Mexico is looking for the Indian kids who sent drawings for its 1968 Olympics

Blast from the past.
Blast from the past.
Image: Embassy of Mexico to India
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For one doctor dealing with the aftermath of the Kerala floods in Kochi, this week carried a surprising twist: her face on the front page of a local newspaper.

Leela Sudakaran (second from left in the feature image), was being sought out by the Mexican Embassy in India as part of a delightful quest.

On Aug. 20, the embassy announced it was looking for a handful of Indian children who in 1968 had contributed drawings for and painted murals at Mexico’s World Festival of Children’s Painting. The event was part of the cultural programme held in connection with the Mexico City Olympics that year—the first ever in a Spanish-speaking country.

Themed “Un Mundo de Amistad” (a world of friendship), the exhibition featured 1,800 drawings by children from 80 countries. To celebrate the exhibition’s 50th anniversary, Mexico plans to host another exhibition with the 380 surviving drawings and paintings, some contributed by eight Indian children. And Sudakaran was one of them.

“It was really funny how we found her,” Melba Pria, Mexico’s ambassador to India, told Quartz. “She was working in the hospital and suddenly one of her relatives called her and said, I want to tell you that you are on the front page of a newspaper…She went and got a newspaper, saw herself, and when she had a minute, she called us!”

The daughter of a diplomat posted at the Embassy of India in Mexico in 1968, Sudakaran said her brother Suresh, who now lives in the UAE had also painted a mural in the capital. 

Using just the names and ages of the Indian participants, the Mexican embassy has been tapping the media, local post offices, and art schools to trace their whereabouts. So far, they’ve traced one other person: Jitendra Navnitlal Parikh, a student of the Shree Sayaji High School in Vadodara, Gujarat, who was 15 in 1968.

Journalist Ketan Trivedi of Chitralekha magazine, published out of Ahmedabad, travelled to Vadodara to trace Parikh. Unfortunately, he had passed away in 1998 following a long illness.

Jitender Navnitlal Parikh’s painting, titled Market.
Jitender Navnitlal Parikh’s painting, titled Market.
Image: Jitender NavnitLal Parikh/Embassy of Mexico

So, the embassy made a video based on his story, with help from his family. That video, along with two they plan to make with Sudakaran and her brother, will be sent to Mexico, where they will be played at the exhibition, Pria said.

The embassy is still on the lookout for Sujata Sharma (14 years old back then), Ira Sachdeva, (12), and Sanat Kundu (13), who contributed drawings, and Vivek Kuchibhatla (9) and Ela Elms (8) who painted murals in Mexico. Pria said the embassy had tracked down Sharma’s old house and checked with the post office in Sachdeva’s locality but with no luck so far.

A painting by Ira Sachdeva for the 1968 exhibition.
A painting by Ira Sachdeva for the 1968 exhibition.
Image: Ira Sachdeva/Embassy of Mexico

“These young ‘children’ could have become anything under the sun, imagine! And most of them have very nice stories, so we’re looking forward to finding them,” Pria said. 

Once they’re found, the embassy wants to tell all their stories in the exhibition, and give them a framed copy of their artwork, which Pria says will be a symbol of unity between nations, especially between Mexico and India, even after all these years.