Nigel Akkara, a young graduate from St Xavier’s College, would have continued on the path of crime after allegedly murdering a man for not paying ransom, had it not been for Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Valmili Pratibha’ and the Kolkata Presidency Jail’s initiative of reform through cultural therapy.
Today, four years after being released from jail, Nigel continues to play the role of Valmiki, both on stage and in real life.
The cultural therapy programme began in 2007, with dance exponent Alokananda Roy’s initiative to perform ‘Valmiki Pratibha’ through dance and theatre. Over a 100 inmates have been part of the programme in the last seven years. Among them, over 50 inmates have been released but there has been no repeat offence. Nigel Akkara is one of them.
“Valmiki Pratibha captures the transformation of dacoit Ratnakar into Valmiki, the saint who wrote the Ramayana. The story of Valmiki symbolises the propensity for both good and evil in the human psyche and the tremendous ability of the human will for atonement and reformation. The convicts at the Presidency Jail were able to identify with this,” Runu Roy, the President of the Bangalore Bengali Association, said.
The association brought the team to Bangalore, where they performed to a packed house at Chowdiah Memorial Hall on Saturday. The inmates of Presidency and Alipore jails of Kolkota staged the play.
The initiative may have started off as a cultural experiment to get convicts back into mainstream society, but today, it has grown beyond being just an experiment. The group has performed over 50 shows across the country.
“The idea behind bringing the show to Bangalore is to create awareness on the possibility that cultural therapy and reformational experiments can transform the lives of people, who are considered as outcasts in society. Bangalore too has a similar programme though it is still in its nascent stage,” Runu Roy said.