New Delhi, March 3 (IANS) Sanjay, 25, is totally absorbed as he etches out intricate designs on a piece of wood, as are three other men in the room with him - all serving life term in Tihar Jail for murder. But it is the possible start of a new life for them with their training in wood carving that is fetching rich dividends.
Besides Sanjay, the others are Nadeem, 25, Chamanlal, 55 and Eklakh, 35. Bunty, 35, another convict involved in a dacoity case, is also part of the "class". The five are students of mastercraftsman Mahesh Chand Sharma, 67, who won the 'Shilpguru' award in 2007.
For the five convicts, it is just not mere classes.
This could open a window of opportunity for them once they are out of prison - a future full of possibilities of leading better and honest lives with their families.
All of them train under Sharma from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for five days a week in Jail No 2 of Tihar where those convicted of heinous crimes are kept, and paid Rs.99 a day. Tihar Jail, South Asia's largest, is located in west Delhi. Built over 400 acres, the jail houses over 12,000 inmates - double its capacity.
But the magic that they create with their nimble fingers gives them great joy and satisfaction.
According to Sharma, his students have been learning well and have so far created several wooden artefacts - including ornately carved wooden replicas of the Taj Mahal, the Qutub Minar, the Golden Temple and the Lotus Temple.
"Recently, a wooden temple made by my students was sold for Rs.50,000. Some time ago a Chinese delegate visiting the Tihar was presented with a three-foot tall Qutub Minar by the jail authorities," he said.
Pradeep Sharma, Deputy Superintendent of Tihar Jail No. 2, told IANS that the jail has sold around Rs.800,000 worth carved artefacts made by inmates since 2011, when the classes were started.
"When I walk out of jail I want to begin life anew. This skill will help me forget my previous life and the conviction time," Bunty told IANS.
Bunty, who is due to be released from Tihar in another two months, plans to set up a furniture shop in Delhi after he walks free.
Chamanlal, whose life term is due to end in another two years, told IANS that he knew carpentry earlier, but having learnt wood carving it would help him earn more money when he is released.
"I want to live the rest of my years with my family by doing some lawful work. Wood carving is a skill which will help me earn money honestly," said Chamanlal.
Mahesh Chand Sharma, a resident of Chawri Bazar, is paid Rs.300 a day by Tihar authorities for training the inmates.
"I think convicts should be imparted with some technical training to earn their livelihood so that they never again think of entering the world of crime. It was my initiative to train the inmates in wood carving," Sharma told IANS.
Around 15-20 other inmates are also learning wood carving, but the five convicts are Sharma's main "students".
Asked if he feels any kind of fear while teaching criminals, the craftsperson said "I never ever feel fear because I treat them like my students."
"I am teaching in an institute. It does not matter whether it is a jail campus or that my students are inmates," said Sharma.
(Rajnish Singh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)