I was four years old when I realized that I had no home. While kids my age were used to pampering, I learned the hard way round that some of us were meant to find our own stars albeit the journey might be clouded with darkness.
However, every dark cloud has a silver lining and so it was for me. Growing up in a foster home, my mentor Shelley always told me that I was God’s child and God always had something good up his sleeve.
She taught me a lot of things and showed me the world of endless possibilities. I knew that if I gave my heart to anything, I could achieve it. If I am anything today, the only person I am indebted to has to be Shelley ma’am. I was broken even before I knew what broken meant but she took it upon her to join every shard of mine and make a wonderful canvas.
She took it upon her to train me. I still remember the twinkle in her eyes when she told me, “Asha, there is a lot of me in you.”
I loved the way she could instill confidence in me and today, as I look back, I realized she did what seemed unachievable.
I was thirteen when she left the foster home care and I still remember her last words, “I am never away, you just need to look at the right place.”
I was heartbroken when she had left and once again, I felt like I had been orphaned and lost all my will. But, I channelized this negativity in the right way and soon began to paint. I painted a lot of things but somehow I never had the heart to paint Shelley. Her portrait was very vivid in my mind. I remember the exact way the lines on her forehead crisscrossed, but I could never get myself to draw her.
When I turned eighteen, I got my first commissioned job. A guy asked me to paint and he paid me a good deal of money. It was then that I realized that my hobby could also be my job and I started working more on it and in another year, I had established myself as a reputed artist.
However, I realized that there was something which didn’t feel right. I could feel an emptiness somewhere like there was a break in the entirety as if there was a hole which wasn’t getting filled.
It took me some time to figure out I needed to seek Shelley. She had gone out of the blue and even the foster care home didn’t say much. Maybe she needed seeking and I wanted to do that.
I knew I had to travel the world. There was something out there which I needed to see. I would need a lot of money so I decided to first develop my career. It took me another year but I soon had my own brand out there. I became a well-known artist in my city and the paychecks kept coming, my work was exhibited at some of the top meets and there were plenty of buyers.
There were three of my paintings which always exhibited but I never sold them because they were very close to me. One of them was of the silhouette of Shelley and me when I was all of five years old. It was a candid moment; much like that of a child and a mother and one could feel all those emotions in the frame.
The other was that of three hands that entwined each ether and yet somehow they were all separate. It was a reflection of who I was. I had no clue who my parents are but somehow I could feel them within me. The third was that of the Eiffel tower. I had never been there but somehow the books Shelley read out to me was so vivid that I could feel like I stayed there for too long. When I had first drawn it even with my imperfect skills, Shelley had taken one look and said: “one day Asha you will grow to be the painter the world will admire.”
As I had been an orphan all my life, my worst fear was being alone. When I decided to take a trip to the world to seek not just my mentor but my inner soul too, I realized I would have to take this journey alone. It was unbearably hard for me but I had to do it as I felt my inner voice urging me to go ahead.
I still remember when I took my first flight to Dubai, I kept my eyes shut the whole time. I was not afraid of flights that I was afraid that there was no one there to hold me.
It took me seven days to adapt to my plan of going solo. I went to different countries, met various people, spoke to them, took their ideas, saw their perspective of life and in every country, I drew something; taking a part of theirs and making it mine.
I didn’t know where exactly to find Shelley. I had taken my first trip to France via Dubai because, in my heart, I felt it would be Eiffel tower where I would meet her, but when I stood there, in front of the Eiffel tower, I realized it wasn’t Shelley who was lost here. But it was me.
There was a part of my gypsy soul that was locked here and standing in front of the massive structure, I took out the canvas and drew the monument that somehow manifested my emotions.
I went to as many as fifty-seven countries and I haven’t found Shelley yet, but you know I kind of found her too. I realized what she meant when she said I am never away you just need to look at the right place.
As I stand in an exhibition with only my works and a tale that traverses from one country to the other, there is a little of Shelley everywhere. She is there peeking from behind the Burj Khalifa, she is there as a shadow beside the Eiffel tower, she sits with her back facing the camera near the leaning tower of Pisa. She is there on the white sandy beaches of Greece and she is there holding my hands in this auditorium where there is no one but me and my works.
She never left me. Shelley made me who I am. She gave me the wings that helped me fly the world and I found not just parts of her but even parts of me all over the world. I realized I was meant to be an explorer. I had a gypsy soul and it took another gypsy to find that out. I know she too is out there traveling, exploring, and helping another Asha open the eyes to her dreams. She is like one of those angels who are born to direct and then they fly into the world helping another lost lad.
I have art centers in all the fifty-seven countries now where I went. It is set to help people like me who feel they are broken but are stronger than strength. An artist lives even when he dies. Shelley lives in each of my painting and every person I met in my journey of traveling the world while being open minded, lives with me in my mind.
Being open-minded to the world taught me that in order to live, you must feel and love the world. Let the soul speak the language you may never understand and the canvas would be filled with colors that would make even the blinds smile – because the world is beautiful and so are you!
Lufthansa Airlines recently launched a great video talking about #SayYesToTheWorld. Here is the beautiful video and here are more details about their campaign.