I happen to be a part of a five-person NGO that was created last April with the objective to take music into disadvantaged Kolkata communities and public spaces.
This August, we had three unusual visitors – Panos Karan, a Greek pianist of international repute (with a performance at Carnegie Hall behind him), Ana Chifu and Zacharias Tarpagos (flautists of competence). They had flown in from Tokyo en route to Europe with an interesting request: they needed to perform for ‘different’ communities in the city. Not the wine and cheese party types, but street kids, children of sex workers, orphans, slum kids, the abandoned elderly…you know what I mean.
The worse it got, the happier our guests became. Ana said her big moment was when she performed inside a ‘bus school’ off Park Circus; Panos said his big moment was they performed on a garbage mound deep inside Howrah; Zacharias felt that the performance at the day care centre inside the red light area on Premchand Boral Street carried interesting possibilities.
The upside of the visitors’ performance was that the children who had perhaps never seen a piano from up close heard one live for the first ever time; they got to touch one; they got to play the flute. And as is usual with such fleeting events, they were gone after a well-intentioned 45 minutes.
Good effort, some would have remarked, but how can this transform destinies? How can this alter the landscape? How can this make anything better than just a 45-minute aural orgasm?
God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.
Because after Panos and his team had finished at Premchand Boral Street, some interesting things began to emerge. The facilitators at the day care centre sent in their first request: they needed a night shelter for their kids. Evident reason: the kids couldn’t get back into bed until the last customer for the night had vacated. Until then, they would roam the streets, idle at neighbouring shops, alleys and street corners, just the time when they ought to have been studying, resting or, well, sleeping.
The obvious thing would have been to rent a night shelter and house the kids there, but the cost would have been daunting. So Hamari Muskan and Pied papers, our NGO who had facilitated Panos’ trip, brainstormed for an hour-long meeting. The result was that we approached St. Joseph’s College, the neighbouring school. If the school could unlock its gates each evening and make it possible for the children of sex workers to unroll their beddings in the corridors, then that would be a big de-blocker. So we went about this in the usual manner. One called a cousin who was an active alumnus of the school; he in turn, spoke to the Principal. Within two days, there was an urgent summons from the school. When the driver of the day care centre turned up at St. Joseph’s, the first thing that the principal asked was, ‘What else do you want?’
And this is how an amazing week has unfolded. An industrialist has volunteered to fund evening meals. The school volunteered to unlock two classrooms. Leena Kejriwal, a prominent city photographer, has started her six-month workshop with the children followed by exhibition. An English speaking course is expected to soon commence. A ‘bus school’ is being pressed in to take the children out on a weekly excursion. Ex-Test cricketer Devang Gandhi has accepted three children of sex workers into his coaching camp. Starmark has indicated that it would be keen to provide some children with a Puja holidays ‘working’ exposure.
And it all started with three Greek musicians coming for a 45-minute performance…
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