the Indian Air Force. He was a fighter pilot and also the pioneer on Micro-lights and Aero sports in India.
My son Sub. Lt. Samir was an officer with the Indian Navy but we lost him in a train accident in 1994. He was also a cricketer trained by Mr Bishen Singh Bedi.
My daughter Seema started her career in Television in 1992 with Zee TV then moved to Bombay as Executive Producer with Sony TV. She is married and lives with her husband Sudhir in Bombay. They have their own Production House - creating show packages for almost all TV Serials and are just moving into Film Direction. They are probably the only husband and wife team to co-produce or co-direct.
I have two beautiful grandchildren--Vir (three-and-a-half) and Samira (one-and-a-half).
All my work is dedicated to and inspired by the thought of keeping my son’s memory alive. So is the book. I do not ‘weep’, I ‘work’ to keep his memory alive.
It has paintings, poems (in both English and Hindi), and my life story. It is an inspirational book.
It feels great, for the simple reason that I have achieved this single handedly - from the typing of the manuscript to publishing, without monetary or physical help from anyone.
My book has been appreciated much and included in the Commonwealth literature.
Everyone has disabilities – illiteracy, old-age, fear, loss of vision, loss of hearing, loneliness, to name just a few.
Whatever one’s disability try to find out how you can help others.
If you have a kind heart, listen to people who are alone. Call them up sometimes.
Always focus on your abilities.
Strengthen those abilities so that you add to whatever blessings God has given you. For example if you write well (even if it is with the help of Jaws) take a correspondence course in creative writing. Raise your profile. Let people sit up and take notice of your abilities by doing better than others. Work very hard
If you speak well learn Public speaking - the power of puns, story telling techniques; a bit of humor etc.
I am not preaching. I practice this myself. I passed a Creative Writing Course from Indira Gandhi Open University, by correspondence, at the age of 56. Then I bought every kind of dictionary, English and Hindi. I also have Dictionary software on my computer because that is easier for me than looking at a printed dictionary.
Lastly remain connected to other human beings. You never know how God appears.