By Shilpi Madan
An artist and social worker by passion, Rouble Nagi believes in taking constructive action while shaping and redefining the lives of lakhs of children living in shanties, all across India. Her name is synonymous with Misaal Mumbai, a project that has been in rich progress over the years and has brought about the beautification and cleaning up in and around the slums in the city, in addition to educating the dwellers. It has been a challenging, tough journey, getting into low-income neighbourhoods to repair and waterproof roofs and paint slums with the help of local volunteers.
Here is a woman on a mission to educate and fortify underprivileged children. All while she raises her son Vivaan, with husband Sahil. Excerpts from a conversation with Express Parenting:
How on earth do you manage home and work?
Vivaan is eight now and an intelligent, sensitive and sensible child. He understands that I help many children who are not as blessed as he is. I distribute my time systematically across the 24 hours. Sometimes I do work more and sleep less.
Share your routine?
Vivaan is an early riser. We are up at 6 am. I chat with him and am ready to leave by 6:45 am to have breakfast with the children at the ‘balewadi’. I teach there regularly too. I sincerely believe that we can change the lives of children through art.
When do you spend time with Vivaan?
It is an unbeatable bond that we share. Once he returns from school, he is busy with his Kumon classes and swimming. I return home by 6 pm. Then we enjoy ourselves playing carom (where I have to lose!), go for walks on the beach, play cricket…he loves action.
One way in which you pamper him?
I am the more strict parent but I do indulge him, for my own selfish desires, by feeding him dinner with my own hands. I love doing this, and want to make the most of these moments. Children grow up too fast. Till he was five years, I never let a nanny bathe him, and used to get up five to six times in the night as he was a light sleeper and would wake up often.
How involved is Sahil as a dad?
He makes for a fab dad. Vivaan takes after him in many ways with his penchant for reading, pottering around with tools.
You have made over 800 fabulous murals, your artworks are celebrated, yet you power Misaal Mumbai. What makes you help others so selflessly?
As an artist, you are celebrated as your works fetch staggering prices in auctions and adorn the walls in homes of millionaires. I wanted much more beyond all this. I realised soon enough that I have a fabulous connection with ‘real life’ humans. It has been a very rewarding journey since. There are lakhs of children in our country who lack education and good health. I am blessed by God and want to reach out to give back. I feel if you are blessed and choose not to give back, then life is simply not worth living. We can and must change as many lives as possible in a positive way.
What does your work involve?
We chart out art workshops in balewadis in addition to teaching subjects including English, Science, Maths, Hindi. Art keeps them motivated to come to the balewadi (and not give up studies). We make learning fun by bringing in song, dance, interaction. I have been doing this for 10 years now.
What powers your zeal?
If I fail, they fail. There is no way I will give up. There are children who could not even hold a pencil when they first came, but have now majored in fine arts. This sort of satisfaction money cannot buy. I want to do everything in my capacity to reach out, support and impact, as many as possible. See, advocacy is easy. What is challenging is getting up and walking the talk. We go into slums and villages and put into practice what we envision.
What humbles you?
The love and trust people invest in me. I treasure my connection with people. I move into remote villages for days, dealing with dons and drop outs, hosts of infrastructure related and social issues. I have seen the tough life while growing up as an army kid in remote corners of the country. Through art I am also able to bring in colours and creativity to so many lives. I am biologically a mother of one, but all the children I teach and interact with are mine. They look forward eagerly to spending time with me every day; we learn together. It is tough to describe the takeaway.
We are present in 16 states, have 13 more to go. Next on our list are Jharkhand and Hyderabad. We need to get more kids to school pan-India and skill our people, build the civic sense. Collectively, we must make equality not charity our aim in life.
What have you learnt?
No book or lecture or guidance can prepare you to be a mom. You learn on the job, hands-on!
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