Soothing Tihar’s convicts with music, arts

New Delhi, June 3 (IANS) Many swayed their heads and tapped their feet while some sat still – heads bowed and eyes shut – in deep thought, as if deciphering what lies ahead as the soulful melody of the Bairagi Todi raga reverberated in the air. Hundreds of inmates of Delhi’s Tihar Jail had a spiritual experience on a rainy morning here Wednesday in a bid to augment their rehabilitation process through music.

The second edition of “Morning Ragas” was organised by the Tihar Jail authorities in collaboration with Legends of India, a registered society organising live performances of renowned artistes in the central lawn of Jail No.5 that has around 800 convicted prisoners, from pickpockets to murderers.

Renowned sitar player Pandit Shubhendra Rao and his wife Saskia, who plays the cello, accompanied by tabla player Shailendra Mishra began their hour-long recital with Bairagi Todi and two popular compositions – Mahatma Gandhi’s “Vaishnava Jana To” and the “Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram” bhajan followed by a “classical dhun”, leaving the audience mesmerised.

The around inmates, seated on plastic sheets due to the wet grass under a purple coloured marquee filled the vast ground as around a dozen policemen stood guard surrounding them.

Many possessed a fine sense of music as they enthusiastically applauded the complex compositions especially the ones that oscillated between high and low octaves.

Some of them were even tapping one of their hands against the other to match the beat of the tabla and it was quite evident that the rhythmic jugalbandi between the tabla, sitar and the cello had taken them to a different dimension.

In fact, one could have easily mistaken the convicts to be connoisseurs of classical music.

And this is what Legends of India set out to achieve in the first place, society chairman Dipayan Mazumdar told IANS.

“We just want to provide them with some solace and music heels like nothing else. A lot can be achieved by music,” Mazumdar said, adding that this was his first project in Tihar Jail, which is Asia’s largest prison and houses close to 14,000 inmates.

The first edition of Morning Ragas was organised in Jail No.8 on April 27 and from then it was decided that the event would take place on the first Monday of every month.

Tihar Jail Director General Alok Kumar Verma, who has played a pivotal role in organising the two editions, said that music affected the minds of the inmates and calms them.

“The pain of being away from their loved ones is traumatising. We want to soothe their nerves, calm them,” Verma told IANS.

Meanwhile, art classes for the inmates are also in the offing that will not only bring out the creative side of the inmates but also give jail authorities an insight into their thinking, Mazumdar said.

“We will get eight artists here in early July and the classes will take place on the first Wednesday of every month.

The inmates will be allowed to play with colours and conceptualise while the artistes will help them in drawing their thoughts on the canvas,” Mazumdar said.

“This goes out of the ambit of the usual. Just like you can tell a lot from a person’s handwriting, similarly their (inmates’) paintings will give an opportunity to look into their minds,” he added.

As this correspondent exited Jail No.5, with a changed opinion about its convicts, the mellow tunes still played in my head only to be smothered by the blaring of vehicle horns as I got stuck in a traffic snarl.

For once, staying in the confines of Tihar Jail seemed a much better deal than to venture out in the chaotic civil society.

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