There is a palpable freshness in the air over the Nettukaltheri Open prison. It isn’t the delight over chapattis rolling out of the new chapatti-making unit here. Nor is it of the solar panels being set up to free the facility of dependency on the KSEB.

The prison, which so far had a marked silence of despair, now appears spruced up.

The hills of the Western Ghats that look over the prison also look as though ready to hum a gentle raga.

The change came from 12 murder convicts whose heart always wanted to sing from the time they entered the freedom of the open prison. Neelambari, a music club that was launched on May 11 in the prison, gave them the chance.

The club runs in a small room in the prison and has a fair stock of instruments, courtesy a liberal donation from Federal Bank. All that is needed now are professionals who can coach the members, though some of the inmates are quite professionals themselves and others raw talents like Manilal, who can work his fingers to sound rhythmic beats.

What inspired the club was a visit of some of the prison officials to the Vellore Central jail. “They have a very talented music group there. When we saw them perform, we thought of such a venture back home,” says Superintendent-in-charge of the Prison, S. Ashok Kumar.

The famed story of Nigel Akkara was another impetus. Before Nigel Akkara became an artiste, he was a man known for notoriety and an inmate of the Alipore Central Prison. What changed him was an art workshop in the prison by Odissi exponent Alokananda Roy. He played the role of Valmiki in the dance drama Balmiki Pratibha, and from then life for him has travelled beyond the prison walls. Nigel has been cast opposite big names in Bengali cinema and is slated to do a role in a Malayalam film.

“His story is a real encouragement to many for whom life seems to have hit a roadblock. Our aim is to help such people,” says Ashok Kumar.

For the 12 members of the club, music was always their companion when thoughts of their past, their family’s present, and a future if any outside the walls came to nag. “Before the club came up, we used to hum melodies when free or listen to FM radio,” a club member says.

The name given to the club is Neelambari, a raga used to tune lullabies.

“It is one of the 10 ragas in Carnatic music with tremendous soothing effect,” says Mallika Namboodiri, a Federal Bank employee and a social worker who gave the club its name.

“I have seen some prisoners visibly moved after listening to music. Prisons need music,” she says.

May be prison has sensed this need for music, for Central Prison Poojappura is also coming up with its music club.

“After the clubs are set up well, we will launch them at an apt platform,” says Ashok Kumar.