A healing touch from behind bars

A healing touch from behind bars

The jail authorities in Lucknow have trained prisoners to form a music band that performs at weddings earning high acclaim

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Their own lives may be devoid of any joy but they have been putting in their best efforts to bring happiness in the lives of others through their soulful music. They are all part of the band party comprising prisoners of the Lucknow Model Jail serving life sentence on charges of murder. Of course, you will never know this unless told, for they are no less than any other top music band in the city.

They have aptly named their band Healing Hearts, perhaps because they had broken many a heart by their deeds in the past and they now want to compensate and repent. Could there be anything better than music for this purpose?

When the guests at the big fat Indian marriages dance to the tunes of popular Bollywood numbers played by the prisoners’ band at the wedding parties, the sense of satisfaction could be clearly seen on the faces of the band members.

The jail authorities have provided modern musical instruments to the trained prisoners so that they can give a good performance and satisfy their clients. It was the then senior superintendent, Lucknow jail V K Jain, who initiated the idea and turned it into a reality in 2007. The band had 10 members, when it started and now it has 14 members, including two trainees.

Obviously, the criterion for selection of the band members is good conduct. “Only prisoners with good record have been included in the team,” jail officials said.
There was a band  of prisoners earlier but it fell apart after many with good character were released on the occasion of Republic Day some years ago.

A lot of hard work has gone into making the band a success. “It was not an easy task… it required quality training to the members of the band… there were problems in arranging a good
bandmaster,” said the officials.

The bandmaster who was initially appointed to train the members lacked  competence to train them in all types of instruments, including drum and trumpet. Desperate officials of the model jail then decided to try something different. They resorted to poaching just like a poor performing football club will do when it runs short of quality players.

The officials set their eyes on a prison guard Noor Mohammed at the Fategarh jail in the state. Music flows in the blood of Noor Mohammad. His father was a
member of a private band party there. Since then the band has not looked back. Noor Mohammad was able to turn the band into a professional one with his hard work and, of course, the determination and interest of the band members.

“The members of the band practise daily for several hours… we make it a point to train ourselves, particularly on the popular Bollywood numbers, which are in demand during the wedding parties,” he said.

In demand

On whether they are looked at with curiosity and suspicion by the wedding guests, the officials said that the guests only enjoy the songs and do not bother about other issues. The band is in great demand and the other local bands now find it extremely difficult to compete with it. Apart from the quality, the main
reason for its popularity, of course, is its low price.

The Model Jail was shifted to Gosainganj, about 25 km from the city, by the then Mayawati government. “The distance is a problem… but we are working on it,” said the officials.

The jail authorities are now planning to open a centre in the heart of the city to enable the clients to book the band. “Sometimes, the clients do not come to us even if they want to book the jail band owing to the distance,” they pointed out.

New Deputy Inspector General, prisons, Sharad Kulshreshtha has now decided to further modernise the band. He has been trying to establish an orchestra. The inmate, who is in the forefront of this, is a former engineering student Ankit Gupta. Gupta, who is accused of murdering a partner of his father, has been playing synthesiser since his school days. He also took part in music competitions during his college days.

The band has become so popular that even senior officials and big businessmen now hire it for the wedding parties. They also recommend the band to others after having experienced its performance.

The other bands from Gosainganj area have shifted elsewhere owing to the
competition from the jail band.

The officials feel  that the prisoners, who are serving sentences for various
offences, get encouragement to bring about an improvement in their behaviour and attitude through such schemes. “Other inmates will feel encouraged to join the band and will try their best to improve their behaviour so that they could be
considered for being included in the band,” they said.

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