An atrophied hand offers beauty, inspiration

Finding and creating beauty in spite of life’s obstacles is something Shyama Rangwala knows all too well.

She is a professional painter and art instructor with five studios ranging from Land O’ Lakes, Tampa and Brandon.

Monali ‘Shyama’ Rangwala is a professional artist who owns five studios in the Bay Area, often teaching kids with special needs.(Brian Fernandes)

Her birth name is Monali; however, under her adopted artistic name, “Shyama,” she is renowned for her featured work in more than 25 exhibitions in both her native India, as well as in the United States.

Back in India, her paintings have been admired by prominent figures, such as the governor of the Reserve Bank, film stars and athletes.

However, this budding success came in the aftermath of a challenging childhood.

Growing pains
At age 5, Rangwala’s complaints of agonizing discomfort and the apparent underdevelopment of her right extremities, prompted her parents to take her to the doctor, where she was diagnosed with localized scleroderma.

Also referred to as morphea, this is a connective tissue disease involving collagen, a protein in the skin that provides structural support.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, excess collagen production in the body results in thick, hard skin texture.

Shyama painted this piece to pay homage to a Hindu prophet.

Rangwala had a much smaller right arm than her left, with limited use. Her right leg was also stunted in growth being somewhat shorter than her left leg.

The condition resulted in her being home-schooled for a year to learn to adjust to her physical challenges.

“I couldn’t sleep, I was in so much pain,” she recalled.

Her feet were so sensitive that she had to walk on smooth surfaces. Even to this day, stepping on a grain of rice can cause discomfort.

As if that wasn’t gloomy enough, doctors believed her disease might spread to her entire body – and reduce her lifespan.

In the midst of various medical alternatives being considered, Rangwala’s aunt introduced the idea of homeopathy treatment – a more natural, holistic approach.

While the treatment didn’t cure Rangwala, to everyone’s amazement, it stopped the progression of the disease and brought relief from her pain.

Her parents have often described her as their “miracle daughter” for what she was able to endure and overcome.

In this painting, Shyama captures an outdoor music fest.

As a practicing Hindu household, the family believed all the more that their faith played a significant role in Rangwala’s improvement.

Her grandmother also gave her a statue for safekeeping and to cherish – the Hindu god Krishna, which would go on to become a major influence in her artwork later in life.

A newfound love
At a young age, Rangwala drew inspiration from Hinduism, as well as Indian architecture, to start painting portraits.

It was a therapeutic outlet to help her deal with her disability, and helping to give her purpose.

“My mind is always peaceful when I’m painting,” she said.

Her parents had encouraged her to study medicine, but she ultimately settled on working in finance.

Doctors advised that she learn to use her left hand for everyday activities, although her right hand, the one affected by the disease, was naturally her stronger one.

This colorful piece, which pictures the Hindu god Krishna surrounded by cows, won Shyama first place at the Florida State Fair.

Rangwala had little to no flexibility with her right fingers, but was persistent in using that hand, accomplishing some 30 paintings in her leisure time.

While Rangwala recognized art as a remedy, she also discovered she had a gift for it – and so did others.

One day, her art instructor came to her home and, after observing her paintings, encouraged her to enter art exhibits.

Her first major exhibit was in Mumbai, India, and she said it was a big turnout.

“It was a hit – I was interviewed by a lot of newspapers,” Rangwala exclaimed. “Some of the film stars came to my exhibition.”

She showcased her art in major Indian cities and was persistent in exposing her work to prominent figures.

One day, she camped outside the home of the governor and told the security guards she refused to leave until she had the chance to invite him to her gallery.

Her tenacious efforts proved successful, after the governor’s wife recognized Rangwala and welcomed her inside.

After two years showcasing in India, she moved with her husband, Tilesh, to Tampa in 2002.

Her first show in the U.S., was at the Gasparilla Festival after a friend introduced her to the festival’s event coordinator.

Shyama’s exhilarating painting of four white horses with an eagle overhead won first place at the Florida State Fair.

Sharing therapy with others
Rangwala’s paintings often have bright colors to convey a positive energy, she said.

She draws inspiration from Chinese and Japanese artistic styles, and reads Hindu scriptures as a means of inspiration.

She, in turn, tries to exude that same positivity to her art students, whose ages range from 3 to 80.

She wears a special shoe to align her right leg with her left, plus, she uses a cane.

In spite of this, she is determined to accommodate the desires of her students, which first began with only two participants and has grown to 120.

Rangwala is not a teacher in the traditional sense, she said, because she gives her students the liberty to create what they please — and doesn’t follow a curriculum.

“I give them full freedom,” she explained. “I try to fulfill their wish.”

What separates Shyama’s home from those in her neighborhood, is this animal-inspired painting on her front wall for passersby to view.

This year Rangwala’s students had their sixth annual art exhibit, with green as the main theme of the paintings.

In addition to her studio classes, she also teaches art to autistic kids at the University of South Florida, which has earned her an award from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

Rangwala said she doesn’t want someone who has a disability to feel like it has to hold them back.

“I want to set an example for them that if I can do it, they can do it,” she said.

She is also planning to have art classes for the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office as a way to alleviate the stresses that come along with their line of work.

From an atrophied hand comes creative beauty and inspiration for many.

To find out more, call Shyama at (813) 843-6784, or email her at moc.l1558641798iamto1558641798h@nv_1558641798amayh1558641798s1558641798. Paintings are available for purchase at

Published December 5, 2018

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