Mak­ing a dif­fer­ence

Artist Rou­ble Nagi is us­ing her craft to brighten the lives of un­der­priv­i­leged chil­dren in In­dia.

Friday - - Editor’s Letter -

Sal­man Khan took less than a minute to say yes to Rou­ble Nagi’s re­quest. The painter-mu­ral­ist-sculp­tor wanted the Bol­ly­wood su­per­star to help her Rou­ble Nagi Art Foun­da­tion (RNAF) that sup­ports un­der­priv­i­leged chil­dren by hold­ing art camps and help­ing fund their higher ed­u­ca­tion.

The mo­ment he saw their work dur­ing a visit to an art camp, he turned to her and smiled, be­fore agree­ing to support the foun­da­tion.

“To say that I was thrilled would be an un­der­state­ment,” says Rou­ble, who stud­ied fine art at the Slade School of Fine Art in London.

“But more than that, it was the burst of con­fi­dence it gave to my chil­dren – to have Sal­man, an artist him­self, to ap­pre­ci­ate their work, and back them. It brought a cer­tain pur­pose to their seem­ingly aim­less ex­is­tence.”

The ac­tor, an in­vi­tee at an art camp in Mumbai or­gan­ised by Rou­ble in 2013 that show­cased the work of un­der­priv­i­leged kids she helps on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, was in fact so amazed and im­pressed with the artistry of the kids that he hand­picked 10 art­works and used them on his Be­ing Hu­man T-shirt col­lec­tion.

Rou­ble, 34, who started RNAF in 2011, had been work­ing with var­i­ous groups as­so­ci­ated with un­der­priv­i­leged and spe­cial needs chil­dren in In­dia.

“I’d been or­gan­is­ing art camps and small projects for chil­dren for four years be­fore I was en­cour­aged to start my own foun­da­tion by Dr Mad­hav Cha­van, CEO of the NGO, Pratham, where I first vol­un­teered,” says Rou­ble. “Save The Chil­dren was one such pro­gramme that I did with kids with spe­cial needs.”

She would first find out what colours the chil­dren ap­pre­ci­ated and re­sponded by cre­at­ing an art­work with those shades or en­cour­age the kids to paint with them.

“The chil­dren loved cre­at­ing pieces of art and see­ing their en­thu­si­asm made me want to do more for such chil­dren,” says Rou­ble, who was in Dubai last year for a fundrais­ing show called Strokes of Strength.

Com­ing from a priv­i­leged back­ground – her fa­ther was an In­dian Army of­fi­cer – the artist says one of the best things in her life was that she had the op­por­tu­nity to travel almost all over In­dia with her fam­ily. “This gave me a unique in­sight into our coun­try. I got to know peo­ple from all walks of life,” says Rou­ble. And one of the things she re­alised quickly was that there were a lot of poor chil­dren strug­gling to get an ed­u­ca­tion.

“As an artist I dream when I cre­ate, and my dream is a world free of poverty and crime,” she says. Keen to re­alise her dream after grad­u­at­ing, she de­cided to set up RNAF, which pro­motes tal­ented young artists and helps un­der­priv­i­leged kids by rais­ing funds for their up­keep and ed­u­ca­tion. The foun­da­tion, which is sup­ported by donors, also helps young needy artists by pro­vid­ing them with art ma­te­ri­als and also gives schol­ar­ships for art schools.

“The art camps are cre­ated to give the chil­dren an equal so­cial plat­form for them to in­ter­act with so­ci­ety,” she says. “Un­der­priv­i­leged chil­dren are mostly dis­en­gaged from main­stream ed­u­ca­tion, dis­rup­tive or with­drawn and mostly avoid go­ing to school.

“Our camps are held at mu­nic­i­pal schools and lo­cal nurs­eries and in the past few years we have demon­strated that with a car­ing and cre­ative en­vi­ron­ment, even the most prob­lem­atic child can learn and achieve through art.”

Ev­ery year a team of young as­pir­ing artists are cho­sen to ex­hibit their works in London and Sin­ga­pore.

‘I de­cided that I’d keep a sub­stan­tial part of my earn­ings for char­ity and I still follow that to­day’

At 14, Rou­ble be­gan donat­ing money she earned from paint­ings sold at auc­tions and gal­leries.

“I de­cided even then that I would keep aside a sub­stan­tial part of my earn­ings to char­ity. And I still follow that rule to this day.” Forty per cent of Rou­ble’s earn­ings from her art goes to­wards the foun­da­tion.

The foun­da­tion also or­gan­ises fundrais­ing pro­grammes. For­mer Pak­istani cricket cap­tain-Wasim Akram and Bol­ly­wood di­rec­tor, So­hail Khan (Sal­man’s brother), who are close friends with Rou­ble, are good­will am­bas­sadors who ac­tively

pro­mote the foun­da­tion. Bol­ly­wood stars such as for­mer Miss Uni­verse Sush­mita Sen, Em­raan Hashmi, Zayed Khan, and mu­sic com­poser Anu Ma­lik are also ac­tive sup­port­ers.

