“Are you serious? She’s 68?” exclaims Manizeh Shermahomed, 24, one of Uma Malik’s students, when she hears me interviewing her teacher. The same morning, another student, Sonal Shah, had to call Malik to confirm her age before she passed on her number to me. “I think she’s above 65 but I’m not sure. She doesn’t look a day older than 60,” she’d said, before greeting Malik enthusiastically on the phone.
By way of explanation, Malik, an artist, porcelain-painting teacher and grandmother of five all rolled into one, says, “Because I spend so much time with young people, it helps keep my mind young even if my body is ageing”. Hers is not the typical story of the geriatric parent neglected and mistreated by his or her children. Instead, Uma Malik exudes a liveliness and impishness unusual for those in her age bracket. And the secret to her youth, she says, is that she “keeps herself healthily busy”.
“After marriage, I realised that my career was going to suffer while I brought up my children,” she says. “So when they grew up and left home, I was glad to go back to my art. It’s almost like I found myself only then. Finally, the teacher in me was satisfied,” continues Malik, who is also one of the country’s best known porcelain painters.”
Thirty-odd years after she taught her first student, her classes both fine art and ceramic painting have become famous amongst South Mumbai’s hip teenagers and ladies-who-lunch. The classes themselves, as her students will testify, are more laughter-filled afternoons than the traditional definition of a place of learning. “It’s really like therapy for us. We crack jokes, share problems with each other, and above all, have fun,” says Malik.
When she’s not busy with her art, the mother of two spends time doing yoga and meditation with her husband, Nandi Malik, a retired mechanical engineer. Ask her if she feels that old people should live frugally and pat comes the reply:
“Not at all. I don’t deny myself anything I go for movies, lunches and dinners. I travel frequently to meet my sons in the US and Indonesia. And I drink the occasional glass of wine and just reduce the oil in my cooking”.
So does she ever find the need to hide her age? “I’d like to say I’m not old, but I am mature,” says Malik. Like fine wine, I think.