There is talent within the confines of Tihar, and it was recently showcased before the outside world

When Delhi was waking up to the oath of a new government, there was another first taking place within the walls of India Habitat Centre. The inmates of Tihar Jail were out of their confines for the first time, and performing in front of an audience. Among those watching were eminent guests like Ashok Chakradhar, Prasoon Vajpayee, Sushil Siddharth and Santosh Rao.

Women in brightly coloured costumes and men with their musical instruments took to the stage. The surrounding area was lined with stalls displaying brightly coloured, lovingly crafted products made by the inmates. The amphitheatre was packed, and when the show started, it was next to impossible to guess that it was the first day out since their incarceration for most of these talented performers.

Vartika Nanda, journalist, lecturer and co-editor of “Tinka Tinka Tihar”, the first collection of poetry written by the women prisoners of Tihar, felt that this was another step forward in the lives of the inmates. “This programme is completely their show. The costumes have been designed by them, the poetry has been written by them. It proves to them that their life isn’t over, and there is hope for better in the future,” she said.

“Tinka Tinka Tihar”, co-edited by Vimlaa Mehra, DG Tihar, was released last year, and some of the verses in the book had been set to music. The dances were choreographed by Arunima Kumar, daughter of former Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar. A project had taken Arunima to Tihar, and there, the inmates had requested to learn a few classical dance moves from her. Once she recognised their zeal and talent, she took on another project — of choreographing their dances and presenting them to the public. Vartika and Vimla assisted, and finally, the permission to perform outside was obtained and five women prisoners were allowed to present a dance drama on the poems of “Tinka Tinka Tihar” outside the confines of Tihar, along with the members of the Tihar rock band.

Though performing in front of a packed audience, and despite the fact that this was not just their first time out in the world but also, for some of them, the first time performing in front of an audience, the women showed remarkable confidence and courage.

The show, beginning with two heartfelt dance performances, also saw the release of an album titled “Jee Le Zara”, comprising songs composed and performed by the Tihar rock band, Flying Souls. The band also performed live a few songs from their line up, and their finesse at the instruments was impressive. Each song was a message of hope and a call for a better future, showing the resolve of the inmates to pursue a better, more productive life.

The show was attended by Neeraj and Mala Kumar, as well as Geeta Mittal, and they, along with Vimlaa Mehra, Arunima Kumar and Vartika Nanda, released giant silver balloons as well as pigeons from Tihar in the air. Both gestures, marking the end of the show, symbolised the importance of freedom of both the mind and the body. The song that accompanied the release of the pigeons, “Mann ka pakshi”, was written for the collection by an inmate.

Vartika reiterated that there is a lot of talent within the confines of the jail, and it’s important to channel this. Working closely with the inmates, she has also helped compose the Tihar song, a sort of anthem for the prison that speaks of life and hope. “There is a long way to go, and it’s our resolve and responsibility to help the men and women in Tihar to reform and reconstruct their lives.”