“It is the support of such loyal friends that has in­spired me to ex­pand the scope of the foun­da­tion,” says Rou­ble.

In re­cent years her foun­da­tion work has almost be­gun to over­shadow her art­work. “Now I paint only once in four or five years,” says Rou­ble. “After that hold my exhibitions.”

She has firm views about her foun­da­tion. “My art foun­da­tion is very close to my heart,” she says. “There are thou­sands of kids at­tached to it whom I teach art. The ba­sic aim is to give them a plat­form and ed­u­cate them. Some of them go to schools and some don’t.

“The idea is to en­cour­age them to at­tend school of some kind, whether mu­nic­i­pal or gov­ern­ment schools.”

Rou­ble be­lieves keep­ing kids off the street can make a real dif­fer­ence.

“Th­ese are the kind of kids who could stray into a life of crime if they are not taken care of well. My aim is to en­sure that they com­plete school and learn some skills that will help them stand on their own feet.

“Even if I can make one child stand on his feet and take care of his fam­ily I would feel I’ve done some­thing.”

Rou­ble en­cour­ages them to par­tic­i­pate in ac­tiv­i­ties to keep them en­gaged. “They get bored eas­ily, so I have mu­ral paint­ing, sculp­ture, mo­saics, and clay mod­el­ling at my art camps,” says Rou­ble. “Many of my kids are go­ing to art col­leges now, and one is even do­ing an MBA at the SP Jain Col­lege.”

Rou­ble holds her camps in Delhi, Aurangabad, Nashik and Mumbai, where she lives. “I keep go­ing to each place – I travel 15 days a month,” she says. “It’s now dif­fi­cult with my three-year-old son Vi­vaan, but for my stu­dents I’m even will­ing to take him on a morn­ing-evening flight to work for their fu­ture.” Rou­ble’s hus­band, Saahil, is very sup­port­ive.

Rou­ble started out work­ing with 300 chil­dren. Over the years more than 100,000 have at­tended her

‘Even if I can make one child stand on his feet and help his fam­ily, I’ll feel I’ve done some­thing’

camps. The foun­da­tion now plans go to Rou­ble’s birth­place – Jammu. “I am in talks with two or­phan­ages in Kashmir,” she says. “I plan to take over the cost of pro­vid­ing health­care and ed­u­ca­tion to the chil­dren there.”

Be­sides help­ing un­der­priv­i­leged chil­dren to grow as artists, the foun­da­tion also sup­ports other chil­dren by fund­ing their ed­u­ca­tion. “Not ev­ery child is in­clined to­wards art,” she says. “Those who are not are sent to a nor­mal school and we fund their ed­u­ca­tion.”

Rou­ble, who was awarded the Ji­jabai-Women Achievers’ Award in 2013 for ex­em­plary so­cial work by the Gov­ern­ment of In­dia, also sup­ports women’s em­pow­er­ment and it is a sub­ject ev­i­dent in her paint­ings.

De­spite ap­pear­ances Rou­ble is a tough woman, phys­i­cally and men­tally. She paints huge, phys­i­cally de­mand­ing mu­rals – she’s done more than 800 so far – and has cre­ated larger-than-life sculp­tures, some of which weigh around four tonnes.

“I re­cently did a sculp­ture of a mother and child in bronze, almost four tonnes each and 4.2 me­tres high,” she says. “Another sculp­ture in mar­ble called Lovers, weighed six tonnes and stood 5.5 me­tres high, for a client-friend in New Delhi, In­dia.”

Rou­ble does not like to paint sad­ness. “Any­one who buys my art has to take hap­pi­ness and pos­i­tiv­ity back home,” she says. “I only paint when I’m in a good mood. The paint­ings I do when I am neg­a­tive I don’t even show to oth­ers.

“I have al­ways be­lieved that ed­u­ca­tion is the key to self-re­liance, and the fu­ture,” she says. “Through RNAF I want to make a dif­fer­ence any way that I can. Equal­ity and ed­u­ca­tion are ev­ery child’s birthright.

“Un­for­tu­nately, In­dia has a huge num­ber of chil­dren out of schools. It’s sur­pris­ing but In­dia has more chil­dren of school age than China, and at the same time rel­a­tively low attendance rates... Roughly In­dia has 21 mil­lion chil­dren out of school.”

Rou­ble pauses and pon­ders. “If I can make even a small dent in that fig­ure it will be worth it,” she says.

Chil­dren are en­cour­aged to work with the colours they re­spond to

Sev­eral celebs in­clud­ing Sal­man Khan support her ini­tia­tive

Rou­ble’s foun­da­tion hones the skills of poor chil­dren

Tal­ented kids are taken on a world tour where they can ex­hibit their works

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