An unusual break from daily routine at Tihar jail

Updated 15 May 2012
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An unusual break from daily routine at Tihar jail

Strutting across the stage wearing red stilettos, red lipstick and a flower in her hat, Samara Chopra was always going to be a hit with the inmates of Tihar high-security jail in New Delhi.
The audience of about 1,000 male prisoners whooped with delight as Chopra, lead singer of the Ska Vengers, ran through a high-energy one-hour set at an afternoon concert inside the prison grounds. Clapping her hands high in the air, and belting out ska, reggae and soul classics, she soon had the prison guards as well as the captive audience moving to the music.
The event was an unusual break from the daily routine at Tihar jail, a vast complex in the west of the Indian capital where 12,000 inmates ranging from trial suspects to convicted murderers are incarcerated. “Music is a force for good,” Chopra, 28, told AFP during a warm-up act by prison band The Flying Souls.
“It has the power to change people and is fundamental to all lives, including those inside prisons,” she said. “The interaction we have had with the people here has been great and I want to come back and teach here.”
The Ska Vengers, a popular Delhi band, have developed links with “Jail 4” at Tihar, and they held the gig to celebrate arranging for 300,000 rupees ($5,700) of music equipment to be donated to the prison by a music store.
“Jail 4,” one of 10 separate facilities within the prison, houses 1,615 inmates including 160 foreigners and 230 convicts, four of whom are on death row, according to an official register at the entrance gate. One of the convicted murders, Ashish Nandwana, 26, from Jaipur, was among the raucous concert crowd gathered in the prison gardens. He is serving a life sentence for stabbing a trainee flight attendant to death in a Delhi guesthouse in April 2008 after she refused to marry him.
“It is good to have music here. The prison is OK but we want to have events like this,” he told AFP before the concert.
Such grim personal stories seem at odds with the cheerful atmosphere at the concert, which was attended by guest of honor Neeraj Kumar, the director general of Delhi prisons and a keen advocate of music for inmates.
“We have been introducing music rooms and we are very happy to say that the response has been tremendous,” he said. “It is therapeutic. “Prisoners vent and give release to creative energies, and we are trying to reform them through music,” he said, adding that one female inmate had been suicidal until she had access to music instruments. “We have done this for one year now, including for Bengali music, Hindi classical and Western classical, but (Bollywood) film music is the most popular.”
Kumar said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the depth of talent among prisoners and that he had recently started a “Tihar Idol” competition to select inmates who will make a commercially produced album.
The idea of providing Tihar with better music facilities came from Stefan Kaye, the London-born keyboard player of the Ska Vengers who found very little equipment on offer when he held music workshops in the jail late last year. “Working with inmates is no different to working with anyone else,” he said. “They do usually want to tell me what crimes or charges they are in jail for, but I have never felt at all threatened.”
“In fact, they are just very keen to learn, desperate for anything to distract them from the monotony and negative thoughts of jail life. They take music very seriously and often display extraordinary abilities.”
Among the kit donated to Tihar were drum sets, tabla Indian drums, keyboards, amplifiers and crucial smaller items such as scores of guitar strings. “It helps so much, and perhaps the skills will be useful when they leave the prison,” said Kaye. “When I spoke to (Delhi music shop) Furtados, they gave us everything we asked for free.”
Tihar jail has a record of innovative rehabilitation schemes for prisoners including yoga, meditation, art classes and a shop selling products made by inmates.
Guards even allowed a handful of the jail’s best dancers to squeeze out of the crowd to show off their wildest moves in front of the stage, triggering the biggest cheers of the day from their delighted comrades. Support act The Flying Souls, a band formed in Tihar last year by three convicts and seven remand prisoners, struck a more poignant chord with their songs about loss, longing and the pain of separation.
“We’re all stressed. We’re all away from our homes and we miss our families. There are problems with our cases, they get so delayed,” said lead singer Amit Saxena, 35, who has spent nine years in jail as his murder trial drags on.
“It’s only when we’re in the music room that we don’t remember or think about all these things,” he said.
“Everyone really loves their wife or their family. Some people’s girlfriends are still waiting for them on the outside.
“We remember them, that’s why we write more romantic songs.”


Opening the door to Middle Eastern designers at Dubai Design Week

Updated 14 November 2018
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Opening the door to Middle Eastern designers at Dubai Design Week

  • This year, five pavilions from Amman, Beirut, Dubai, the Eastern Provinces of KSA and Kuwait City are showing off
  • The Abwab exhibit is just one thought-provoking, Instagram-worthy part of Dubai Design Week

DUBAI: Named after the Arabic word for “doors,” Abwab is an annual exhibition at Dubai Design Week, a creative fair that runs until Nov. 17.

This year, five pavilions from Amman, Beirut, Dubai, the Eastern Provinces of KSA and Kuwait City are showing off their artistic innovations in Dubai Design District, where the event is based.

Two designers were invited from each place to collaborate and produce works related to the theme “Between the Lines.”

The creations are housed in five pavilions at the heart of Dubai Design District, made up of red twigs and newspaper pulp and designed by the firm Architecture + Other Things.

Visitors crowded around the pavilions at the opening of the fair on Tuesday and explored the five spaces with their unique, sometimes perplexing, offerings.

Amman‘s pavilion at the Abwab exhibit is called “Duwar,” roundabout in Arabic, and is described as a representation of the cycle between chaos and order. The exhibit is a walk-through piece featuring moving images on boards suspended from the low ceiling of the circular space. Visitors are encouraged to walk through the dark circular corridor and take in the constantly flashing imagery above them in the piece that was created by multidisciplinary designer Hashem Joucka and architect Basel Naouri.

Beirut’s contribution to the Abwab exhibit is called “Beirut Fillers” and features a series of suspended words in a constructed sensorial environment, complete with audio recordings of the words “euhhh,” “halla2,” “enno” and “fa,” all of which are linguistic fillers commonly heard in Beiruti conversation.  

For its part, the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia is showcasing a fascinating piece of work called “The Sound of the East Coast” that pays homage to the tradition of pearl diving in the area with shaking, jelly-like bowls. The installation even features audio recordings of the traditional song “El Yamal,” often chanted to keep the divers motivated.

While Kuwait City’s offering, called “Desert Cast,” uses locally sourced materials and production methods to explore the idea of identity in the country, Dubai’s piece at the exhibit is called “Thulathi: Threefold” and is marked by a protruding triangular section that breaks the natural form of the rounded pavilion. Each corner of the triangle opens slightly through apertures, revealing video projections and silhouette cutouts.

The Abwab exhibit is just one thought-provoking, Instagram-worthy part of Dubai Design Week, an event that boasts workshops, exhibits and a trade fair.