It’s 2.30 pm and the empty halls of an office in a Bandra commercial complex come alive with sounds of chatter and laughter. Three students walk through the door with curiously large bags and carefully offload the contents on their desks. Roshni diligently arranges her easel, a palette of watercolours and differently-sized paintbrushes. She places her things in front of a postcard with a beautiful scenery. “This is what I’m trying to make. But let’s see what happens. I’ve missed a lot of classes in between,” she says.
Roshni, along with her fellow students, is in her 60s. She visits Bandra’s LIBERarte Central — a warm and friendly space with lilac walls that sticks out amongst a slew of grey offices — for lessons in watercolour painting. “I’ve got so much on my plate right now that I literally run away from home just to get some time to myself. At home I’m looking after grandkids. My nephew is also visiting so I have to take him around,” she says agitatedly. Her fellow students nod in agreement and empathy. “I just love watercolours. I remember having a very good art teacher in school. But here, I’m a beginner. Even if I’m bad, what the hell. I’m enjoying it,” she says.
Through the week, LIBERarte Central witnesses a stream of senior citizens who come in to hone a wide variety of skills.
There are budding authors who want to learn how to pen their memoirs, some who want to keep fit with Bollywood dance classes and other retirees who are taught how best to save their money. So it’s safe to say there is never a dull moment. Tehzeeb Doctor, who founded this school in February, was motivated by the idea of giving students like Roshni a chance to rediscover themselves. Her top priority is to track down the best possible teachers. Doctor herself teaches the creative writing course. “The work coming out of these classes is spectacular. All of their writing may not be fantastic, but they come with a lot of rich knowledge. They might have been great at something in school and college and forgot it halfway. The work coming out of the show is spectacular,” she says.
Her oldest student yet is an 88-year-old woman enrolled in the creative writing class. “She yearned for her husband, whom she lost some years ago. She came in wanting to write about her life. She told the class about how she loved to dance and would often bring her old needlework to show the rest. These sessions are a great outlet of expression,” says Doctor, who has a strong background in publishing. She was particularly surprised by how well they responded to an assignment that required them to visit a restaurant and write about it. “There was a person who wrote a fly-on-the-wall account, another reviewed and there was one that was a love story that ended at the restaurant. The talent is just amazing,” she adds.
Unfortunately, there haven’t been too many men who have signed up for classes as yet. Only one, to be precise. Some have called the school requesting for a bridge class, so Doctor hopes to have something for them too. So far the class that is most popular is called TechTalk, where students come in with the one gadget they just can’t get around to using. There are seniors who helplessly turn up with their smartphones, iPads and laptops.
By the end of the session they are on a par with their grandkids as far as downloading movies and posting photos with the appropriate filter is concerned.
Interestingly, most of the students volunteered for these classes and didn’t need any prodding from their family. Rumu, who is currently finishing her painting session, is already on the lookout for a jive class. “I have time on my hand so I want to try as many different classes as possible. The good thing is that I can take my time and learn. It’s okay to make mistakes. And thankfully, there are no exams!” she says.
Roshni, too, has her eyes on other courses. At the end of the class she pops into Doctor’s office. “Please start the next creative writing course soon,” she insists. As she walks out, she rues to herself, “My writing skills are so poor. We didn’t have the benefit of a good education in our time.” It’s this spirit of enterprise that convinces Doctor that her one-of-a-kind school is meant for bigger things. Her ultimate goal — taking all her students on an art tour across Paris.
Credits The Hindu