On the floor of her mud hut, Narbadia swiftly and effortlessly moves the paintbrush clasped between her teeth, pausing only to mix colours as a vibrant landscape takes shape on a sheet of blank paper.
Teeth? Yes, the 28-year-old Gond tribal woman living on the banks of the Narmada in Madhya Pradesh was born without arms or legs.
But her inborn talent for painting, which she started honing after her sixth birthday, has made her a celebrity in her village as well as the ones dotting the landscape she paints. She ties a pencil to a long stick, holds it between her teeth and sketches for hours.
Watch: How a woman with no hands and no legs learned painting to make a living
“I am painting since childhood. My dream is that everyone in this world should know me because of my paintings,” she said with a toothy smile.
Narbadia has never been to a city and faintly remembers visiting the district headquarters once with her brother. She didn’t go to a school either.
That explains why the subjects in her paintings are trees, animals, birds, rivers, landscape and gods.
“I paint in the light from earthen lamps and it affects my eyesight,” she said.
The village does not have electricity, hand pumps, toilets and any road, other than a small dirt track that bears a steady trickle of weary legs to Narbadia’s home: people from hundreds of kilometers away come to see her paint and admire.
She works mostly in the night “because of fewer disturbances and tranquility”.
But she cannot avoid the crowd — pesky sometimes — because they buy her paintings and she needs the money to meet her expenses.
She gives the money to her younger brother to buy colours and paper. “I earn Rs 100-200 a week by selling my paintings to the villagers. The money meets my needs … soap, shampoo and hair oil,” she said.
“Our elder brother, Mohan Singh Gond, was a teacher. He used to motivate her. He died last year … but she recovered from the loss,” said
Jeevan, Narbadia’s younger sibling who is a farmer. They lost their father a long time ago.
The simple, illiterate painter’s lone dream is to travel the country and paint.
“Everyone cite her as an example and many people come to meet her from other villages. She needs grooming and must attend workshops to give her imagination wings,” said Sandeep Gond, a youth of Narmada Tola village.