Simran Wahan carries around a bag that says ‘Emotional Baggage’ in big black letters. “I invite people to drop their burdens into it,” says the artist, half serious. While online art classes during the lockdown have been a challenge, it has also been great fun working with what one has at home, says Simran who firmly believes that art and craft are therapeutic. “I have a lot of older people signing up on Instagram. I usually invite random people to log in and talk about how they feel in my interactive video sessions and also ask them to colour with me.”
Simran has corporate clients, the medical fraternity, students, grandparents and pregnant moms as her pupils. About her older students she says, “I have noticed that they are super excited when they learn something new and that too along with fellow students who are 20-something old. They enjoy giving ‘gyan’ in a group class where conversation invariably moves away from art, and the hiccups and hurdles of life come up for discussion.”
Smita Rao who lives in Coorg and is 73 years old says she initially had reservations about learning from someone who is nearly four decades younger. “But Simran with her humour and easy approach helped me regain my confidence.” Smita has struggled with reading and an unstable hand for nearly eight years, but she says drawing every day for two weeks with Simran has improved her concentration.
For 61-year-old SR Vijaya from Erode, the classes just make her plain happy. “I appreciate myself more now and life seems suddenly full of so many, many things to do,” says the retired bank employee.
Rekindling interest in life and engaging them in a new hobby is gratifying for her older students. “Like it has most people, the pandemic has increased the sense of isolation and loneliness in older people. They are stuck at home, probably unable to follow their usual routine, and therefore at odds with themselves and their lives,” says Simran. She works with materials they have at home so they do not have to worry about buying new stuff. Just a pen, paper and pencil will do, she says.
Simran teaches them doodling, making scrap books, or if they are so inclined, the more exacting art work such as Mandala, Kalamkari, Madhubani, Warli, food illustrations, and so on. “For those who have printers at home, I email my designs so that they can print out and colour.” Not just the older people, 28-year-old Roshan Fathima from Chennai, signed in through the holy month of Ramzan along with her three-year-old son. She describes it as her much needed ‘me time’ that helped her be less irritable.
Simran has participants from England, America, Canada, France, UAE, Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Spain and Kenya. “It does not matter where in the world people are, drawing helps them reconnect with themselves and the world. “I have often heard my students say they feel ‘relief’ and no longer fear being judged. We can be ourselves with each other.”
While she confesses there have been times the sessions have become intense and draining, she draws great energy from her participants. It would be nice to meet them all in person, says Simran, but at the moment she is happy that she is well on her journey of making “as many people in the world as I can, paint and draw.”