At home, their parents struggle to make ends meet by working as coolies or landless farmers. But in school, Bina Rai and her classmates feel more privileged than other children in their Himalayan town of Kalimpong, West Bengal.
The children are students of the Jesuit-run Gandhi Ashram School, where the notes of the violin, viola and cello are taught with as much zest as the regular ICSE syllabus. The school has given Kalimpong its only two string orchestras, and a team of 30 musicians has now travelled to Mumbai for their first concert in the city.
For their performance at St Andrew’s auditorium in Bandra on Monday, they will play a few Western classical compositions, some Nepali folk tunes and a grand finale of AR Rahman’s Jai Ho.
“I love music, so I feel really fortunate to be in this school,” said Rai, 14, a Class 8 student and viola player. Since Gandhi Ashram runs only up to Class 8, Rai will shift to another school next year but will continue her music lessons at the Ashram.
“Music comes naturally to the people of the region, and even the poorest of families own a guitar,” said principal Father Jayantilal Patel.
Jesuit priest Father Edward McGuire founded the Ashram in 1993. Today, it has 245 students who begin violin classes from kindergarten. Their senior orchestra has travelled to Delhi, Bhutan and Gangtok, and last year, 10 students came to Mumbai for the reality television show Entertainment Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega.
“The judges (Farah Khan and Anu Malik) saluted our teacher and said we were awesome,” said Class 8 student, Prajal Pradhan, who wants to be a violin-playing pilot. The group has been in Mumbai for six days and has given short performances at churches and colleges. But for Pradhan, the most exciting moment was seeing the sea for the first time. “I loved the beach and even swam in the water.”
(The musicians of Gandhi Ashram School and the Xavier’s Chorus will perform at St. Andrew’s College auditorium, Bandra, on January 24 at 7.30 pm. For tickets contact: Apoorva at 9970412004)