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Talent going places... and how!

Irshad Alam was considered a good-for-nothing student and might have ended up aimless and uninspired. What saved him was an opportunity to express himself through the theatre arts. Having channelled his energies into this constructive activity, he found his vocation in life, and today runs the talent group through which he tries to repay his debt to his mentors by running creative workshops for the children of the Old Delhi, discovers ANJANA RAJAN.

Talent at work - teamwork and celebration. — Photo: M. Lakshman

THE SLOGAN of Talent theatre group run by Irshad Alam - "In theatre we come together, and together we celebrate" - is an alluring invitation to embark on a treasure hunt for the innumerable joys of life. Under the banner of Talent - an acronym for Team and Association in Learning, Education and Natural Theatre - Irshad has been conducting a regular weekend club in Old Delhi with a core group of children ranging from primary school to college level for the past two years. In addition, there was a summer workshop for children of the nearby MCD schools, and Irshad is proud that the seniors from his weekend club have played a major role in conducting it.

Initiatives like Talent are significant in a world where mainstream schools are usually drab, and the future more drab still. It was while growing up in the congested lanes of Old Delhi that Irshad came to realise how the theatre arts enrich life. "I was a ruffian who could get into a fistfight at the drop of a hat," he recounts with relish. "I was considered nalaayak in studies, and no one expected me to amount to anything."

But as he got involved with theatre - thanks to Bal Bhawan - his relationship to society changed. "People would say, Irshad is a good actor, but his temper is a problem. So with the encouragement came a desire to improve myself. And there are children in my group who are of this hyper-active, easily inflamed type. Though conservatives think acting or dancing and singing are immoral, and some even say they are against the tenets of Islam, we are not merely singing and dancing. You gain so much confidence and poise that whatever you do in later life, this will help you. Some of my group members' families have realised this and are very supportive."

Irshad's point is exemplified by the remarks of his team. A little girl from an MCD school in Ballimaran pipes up, "I would like to teach others what I have learnt here." A young man says, "People think that theatre means just drama (acting in a play). But the most important thing we learn here is that there is great strength in team work."

In reply to anyone who might think they are being led into futile dreams of stardom, another explains, "We are not aiming to be Shah Rukh Khans. But this training helps us to express ourselves with confidence in any new situation. We learn to interact with others."

The other adolescents in the group vociferously agree that being associated with Talent has improved their self-esteem. Irshad points out that due to the mental alertness that theatre activities impart, some "abysmal students" who were expected to fail in the 10th standard board exams managed to score over 50 percent marks. Some are school dropouts and he encourages them to enrol in the National Open School.

Many issues smoulder in Irshad's heart - child labour, dowry, equal opportunities, the need for education, with special reference to the children of Old Delhi where his home is - that he wishes to gradually tackle through Talent. "These are children of petty shopkeepers, paan-bidiwaalas or mechanics, or those recycling waste material (kabaadi), with no tradition of erudition. They feel there is no point in striving for a good education and so while away their time. It is my aim to change this attitude. We have passionate debates and discussions."

Irshad's family business too is connected with recycling wood waste and making furniture out of old and new materials, but he is happy that he has been able to follow his heart and today earns respectably due to his professional work with public schools and other institutions. Whatever profession his group members finally take up, his fervent wish is that they carry the Talent approach with them.

"Aimless young people can be easily influenced and misled with destructive or communal notions. I want to equip them to deal with these challenges. But all issues should be handled in an enjoyable manner, otherwise there is no point."

It may be too early to assess the macro-level impact, but there is no doubt that the enjoyability quotient is flying high.

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