Students of The Oral School for Deaf Children perform Tasher Desh at Gyan Manch on Friday. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
At 5.45pm on Friday, the boys were counting how many times to move their left hand and how many times the right.
An hour later, they were still counting, but in front of a 350-plus audience and to Khoro bayu boy bege.
“It was a challenge to make them move their hands to the correct rhythm. Initially we would stand in front of them and do the steps but we soon noticed that they were repeating the steps but looking at us, so we gave them counts,” said Jaya Gangulie Mitra, vice-principal (academics) of The Oral School for Deaf Children that put up its annual dance drama, Rabindranath Tagore’s Tasher Desh or The Land of Cards at Gyan Manch.
Rehearsals began a few months ago. Though the initial sessions lasted a couple of hours, they started stretching all day as the performance neared.
During final rehearsals on Friday, a teacher gave the young performers, aged three to 20, a last-minute tip. “Give your best, little mistakes are fine but do not get upset by those mistakes,” she said.
Before the students took stage, choreographer Sejuti Roy was seen sticking adhesive tape across the length of the wooden floor of the stage and telling the children playing the cards not to cross the line. “This is to mark their positions so that they are not out of focus, else there will be no light and the audience won’t be able to see them,” Roy explained.
Over the next 60 minutes, the boys and girls enjoyed themselves miming and dancing on stage. Their digital hearing aids gave them a sense of the music but not enough to use it as cue. But one couldn’t fault them on their performance or sincerity.
The dialogues that were played had been recorded by the teachers for the understanding of the audience but the performers lip-synced to the dialogues and songs and communicated through signs to coordinate their movements.
“We have used mime and dance. Mime is something we use in our everyday teaching and it comes naturally to them,” said Chitra Dhavle, who has been with the school for 28 years.
The school on Short Street started its journey in August 1964 with three students and is now celebrating its golden jubilee year. The intervening years have been peppered with challenges, the greatest of them being persuading parents to send their children with hearing impairment to school.
“They join the school around the age of two and a half to three years and they complete Class XII. Some of them go to universities, they get jobs. There are so many ex-students who are well-placed…. When they go out they are able to, if not talk to people, but interact with others,” said president and trustee Threety C. Irani.
Derek O’ Brien, the chief guest on the occasion, went back to his schooldays at St. Xavier’s.
“When I was a student in St. Xavier’s we had a window which was just outside Class VI, VII and VIII and IX on three floors which would overlook the oral school. So for us it was always an experience. We always asked our teachers — ‘why were children different?’ By the time we got out of school we had a sense of appreciation of what it was to run an oral school.”
On Friday, Derek got a chance “to make childhood dreams come true”.