There is a preconceived notion that physical ability is the most important aspect for any dancer. However, Bharatanatyam and Kathak guru and a pioneer in therapeutic wheelchair dance Syed Sallauddin Pasha has proved this wrong with his initiative, Miracle on Wheels.
What makes Pasha stand out as a teacher is that he did not restrict his talent to individual stage performances. He taught differently-abled people and helped them achieve great heights in dance. Today, the performance by their dance troupe leaves people stunned.
Born in the family of hakims (traditional healers) in Anekal in 1968, the interests of young Pasha were quite unique. He was keen to listen to music and Harikathe and watch dance and dramas that were performed in his native. This enthused him to learn music and dance. Nurturing this interest, he was trained in Carnatic classical music, Bharatanatyam and Kathak by accomplished artistes.
He then obtained a degree in dance from Bengaluru University and began choreographing for TV shows and films. However, his passion to do something unique and make a difference in the life of people made him choose the road less taken. He began providing a platform for differently-abled children to display their talents in performing art. Thus was born Miracle on Wheels, a professional dance group comprising people with special needs.
The team of dancers in the Miracle on Wheels is truly miraculous. While those without limbs dance sitting on wheelchairs, mentally-challenged persons and hearing-impaired dance looking at the instructions provided by their teachers in sign language. These dancers are so expressive and manage to present deft postures that the audience can hardly notice that they are differently-abled.
It has been three decades since Pasha converted the wheelchairs of these special artistes into a chariot that drives their lives towards happiness and confidence.
The creativity and efforts of Pasha and his troupe were first recognised and encouraged by foreign institutions. Sutra Dance-Drama School of Malaysia was the first one to appreciate this novel initiative. Pasha even worked in that school as a dance teacher for some time. Later, Cornell University of America honoured him with an honorary doctorate.
Pasha also choreographed the biggest therapeutic theatre project Ramayana dance on wheelchairs performed by 108 Finish children.
His dance troupe was invited to perform at the Rashtrapathi Bhavan during the terms of Pratibha Patil, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam and Pranab Mukherjee as the president of India.
Moving towards records
Holding innumerable dance shows without expecting any support from the government or society, Pasha set up an organisation for the welfare of differently-abled children and is running it with his personal funds. This organisation and its dance troupes have scripted several records. In 2008, he spun the wheelchair 63 times in a minute while teaching dance to his disciples. This has got a mention in the Limca Book of Records. In 2011, the team entered the Guinness Book of Records for holding 100 dance drama shows by differently-abled and 10,000 wheelchair dance shows.
Sushmitha, a hearing-impaired student, says, “I love to dance and attended Syed Sallauddin Pasha’s workshop in my school three years back. I immediately joined and started training. The training helped me gain confidence in life and now I perform all over the country and the world.”
Sukundra, another student, adds, “In this organisation, we get therapeutic dance education as well as life skill training. We are trained in the field of interest like tailoring, English speaking course, computer skills, costume and jewellery making, music and film editing, light designing, etc.”
Syed Ashiq Pasha, a physically challenged student, joined the classes to learn dance. However, seeing his interest in computers Sallaudin Pasha trained him in sound and film editing. Now he is financially independent and earns well through performances as well as web developing, film and sound editing.
Students acknowledge that each individual is given specialised training and moulded into professionals at Miracle on Wheels. This boosts their self-confidence and enables them to lead an empowered life.
Without restricting themselves by the barriers of religion, caste or language, Pasha and his wife Mahiraa Jaan Pasha, a speech therapist, are working relentlessly to empower the differently-abled. “They do not need our sympathy. In other terms, they too are normal human beings and have talents. These talents must be identified and encouraged. The only aim of Miracle on Wheels is to motivate special people to lead an independent life,” Pasha says.
(Translated by Divyashri Mudakavi)