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Khushboo Sharma

IWB Blogger

Artist Rouble Nagi On How She Is Bringing Colours Of Joy To Slums Through “Misaal Mumbai”

  • IWB Post
  •  July 3, 2019

“Art inspires people to do good, be good,” says Mumbai based artist Rouble Nagi who has taken upon herself the task of bringing colours to the hitherto somber slums of Mumbai.

Artist and Social Worker Rouble Nagi conceived the initiative “Misaal Mumbai” in order to change the way Mumbai slums were looked down upon as a big blot to the city and a stark contrast to the clean organized world of the soaring sky scrappers. The initiative opened with “Paint Dharavi” in 2012 and was later taken further to Bandra West where the artist, along with her team including locals and residents, painted over 285 plus houses. The areas impacted by the initiative include Jaffar Baba Colony, Mount Mary, and Bandra West.

"Misaal Mumbai" is indeed a 'misaal' or example now

“Misaal Mumbai” is indeed a ‘misaal’ or example now

What earlier appeared as a stack of homes marred by squalor was soon converted into a life-size canvas and the results were resplendent. A site of repulsion soon became a coveted sight and a feast to the eyes owing to its rainbow hues under Rouble’s endeavor.

Slum covered in rainbow hues under the Missal Mumbai initiative

Slum covered in rainbow hues under the Missal Mumbai initiative

Rouble holds the belief that “until the interest of an artist shifts from the personal sensation to a sense of communal service, his work cannot grow. An artist’s work cannot take on real greatness until it bears the burden of people”. She undertook the initiative to connect with the slum dwellers and instill in them a sense of “community ownership”. Working in the slums brought her face to face with the grim reality of their existence and within no time “Misaal Mumbai” also took the task of waterproofing the slum roofs along with the beautification. The initiative has been seeing a continuous expansion as Rouble has literally taken the slums of Mumbai under her wing and has resolved to change the living conditions there.

I am elated to see how dedicated artists like Rouble are answering the age-old question, can art change the world, as she has proved that yes, it certainly can.

We approached Rouble to appreciate her efforts and learn more about them. Here are the excerpts from the interview:

It is well known that you are working to beautify Mumbai slums under the project “Misaal Mumbai”. Please share us one of the most emotional moments that you witnessed inside the slum walls which showed you the human part of the slum and ended up leaving a deep impact on you.

It is not the first time that I am working in a slum. I have been working in the slums for the last 10 years, conducting my art camps all over Maharashtra. As the fourth most populous city in the world and one of the populous urban regions in the world, Mumbai has a metro population of about 22.05 million in 2018. The percentage of people living in slums is estimated to be as high as 41.3% in Greater Mumbai, meaning that over 9 million people live in these areas. The living conditions here are extremely bad. We first started with painting, then slowly after seeing the condition, we started waterproofing and cleaning. Now we run workshops for sanitation and hygiene inside the slum we are painting and revamping. Community and local involvement in the project are very important. While working there I made friends with most of the children living there, who often visited me after school hours. I was even invited to tea & breakfast to their homes by their parents. Some homes were 8 feet by 10 feet and had 11 to 13 members living there. I remember my first site, Nitin was 8 years old and I visited him after completing my work on site. It was very emotional for me to see that he had sketched me on paper and bought me a brush as a gift. I carried chocolates and sweets every day and still do. I know I cannot change the situation they are in but can make it better for them, the effort is to help them any way possible through “Misaal Mumbai”. I always tell my friends that you create a legacy not by the amount of money you have in your bank but by how many people’s lives you have touched and come close to.

Rouble makes it a point to carry sweets and chocolates for the slum kids whenever she visits

Rouble makes it a point to carry sweets and chocolates for the slum kids whenever she visits

This is a fact that you can do and feel way better when your environment is not shouting poverty and squalor. How has the beautification of the slums impacted the lives of those who live there?

The continued rise of economic inequality in India – and around the world – is not inevitable. It is the result of policy choices. In India, the richest 1% own 53% of the country’s wealth, according to the latest data from Credit Suisse. The richest 5% own 68.6%, while the top 10% have 76.3%. At the other end of the pyramid, the poorer half jostles for a mere 4.1% of national wealth. It isn’t about beautifying alone, it’s about making their lives happier. As I tell all my friends to visit and see for themselves with or without me present. Their words come from their hearts and that is my achievement.

What initiatives are you taking for the betterment of the slum women? 

