“Magical…” this is how Sudha Ragunathan describes her experience of singing for the inmates of the Puzhal Central prison as part of the ‘Joy of Giving Week.’ Itself an offshoot of the ‘Give India’ movement, the Joy of Giving Week connects people across strata. “It is all about sharing and giving and I’m happy that I’m able to take music to places hitherto untouched,” says Sudha.

Samudaya Foundation, Sudha’s NGO, fitted perfectly into the scheme of things and she dedicated a week to the mission. “And I enjoyed doing it. More than anything else it is so fulfilling. This is the fourth consecutive year we have done this. What better way to give back to society?” Orphanages, Corporation schools, senior citizens homes and other service shelters are places she chooses as rendezvous.

Sudha is all praise for the band of young musicians, who support her with commitment. While V. Deepika, Vidya Kalyanaraman and Amrita Murali have been regulars, Dharini, Ramya Kannan and Ramakrishnan Murthy joined the group this year. “They have been overwhelmed by the experience,” says Sudha.

The team visited eight schools run by the Chennai Corporation. The children responded with great enthusiasm. None of them had attended a concert before. “Give your undivided attention,” Sudha told the young audience. “‘This music is not the kind you are used to; that which you can so easily grasp and repeat. This is classical, it has a structure and requires serious attention,’ I told them. They listened with rapt attention and expressed their willingness to learn it, given a chance,” says Sudha.

She exchanged notes with her brigade to get the feedback about their experience. “They were so positive. I’m convinced that music should be brought back to school curriculum. Children have an open mind and with initiation, can develop a taste for music. I’m sure we are on the right track.” With the support of other musicians, Sudha is planning to take the idea to a higher level.

Puzhal was unforgettable. “It was dicey. We set the ball rolling two months ahead but it was confirmed just two days in advance. One wrong development and it would have been called off,” Sudha recaptures. It was left to the choice of the inmates to attend. They turned up in hundreds and responded with the kind of warmth none of them expected.

Favourite songs

“Some of them were hardcore criminals, I was told, but they sat engrossed through the 60-minute recital. They had their favourite songs and I happily obliged. I could feel something within me melting. There was this person, who was serving a long sentence. It was his 46 birthday and he thought the concert was the best gift he could have got. Another inmate was being released the next day and he was thankful for getting the opportunity. It was so moving.”

The vocalist thanks the Additional Director General of Police and Inspector General of Prisons, J.K. Tripathy, Deputy General of Prisons Govindaraju, and Superintendent of Central Prison-1 (convict), Puzhal, Parameshwaran, for making this possible.

Sudha remembers ‘Anma Jothi’ Natarajan for facilitating the concerts in schools. “He has been working on the same lines, quietly doing yeoman service and he took me through the steps, in terms of meeting the authorities and getting the seal of approval,” she says.

“I have sung for audiences across the globe, received accolades and titles but the kind of joy I get during this week every year is incredible. I feel blessed,” trails off Sudha, the silence eloquent.

A festival of sorts

Since 2009, when Joy of Giving Week (October 2-8) was first observed, it has come a long way,” observes Aarthi, one of the volunteers.

The growth, according to her, has been phenomenal with more and more people coming into the fold. “It is a festival of sorts with bonhomie and camaraderie, compassion and generosity taking the upper hand,” she adds. This is no organisation and there is no bank account.

Celebrated across the country, including the North-East, the Week connects people irrespective of caste, profession, religion, etc.

“It simply doesn’t matter who you are. Definitely you can give something back to society. That is the bottomline,” she says. She cites the example of poor children in Trivellore collecting money to help a poorer child.

“Incredible? But that’s how it works. These children persuaded the people in their neighbourhood to part with at least a rupee a day for a week. Some gave one rupee, some more and at the end of the week, they handed over Rs. 6,000 to their friend.”

Elsewhere traffic cops stopped disciplined road-users to give them bookmarks, a token of appreciation. In Virudunagar, the local hospital was cleaned by people affected by HIV. Skill, money, time… give whatever you can to spread positive vibrations.

“It is an opportunity for good people to acknowledge the good in other people,” defines Aarthi.

Aarthi makes special mention of Sudha’s Puzhal concert. “Even now it gives me the goose bumps. They were convicts, some of them lifers and they were actually shedding tears. They asked her to sing ‘Kurai Onrum Illai…’ ‘Alai Payudhe…’ and ‘Enna Thavam Seidhanai…’ and joined her in ‘Vande Matharam.’ Nature showed its appreciation by sending down a heavy shower, so welcome at the end of a hot day. Such was the power of her music, it connected souls.”

For details about Joy of Giving Week go to www.joyofgivingweek.org