| The children perform at Aurobindo Institute of Culture. Picture by Aranya Sen
The subjects the children thought up for the crayon drawings ranged from the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, to the Rajdhani train accident on September 9, 2002. But the most popular theme was rural life — simple village scenes depicting agriculture, scenery and community living. The colours were bright and the artwork, though slightly childish, would attract the eye of the fiercest critic.
Dancing, singing and recitation/acting completed the picture for a talent contest organised by dancer Alokananda Roy for 268 young participants from 15 different NGOs, including CINI-Asha, IPER, Calcutta Social Project, Sanlaap, Disha, Navjyoti, Lokenath Divine Life Mission, Vidyasagar Academy, Emmanuel Ministries, Mayurbhanj, Nirman, Kishalay and Child Care Home. “In the case of one organisation, they couldn’t confirm till the last minute, and I nearly cancelled their acts. But they begged me, because the kids had been working really hard, so I just couldn’t say no,” laughs Roy.
For nearly four hours, the youngsters entertained the star judges, including danseuse Tanushree Shankar, actor Arjun Chakraborty, singer Pramita Mallick and artist Ramananda Bandyopadhyay. Weeks of practice paid off, as they sang, danced, clapped, laughed and helped each other out. One team sang for another, because they didn’t have the music for their dance.
Ten youngsters, from about eight to 18, in four categories, were selected for scholarships to train their talents. Says Roy: “These children have never had any sort of formal instruction. It’s just a hobby that they get precious little time to pursue. But even then, you could see the talent that most of these kids have. It was touching to see how enthusiastic they were, and how hard they had worked.”
Sandhya Biswas, a teacher at IPER, took along six children who performed a folk dance to jibanmukhi gaan, sang shishu sangeet, and one child “insisted on” reciting Sukumar Ray’s poems. “They had been preparing for a week, and they had a lot of fun,” she says.
The prize distribution ceremony will be held in March, and classes will begin in April. Vidyasagar Academy at Rabindra Sarobar and Mitra Institute at Hazra have already agreed to lend their premises for training purposes, and Sister Cyril of Loreto Day School, Sealdah, has also offered to help.
“The NGOs are very supportive of the children, and very happy about the project,” says Roy. “The judges, too, have come forward very willingly. Tanushree, for instance, wants to train some of the children for free. But I want the children to pay their way through scholarships, because that will give them confidence, and make them feel equal to everyone else.”
Among Roy’s future plans is staging full-fledged shows by the children. “I want to train them in things like textile designing, acting, traditional dances and Indian classical music. Then, we will pick the exceptional ones, and help them put a foot at the doorstep of the respective industry.”
Grand plans these are, considering even buying sewing machines is a daunting task. But Roy is confident of accomplishing the task. “I am sure people will help,” she says, gazing proudly at “her children”.