I felt like Alice in Wonderland…

I went shopping this weekend and that is very unusual because traffic snarls and the sea of humanity that throng the streets and malls on weekends have forever cured me of venturing out of my home.

There is something magical about weekends because those two days I am able to enjoy long walks in the apartment complex where I live, without the fear of being run over by kids hurtling down on cycles, speed-addicted adults showing off their swank cars and school buses with the sole mission of running over unsuspecting people. On weekends I read a good book,listen to old Hindi film music, watch movies and shamelessly gorge on junk.

This weekend, however, I decided to listen to the voice of the shopper residing in me and set out eagerly for some retail therapy. It helped that I had a date to keep with two of my favourite people in our city: Meher Pudumjee and her mother, Anu Aga.

Sudha, do come for this, Meher said to me over watsapp a few days ago, with an intriguing picture of artwork on an invite. We don’t meet that very often but when we do, it is always special because we don’t discuss business but have wonderful conversations around our common identity of being women, we exchange notes about our families and about the things we do that make our lives rich and multi-facetted.

Those of you who have heard of Akanksha Foundation, the non-profit organisation that provides children from low-income communities with high-quality education to maximise their potential and transform their lives, also know about the life-enhancing work they have undertaken by introducing these children to the magical world of art. At Akanksha, the kids get to dabble in drawing, painting, printing, sculpture, textiles and collage work and express themselves through these media. It is through art that many of these children, who never really get to be kids, given the grim reality of their lives, discover themselves, laugh, have fun and hang on to a childhood they never had. Over the years, Akansha has also systematically strengthened the children’s self-confidence and self-worth by selling their art on a variety of platforms including an annual exhibition.

Friends of Anu and Meher also know how deeply the duo are involved in Akansha and so, I was totally looking forward to visiting Meher’s home where she was hosting the Akansha Home Bazaar, a unique way in which the organisation brings the stories and the lives of its students into our drawing rooms.

Stepping into Meher’s charming, old-world house this weekend, I felt like Alice in Wonderland. Or like a kid who wakes up Christmas morning to not just a solitary gift under the tree but the entire house full of gift-wrapped surprises. “Come in and have a look at what our kids have created,” Anu said, welcoming visitors with her trademark warmth.

Not that I needed much prodding because wherever I looked, on antique tables, gleaming side boards, elegant sofas and the family’s long dining table, there were colourful goodies displayed that I wanted to carry home. What I loved about the collection was the fact that it was not just art for art’s sake. Akanksha’s art has been worked onto everyday utilitarian things, thus allowing us to live in the midst of beauty. In addition, instead of having to buy expensive art that not many can afford, the effort here is to make art accessible, affordable and less intimidating, by bringing it out of art galleries and into our homes.

At Meher’s the collection was plain fun. On display were hand-painted, foldable coffee tables, co-ordinated trays, coasters, table runners, place mats and imaginatively designed beverage cups in the colours of the rainbow. I fell in love with their fish-themed collection that had everything from funky sling bags, clutches, purses and wallets , trendy stoles and a poncho too, and soon I snapped up a magazine holder in that theme for myself.

And that was not all. Akanksha’s kids and the designers who help them put their art on everyday products, had an absolutely fun collection of jute bags with finely-crafted paper gajras instead of handles that could give a run for their money to stuff in designer stores. There were also jute wine bags and grocery bags with colourful red, yellow and pink pompoms and cute clocks with art of them. Cushion covers, envelopes with stories on them, diaries with incredible art by gifted children and paint it-yourself wooden train kits that kids would adore assembling and painting… the list was endless.

For me it was not just about yet another bout of shopping. Wandering around the beautifully laid out art work and chatting with Meher over sandwiches and cake, I came up close to the reality of children who live on the fringes of society because they were born poor. And I was blown away by the way Akanksha has been able to help them heal and transform their life by introducing them to art.

“Eyes can say so much, I help them speak with my art”, says Reshma Khalil,a 23 year old Akanksha art student who loved mixing colours and experimenting with textures using paint. Khalil still paints but now her canvas is not paper but the faces of people, thanks to her new job as a make-up artist with a leading cosmetic company . “I’m proud to say that I still paint and create art…I make people feel beautiful.”

Raju began his tryst with art as an eight- year-old at Akanksha. The little boy, who stood out even then with his eye for detail and his meticulousness, is today an Assistant Set Director and Art Director and is glad that he could make it through a diploma in fine art, with the support of his teacher at Akanksha.

For Akanksha the sale of products and the funds raised at these home bazaars are not as important as the personal connect with people that these occasions provide. For the organisation this is an opportunity to create awareness about the plight of children who are deprived of their childhood and, indeed, their right to education.

You can contact Akanksha’s teams/alumni to conduct workshops for adults and children, hold a painting session for your kids instead of a pizza party or call in their team for your company’s offsite event or just a fun get together. They also undertake customized art, murals for you and, if you want an old sofa or a coffee table painted to revive or restore it, look no further than this amazing group of people. You can reach out to them at http://www.artforakanksha.org/ or 022 65246333.

I am glad I decided to get off the sofa where I was lolling and made it to Meher’s home because it brought me face to face with the power of what a group of committed, passionate people can do to transform the lives of others.

Sudha Menon

Sudha Menon

Sudha Menon is an Author, a Writing Coach and a Speaker on Gender and Diversity.

You can reach her on sudhamenon2006@gmail.com or her twitter handle@sudhamenon2006
Sudha Menon