Shubendra Rao and his wife Sasika performed at the Tihar jail. Read this article to see the effects it had on the inmates! At Bharata Kala we record classical music. We also have graded certification exams for guitar.
Two concerts that I performed in the recent weeks have strengthened my belief that classical Indian music has a bright future. I had the opportunity of performing with my wife, Saskia, at the Tihar Jail in Delhi. This is an initiative of the organisation, ‘Legends of India’, with the Director General, Delhi Prisons, Shri Alok Kumar Verma. Music is a great healer for all souls and this concert was proof that it transcends all barriers and can be enjoyed at a deep level by one and all.
This was again an eye-opener as to how we tend to be influenced by everything we read and how we pre-judge people even before meeting them. My idea of how a jail would be and how the inmates would look and act was completely influenced by Bollywood. I am so happy to have been proved wrong.
Fortunately, even the weather was perfect for the concert with late night and early morning rains cooling off Delhi to perfect temperatures to perform in the open in early June. Birds were chirping and the freshness of the morning welcomed us at the prison. Soon, we realised the people around us were mostly inmates, helping with stage setting, sound, serving tea and snacks. Of course, they are as human as you and I but somehow, we are conditioned to think differently. There was no Gabbar Singh or Charles Sobharaj there. Instead, we met ordinary people who we encounter on the streets every day. Of course, some of them are hardened criminals, but many of them are victims of circumstances, too. Playing for them and giving them an hour of joy where they could forget their monotonous lives was indeed very satisfactory for us.
We started with the morning Raga Bairaagi Todi, a beautiful creation of my Guru. Even as we were in the alaap section, I could see some of the inmates sitting with their eyes closed almost in deep meditation. With the start of the Jod/Jhala and the tabla joining in later, more people got involved with the whole aura of the music and there was spontaneous applause many times. After the conclusion of Bairaagi Todi and when Saskia started off the ‘Vaishnava Janato’ song and I interspersed it with ‘Raghupati Raghava Rajaram’, we could see most of them were deeply moved.
This was not just another regular concert for us. It was sharing an hour of our joy and music with an audience that is branded ‘criminals’. Every inmate deserves a chance to be rehabilitated. Some of them have surely done terrible things—murder, rape, drug peddling—but not everyone is a ‘hardened’ criminal. What about the ‘criminals’ among us who have not been convicted? They could be sitting next to you in an eatery or a cinema hall and you would not know their true nature. They could be celebrities, politicians or businessmen, who escaped punishment using money and/or clout.
The second concert was in my hometown Bengaluru. The concert was at the 1,011-seater Chowdiah Memorial Hall. Not only this event organised by Sapthak was a full house, but people were even standing at the back and some sitting in the aisles. It was a heartening sight. Who says classical music does not attract audiences? If organised well, it can surely attract a good-sized audience. As a society, we all need to preserve and propagate our classical arts and in this, the corporate sector can play a major role in their support for not just the stars but also artists who are heard and seen less.