Jagat Sarkar felt a rush of energy as he walked towards the colourful Hamsdhwani Theater stage at Pragati Maidan.
The smell of the open evening sky with a slight nip in the air was heady as the 42-year-old life convict from Presidency Jail in Kolkata got 10 days of freedom and a chance to show off his music and dance skills during this period.
“I used to sing just like that. However, it became serious only a few years back when the authorities started singing classes for inmates who had a knack. Today we are stepping out to perform, which is something none of us had imagined in our wildest dreams,” Sarkar, who was convicted of murder eight years ago, said.
The feeling was similar for the 34 other men and eight women who, under the leadership of danseuse Alokananda Roy and support from the Bengal correctional homes department, are performing on various stages in the Capital in the coming days.
Roy, who also performed on Saturday with her students on the occasion of Bengal Day at the 32nd India International Trade Fair, said, “They will get a special parole to go home and spend some time with their families for five days once they return to Kolkata. So it's a 10-day vacation for these boys and girls of mine, after which they will be back in jail.”
Seven officers of the Kolkata correctional home have accompanied the prisoners, who have travelled in the sleeper section of a train to reach Delhi on Thursday night. They are staying at a guest house in Pahargunj and even have had a day out to visit Qutub Minar, Akshardham Temple and the Lotus Temple. “It is an indescribable feeling. We are eating goodies like fish, mutton, chicken and eggs all the time,” one of the inmates from Purulia, who is evidently a Chhau expert, said.
The auditorium, which was partially full, filled quickly once the performance — a tribute to Kazi Nazrul Islam —got under way. “The fact that these are prisoners performing is difficult to digest if you look at the dance and vocal skills," Ritu Sharma, a housewife from Lajpat Nagar, remarked.