Rishi Majumder finds Hena Rahimtulla, a woman who helps people overcome life-altering crises with Ikebana
Photographer: Rana Chakraborty
So we have kamini branches, variegated money plant leaves and anthuriums. Now keep in mind: rhythm, movement, balance, harmony, elegance and gorgeousness. Begin with three lines. For the ‘subject’, the ‘secondary’ and the ‘object’. Then more lines which enhance main three. You follow na?”
That’s how the above 80 Hena Rahimtulla instructs her students of over 30 years — mostly housewives — in the Japanese flower arranging art of Ikebana that unlike western flower arrangement schools (which focus on the blossoms) uses leaves, stems and branches to accentuate design. Avoiding excessive movement since she lost one leg to diabetes four years ago, she often asks a helper to get a container closer to her, so she can demonstrate. These students with Rahimtulla organise Ikebana exhibitions to attract donations for charitable causes. For the last exhibition held some weeks ago, the donations received amounted to Rs 4,00,000 which helped repair an orphanage’s building and added funds to a home for the blind. No one would have thought a group of South Bombay housewives arranging leaves and stems in Oriental design would have come such a long way.
Rahimtulla grew close to flowers as a child when she saw the local phoolwallahs fill her mother’s vases with local flavours. “I grew close to Ikebana on my honeymoon in Japan,” she reminisces, this culminating in “my husband buying me books on the subject…” Then came applying to the Japanese consulate for a teacher — going through the various levels involved to achieve the highest honour of 1st Master’s Degree and heading the Indian Chapter of The Ohana School of Ikebana. She resigned from the chapter in 1986, and two years later formed the Ohana Concept: “We wanted to do something for a cause, so we thought about what we knew best. You follow na?” Ohana is a Japanese word used to refer to a flower. “We wanted to integrate what we knew — Ikebana — and what we wanted to do — support something purposeful,” Rahimtulla sums up, tapping her plastic foot as she recollects. “We wanted to come alive in every way that we could.” Ikebana is a Japanese word which means “making a dead flower come alive again.”
The first hurdle for the Ohana Concept was getting the publicity in place. “Me, my students, my friends spread the word like wild fire. As for the media, you have to learn to charm… you follow?” the woman who’s been featured in a dozen channels and papers, including BBC and Radio Japan, giggles and winks simultaneously. Post publicity, the next hurdle was what to do with the money: “We started with checking out places we’d heard or read about personally. We would only give our money to someone who we felt needed it.” So the first sum of Rs 1,00,000 went to a home for terminally ill cancer patients: “What clinched it for us was seeing how well the nuns there were running the show.” Since 1989, the carefully sifted “causes” have piled up and diversified in category: Rs 25,000 for the Shri Vivekanand Research Institute For Orissa Relief; Rs 50,000 for Gujarat Earth Quake relief; Rs 30,000 for the medical treatment of an orphan; Rs 1,00,000 for the rehabilitation of crippled children. “Also,” adds the lady while getting up to end the discussion: “Rs 5,000 for an artificial limb.”
This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/c3nh