March 20: Oishika Banik stood on stage and sang about a bulbul. A year ago, she could hardly speak.
Abahan Adak charmed the audience by playing the keyboards, making his principal proud.
It was no mean feat for Oishika, Abahan and the 30- odd students of Alokdhara Inclusive School to perform before a large audience at the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).
The teachers trained the children, many of who are autistic, for almost a year. The hard work paid off with the young ones leaving the audience impressed with their song and dance numbers.
The students and members of Alokdhara, set up in accordance with the Parent Circle Time Autism Identified (Pactai) guidelines, celebrated its ninth anniversary with Miracle Melody, a musical programme.
"Every year has been a struggle and then a celebration. I noticed small changes in my students' body language and behaviour as they got along with the rehearsals for the show. The confidence that such a performance helped them gain would not have been possible in a classroom situation," said Krishna Roy, the principal of the school.
The last month was especially crucial with the children working hard every day to make the event a success.
And it was. From the young ones dancing to rhymes and Rabindrasangeet to the older ones presenting a slice of Bollywood, there was never a dull moment. The teachers also presented a flamenco dance.
The grand finale was the rainbow dance that had students moving around the stage with colourful cloth festoons, highlighting their improved movements and coordination.
The best was saved for the last. Teachers, students and parents all took to the stage to groove to Kishore Kumar's Shing nei tobu naam tar singha. "It's time to celebrate and dance as you like," said Roy, inviting parents to join the party. Most did, in between taking pictures. "It's so nice to see your child happy and dancing on stage," said four-year-old Srijan Sardar's father, Gobindo.
Avik and Kamalika Kanungo, parents to five-year-old Rajanya, said their son had bloomed since the rehearsals. "I have noticed a remarkable improvement in his speech and motor coordination skills," said the proud mom.
The chief guest at the event was Minu Budhia, the founder-director of Caring Minds and i.can.fly. "Autism is not a disability but a condition. Unfortunately people regard it as a disability... please remember you are in charge of your happiness," she said.