Austrian artist Werner Dornik came to India in 1977 as a young hippie “to promote love and peace and seek enlightenment.” However, the course of his life changed when he met some leprosy afflicted people in Varanasi. “They were ostracised by society and were too poor to afford treatment. I spent two sleepless nights, wondering how I could help them. An inner voice nudged me to do something concrete. And then it dawned on me what my life’s calling was: To help these people find their self-worth,” he says. Dornik recently curated From Pain To Paint, an exhibition of paintings by the artists of Bindu Art School that helps leprosy patients. “Soon after I came to India as a hippie, I found that most hippies were drug addicts and they spent their time in various ashrams waiting for enlightenment. They behaved rudely with beggars and the poor. Where was the love that they were supposed to promote, I wondered. I got disillusioned,” says Dornik, recalling his Varanasi days.“The leprosy affected people needed 10 euros for their treatment, but they didn’t have any money,” he says. Dornik returned to India in 1978 with a firm resolve to help poor leprosy patients live a dignified life. “Initially, I sold my paintings and photographs to collect money exclusively for their treatment. By the year 2000, I was able to sponsor treatment for people in many colonies including Khandwa and Indore. Soon, the treatment was made free by the World Health Organization and the Indian government.“I still had 5,000 euros left in my account. For four years, I did not touch the money. I spent the time reflecting on who I was as an artist and what I can do. I realised that I wanted to change the way society looked at leprosy.” Dornik met Padma Venkataraman, the daughter of former President.Ranjeni A Singh
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