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A touch of CLASS

ROMESH CHANDER

Pasha's `The Kind Tiger and the Sincere Cow' mounted this past week at New Delhi's Kamani auditorium was simply outstanding with differently-abled children stealing the thunder.



AN ABLE ACT A scene from "The Kind Tiger and the Sincere Cow."

Sallaudin Pasha is a pioneer in developing professional theatre in India for persons with disability. He is a trained actor, classical dancer, theatre director and choreographer. Fifteen years ago with his base in Bangalore he started his work with disabled children.

Over the years his work came to be recognised but mostly in South India, till a chance meeting with an expert for the disabled invited him to Finland to organise a theatre project "Ramayana" for disabled children.

About eight years ago, Pasha set up Asia Pacific Therapeutic Theatre (APTT), India's first professional theatre for persons with mental and physical disabilities in Bangalore. Some three years back he along with APTT shifted to Delhi where he runs three Repertory companies, "Ability Unlimited" in Karkardooma in East Delhi, Vasant Kunj and Greater Kailash-II with over 150 physical and mentally disabled children and youth.

The sincere cow

In these three years he has created eight new productions like "Ramayana on Wheels", "Martial Arts on Wheels", "Durga" and "Krishna, The Blue God" that were reviewed in these columns and were indeed outstanding.

Pasha's latest production "The Kind Tiger and the Sincere Cow" at Kamani presented with Four Steps, a school for children with special needs along with physically challenged students of Akshay Pratisthan, an integrated school where able bodied children and those with disability study together in equal numbers from nursery to Class VIII is yet another feather in Pasha's cap.

The ballet with a cast of 40 children, 20 from each school, gave an out of this world presentation based on a folk tale from Karnataka.

The storyline was beautifully simple. Every day a herdsman used to take cows to the forest for grazing. One day on the way back home one of the cows lost her way and was confronted by a tiger who wanted her for his dinner.

The cow told him that she had a small calf waiting for her back home. "The little one must be very hungry, please let me go home and feed her. I promise I will come back after I have fed the little one", she pleaded.

The tiger agreed. After feeding the baby, as promised, the mother cow came back. The tiger could hardly believed his eyes. He was deeply touched by her honesty and let her go back home and the mother cow came back to live happily with her little calf and other friends.

The moral of the story that even fierce animals like the tigers too have a kind heart and for the mother cow to keep a promise was more important than her life goes down well with the audience.

Most of the cast was on crutches and wheelchairs and the four-year-old Zubed who has no fingers or toes was even crawling.

At times Pasha's choreographic patterns were intricate and it is amazing how actors on stilts or wheelchairs weaved their steps through a crowd or a herd of cows.

In a cast of talented children it is difficult to single out performers but at the same time it would be unfair if we didn't make a mention of Bunty Sharma who has a physical disability and played the king tiger in a wheelchair and of course Ritesh and Manoj, the other two tigers, who are mentally challenged and moved on all fours. Bunty wheeled his chair like a dancer's steps.

And Ruchi the mother cow oozed with honesty. But it was the little calf Zubed who was the darling of the audience. All in all, it was an outstanding show, but unfortunately there were hardly any children in the audience.

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