We have workshops for sanitation and hygiene along with art camps. Most of the times women come up to us and talk about work and life. We also run a vocational training center the program is called “Learn to Earn”. Even if you want to work from home you have many things to do and make a living for yourself and you will not have to depend on anyone. Women must empower themselves.

Rouble interacts with the slum dwellers and women to spread awareness about cleanliness and hygiene

Rouble interacts with the slum dwellers and women to spread awareness about cleanliness and hygiene

Tell me about some initiatives and actions that we can take to impact the lives of these slum dwellers. Maybe your answer can inspire somebody to pick an initiative.

The aim is to improve the quality of life for people living in slums by providing access to clean water, improved sanitation, and waste management services; and supporting affordable housing.

Following are the actions that we need to take:

  • To strengthen the capacity of local people and their institutions to engage with local authorities and other service providers for the sustainable provision of basic services.
  • To scale-up the delivery of basic infrastructure services for safe water, sanitation, better and affordable housing, waste removal and access to land tenure rights through collaborative efforts with local people and municipal authorities.
  • To support income-generation activities and community-managed savings and credit schemes that enable households to secure funds for the improvement of physical facilities.
  • Sharing of experiences, and the adoption of more pro-poor policies and practices for slum upgrading.
Rouble's endeavor found its way to Dhobi Ghats to convert them into a cheerful workplace

Rouble’s endeavor found its way to Dhobi Ghats to convert them into a cheerful workplace

You wrote somewhere that for an artist to feel fulfilled he/she needs to expand from the personal to communal. But the truth is that many artists struggle to make ends meet. What would be your advice to artists, especially women, so that their hustle for survival wouldn’t shadow the communal purpose?

Everyone has a different perception of life. For me the purpose of life is not to be just happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well. I agree most artists have to struggle, as did I. But then we must ask ourselves why do we only interview and talk to achievers, why do we only side and promote the already established artists, why don’t we ever support the outsider or the underdog. I have a programme which I am running since the past five years called “CRAYON”, it’s to support young artists and also handicapped artists and trust me it is the hardest to raise funds and get gallery bookings for artists with no contact. My advice to all artists and people trying to make a mark is to keep trying and believing in you. Sooner or later your time will come.

Tell me about your first artwork that made you feel accomplished as an artist.

My first Artwork was commissioned by Hyatt Regency (Asian Hotels Ltd) for their property in Mumbai, Delhi, and Kolkata. Most of my initial works were commissioned as I am a Mural and sculpture artist. Till date, I have made over 800 murals worldwide. As an artist I still feel the same as I did when I made my first artwork, I still go through sleepless nights and countless hours on the drawing board and in my studio. At times I feel more like an innovator than an artist.

One of Roubel's artworks

One of Roubel’s artworks

How did growing up in Kashmir and rigorous traveling inspire your aesthetic approach?

I haven’t grown up in Kashmir, my father was in the army so we traveled a lot. I have grown up all over India, where every two years we had to move to another city. I have lived in Jammu & Kashmir, the South, Bengal, Punjab, just to name a few. The diversity and landscape of every region have influenced me.

How are you reclaiming the city of Mumbai as a female artist?

Well, I am just an artist following what I believe in, my husband has always supported me in whatever I wanted to do in life. My father being an Infantry officer taught us to be fearless and told us that, The only easy day was yesterday, every day it will get tougher and tougher as a soldier you stand your ground. Believe in yourself and keep moving forward. I had started doing Public Installation works in the city 7 years ago. “Misaal Mumbai” started two years ago with “Paint Dharavi” and slowly took shape. I have been working steadily in what I believe in. I have found support from many of my friends who want to do good work.


Could you share a guide for networking for female artists?

I honestly don’t believe in networking, you have to keep doing your work. Sooner or later if your work is good people will start noticing your work. Today you have interviewed me because of my Initiative not because of networking. It is your work that has to take center stage and not the artist, you will be recognized by your work, symbolic as it may sound it’s “just like a tree is known by its fruit.”

What is the idea that is finding a shape in your sketchbook currently? Would you like to share a page of your sketchbook with us?

I don’t have a sketchbook, I have a sketch wall. My studio is more like a science laboratory and I keep experimenting with different mediums. My wall is something I keep sketching on and random design concepts including ‘Misaal Mumbai’. It’s my magic wall and is the best-kept secret. So far, I have never used sketchbooks, easels or anything that a regular artist uses and I prefer painting on the floor. I am working on something big for my state, Maharashtra.  It will soon open for all to see.


First published on March 5, 2018.

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