Three Mumbai senior citizens study a new skill in their golden years
Now in their golden years, three people tell Benita Fernando how they found themselves back to studying a new skill long after they had left their schooldays behind
Dr Radha Sinha, 70
Returning to the roots
There could be several reasons why Andheri-resident Dr Radha Sinha decided to pursue an advanced certificate course in archaeology from the Centre for Extra Mural Studies (CEMS), University of Mumbai. For one, she has always wanted to pick up new skills, right from her childhood. Secondly, as she explains, it provides an opportunity to meet new people. But, we suspect that the biggest reason could be love.
Sinha met her husband, Apurva Kumar Sinha, while they were students of architecture at MS University, Baroda. "But, we didn't date when we were in college. It wasn't until much later that I wrote a letter to him asking if we should get married," she says. Her father, however, thought it wouldn't be ideal for her to marry into a family with political connections, for the prospective groom was the son of Sarat Chandra Sinha, a Gandhian and former chief minister of Assam. Eventually, her father relented, and she moved to Guwahati, where both husband and wife practised as architects. In 1983, after five years of marriage, her husband passed away in a road accident.
After that, Sinha, on the suggestion of a friend, came to Mumbai, became headmistress and later principal of Premlila Vithaldas Polytechnic in Santacruz. "I also completed a PhD, having done a master's in History. However, what happened is that my late husband's father showed me all around Assam, and I thought I must research Cooch Behar, its unique language and oral tradition, of which little is known. My husband and his family hailed from this region - a triangle lost between Bengal, Assam and Bihar," says Sinha, seated in one of the staffrooms at the University's Kalina campus.
Sinha signed up for the archaeology certificate course last year in an attempt to hone her research skills. As part of the course, she has travelled to Osmanabad, to study sites of historic interest. The nearby Kanheri caves, however, remain unaccomplished, as her sisters and nephews were concerned about her knees.
While Sinha has a lot of fun with the course, she cannot help but feel that times have changed. "Back when I was a student, we had full faith in a teacher. In the current education system, students question everything, which is not something we did. The idea was that once you reach the capacity of a teacher's experience and wisdom, then you question what you were taught. I suppose this was my attitude to life as well - to have full faith and to believe that everything happens for a reason," she says.
Rumi Taraporevala, 88
Learning to be a baritone
WHEN we fail miserably at guessing Rumi Taraporevala's age, the gent corrects us with a laugh, "I left my seventies long ago." His childhood memories include the famous Quit India speech in his neighbourhood that gave Grant Road's August Kranti Maidan its name. Other instances include family members playing drums and the Hawaiian guitar, playing LPs by the dozen, and listening to swing and Hollywood musicals. Taraporevala says, "From the start, there was always music in my life. In school, as part of the Boy Scouts, we used to go on camps and sing around campfires. We mostly sang American folk songs. My love for singing was always there but it was my great misfortune that I never took it up. There was school and then college..."
Having worked at his father's foreign exchange broking firm for 50 years, Taraporevala decided to sell the firm in 2002. "I thought enough is enough and I have been having a good time since," he says. After he retired, Taraporevala thought that it was time to fulfil his childhood wish - to learn music more formally - and he did so by enrolling himself at the Mehli Mehta Music Foundation's (MMMF) adult recreational choir, led by renowned conductor Coomi Wadia, around 2012. Taraporevala is pretty certain that he'd be the oldest student in any class he joins and that certainly was the case here.
The choir was discontinued three years down the line, but Taraporevala, wishing to make the best of his free time, signed up with Rael Mendes, 30, a soprano who also taught at MMMF. "She and I got along famously. I think we laughed together most of the time, and practised singing for a little while," says Taraporevala, dressed smartly in black tee and shorts.
Many like him requested MMMF to restart the choir programme, and the foundation did so a month ago. Taraporevala now attends the weekly class at MMMF's location in Breach Candy. He says he does fine, unless there is homework. "I am a lazy boy. Rael will tell you I am a lazy bugger. But, anything that reminds me of school and exams puts me off," laughs Taraporevala, who is training as a baritone.
Under his teachers, Taraporevala has picked up Santa Lucia, Come Back to Sorrento, and other Italian favourites. While he thinks he will not compare to the originals, he says, "But, I like singing. Mind you, that this is a recreational group, but I would still like to see us perform on stage some day. I don't know if I will be there when that happens."
Rhona Noronha, 75
Discovering a new rhythm
Rhona Noronha looks forward to Monday evenings, when she and about 40 of her friends meet to practise line dancing at the Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in Chembur. Line dancing, which has gained a lot of popularity in recent years for both its recreational and health benefits for senior citizens, is something that Noronha has been studying for the last decade. "But, we still have a lot of steps to learn," says Noronha of the dance format that involves dancers standing in lines and doing synchronised steps.
The Chembur resident worked as a secretary and executive assistant with a private manufacturing company not far from her home. Having retired in 2003, Noronha says that she has kept herself busy with the church's senior citizens' association, a widows' group and also Dignity Foundation, a non-profit in Byculla. Then came along the dance course. "It's a way for me to associate with other senior citizens," she says.
But, the dance class is more than just that. There is a certain rigour to the steps and the sequences. The group, along with Noronha, has been performing at various other parishes, in an attempt to inspire others to tap their toes and groove to the music as well. Noronha's favourite are their dances to Stand by Me and the theme from the film Zorba the Greek. "I also do this because it is something out of the daily routine. I feel my body needs some exercise and though my pace has been slowing down over the years, I try to keep at it," says Noronha, drawing inspiration from her 80-year-old teacher, Noreen Vincent, and also teachers Jennifer Correa and Noreen D'Souza.
The group celebrates birthdays and goes on an annual picnic, much as they would have done back in their schooldays. The best thing about line dancing, says Noronha, is that she has come to appreciate how you can dance solo. "I grew up dancing the cha cha cha, the waltz and the foxtrot, but you always need a partner for those. But, here, we don't need a partner and can freely mix with other dancers," she says.
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