June 28, 2010

INDIA: Age is just a number for these sculptors

MUMBAI, Maharashtra / Daily News & Analysis / Lifestyle / Report / June 28, 2010

By Joanna Lobo

Ninety-year-old Joseph Hopkins is a busy man. Hunched over a bench that has wood, bamboo and coconut shavings scattered over it, Hopkins scrapes and polishes all of it, his face writ with concentration. His age does not stop him from sculpting the most exquisite wood and coconut craft. Hopkins’ workshop is a small shed at the Little Sisters of the Poor home for aged in Andheri.

The world observed Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15 with calls for prevention of suffering and distress of the elderly. But, living in an old-age home does not always mean that these elderly people are suffering; a truth that Hopkins pays heed to, daily. “I can work till I get tired, because I love what I do,” he says, adding that the last four days, his ill-health has kept him away from his work. Hopkins’s handiwork — funny monkey faces, delicate butterflies, tiny cribs and tinkling wind chimes to more utilitarian mugs and kettles with lids — has found favour with visitors at the home.

His workshop, which lies in the middle of the old-age home’s garden, was specially built for him. A single room tool shed, it is strewn with wood shavings, coconut husks, polishing and cutting machines, handiwork in various stages of completion, and a framed picture of Hopkins and his wife at their wedding. “I spend two to three hours here every morning and sometimes evenings too, if there are many orders,” says Hopkins.

Hopkins started out alone, but today takes help from his friend, Rolim Lobo, who he affectionately calls Lobo. The 84-year-old Lobo joined the old-age home in 2009 and just one look at the workshop was all it took to pique his interest.

Lobo helps out with odd jobs like carving, polishing the finished products, scraping the coconut shells and so on. “We sometimes get very engrossed in our work, forgetting the time. When you are doing something you love, time does not matter,” says Lobo. And whilst Hopkins dedicates his free timeto creating new handiwork, Lobo divides his free time between painting and singing with the home’s choir.

The duo even has one of their masterpieces displayed at the reception of the old-age home: a plywood replica of the Titanic, approximately a foot in length. Hopkins has a passion for making locomotives and engines.

“The home provides us with everything: from space to materials to manpower if needed. We just give them a shape,” says Lobo.

Orders are sent through Mother Irene, the superior who heads the gents section of the home. There is no deadline and only small orders are accepted. “We just want to keep them busy so that they forget their worries and keep good heath,” says Sr Agnes, one of the nuns at the home.

For Hopkins and Lobo, it’s the love of giving a new life to an inanimate object which keeps them going, every day.

©2010 Diligent Media Corporation Ltd.