Eagerly waiting for his release from prison next month, Manish exhibited his lyrical hip-hop style by dancing to the tunes of the popular 2018 song "Kya Baat Ay". Wearing slim-fit black pants and a light brown shrug, his moves appeared perfect and expressions adorable; he seemed poised to start his own dance academy.
His cousin, Suraj, a football enthusiast and co-inmate, is in talks with a director from the South for a career in the movie industry. The director has assured to work with him after seeing his versatility in pre-recorded videos of 'Tihar Idols', a competition organised by prison authorities for inmates.
The authorities have set up an exclusive green-walled one-room studio inside Central Jail 1 for inmates to hone their craft. It has a huge mirror and a number of music instruments like congo and speakers. Next to the studio runs the Tihar FM station.
For most, jail would be a negative space. Still, there would some who find opportunities in adverse circumstances. Manish, 32, and Suraj, 35, found dance and music and film to leave their past behind.
Before being convicted in a 2011 kidnapping case and landing up in Tihar, Suraj worked as a salesman with a consumer goods firm and Manish, who hold a bachelor's degree in Hotel Management, was a bar tender.
Being a sports enthusiast, Suraj was not only an active participant in inter-school sports competitions but also recalled playing with Indian national football team captain Sunil Chhetri in the Under-16 tournament and his practice sessions in Chhatrasal Stadium in Delhi.
"I was a very active sportsman back in school and have also played Under-16 football tournament. I was also interested in dance and acting. Back then, I did not see this as a profession. It was my passion," said Suraj.
Their passion for dance encouraged the cousins to join 'Flying Souls', a music-cum-dance group launched by Tihar inmates in 2011. Since then, they have inspired and trained other inmates to join them.
The group now has 11 active members and it performs on all major occasions inside the jail. It has won awards in in-house competitions under various style forms including Bhangra, Hip Hop and Bollywood.
The group conducts two sessions daily at the studio for those inclined to learn music and dance. Sumit, who said he had never imagined he could ever sing, is one of the exponents of Flying Souls.
After landing in the prison in 2013 as an under trial on charges of murder and attempt to murder, he was spotted by Suraj humming a song while doing "sevadari" outside ward no 4 in Central Jail No 1.
Excited to have found a potential singer, Suraj encouraged Sumit to join Flying Souls. A diehard fan of Mohammed Rafi, Sumit said he loved listening to Rafi's songs from the 70s.
Singing the popular Kishore Kumar song "Phoolon ke rang se dil ki kalam se" from Dev Anand-starrer 'Prem Pujari', Sumit said he now finds inner peace in music.
"I was a driver by profession and never ever had I given a thought about singing. But my inmates encouraged me, saying I had a good voice. Thanks to my fellow inmates, I now find peace in music. It has helped me release all the negative energy. I riyaaz (practice) for at least two hours daily," Sumit said.
Another inmate Roshan, a professional singer, who landed up in Tihar barely three months ago on charges of rape is an under trial.
"The moment I got to know about Flying Souls, I got happy to find a platform to continue my singing. When I was outside (before Tihar
happened), most of my time went in managing my team and household things, but I will not let anything affect my career now. I have ample time to focus on my singing and enhance my skills," he said.
Suraj recalled that when he arrived at the prison he had noticed "Welcome" written on the road leading to the jail. On one of the walls, it was written "Aapke saath kaisa vyavhaar ho woh aap tai karenge" and it him, the film buff said.
"People have a very negative perception about jail... I realised that it is not how it appears from outside. No one would ever torture you, unless you are a troublemaker. Jail officials are very supportive," said Suraj.
"May be if I were outside the jail, I would have led my typical life, married and settled with kids. But destiny had other plans. Music is soothing. It keeps away all the negativity and above all relaxing. Dancing and music are my only two passions. With Flying Souls, I have found a new direction in life," Manish added. Names have been changed on request of the inmates.