Shimla: It's a real life scene right out of reel life. Hindi films "Karma" and "Do Aankhen Barah Haath" showed convicts being taken out of prison to be reformed. Now, in Shimla's first Book Cafe inmates of a sub-jail near here are trained by a renowned hotel to serve cookies and pizza they have baked.
The cafe, with a seating capacity of 40 and constructed at a cost of Rs 20 lakh, was opened by Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh last week.
It is located right above the Ridge -- once the promenade for the British colonial rulers when this city was their summer capital -- and on the way to the famed Jakhu temple.
The four who run the cafe are Jai Chand, Yog Raj, Ram Lal and Raj Kumar, all of whom are serving life imprisonment at the Kaithu jail near Shimla, Director General (Prisons) Somesh Goyal told IANS.
The first-of-its-kind cafe in the country is funded by the state's Tourism Department. It is open daily from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. At night, the prisoners return to the jail.
Goyal, who has also been credited with reforming prisoners through music, said employing prisoners at the cafe was an attempt to rehabilitate them. "This cafe has given us the chance to connect to the world," Jai Chand told IANS.
Another beaming jail inmate, Yog Raj, said this cafe had given them a chance to get employment once they walk out of the prison.
"This is being run by four of us independently. Even the visitors, the locals, don't show any apprehension while interacting with us. Indeed, they are keen to know more about our radical transformation," he added.
Most of the time, the cafe, which offers free Wi-Fi access, is occupied by visitors reading books on wildlife, environment, tourism and Shimla's history while sipping coffee.
It has books of authors like Chetan Bhagat, Nikita Singh, and French novelist Jules Verne, besides educational books, magazines and newspapers.
"The cafe has a good collection of books of national and international authors," Shimla Deputy Mayor Tikender Panwar said.
For tourist Rewti Menon and her husband John Philip, it was a unique experience to interact with the prisoners.
"This cafe has given them another opportunity to live with dignity. Such experiments with an extensive support network will deter them from returning to crime," Philip said.
Last year, 10 inmates of the Central Jail in Nahan in Sirmaur district performed at the Gaiety Theatre here at a public function. And the Chief Minister was among those who enjoyed their performance.
According to jail authorities, five of the 10 prisoners are undergoing life sentence for murder and two are facing trial under the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act.
Special music classes were organised by prison authorities for almost a month to train the inmates in singing and playing instruments.
They sang Himachali folk songs, qawwali and Sufiana songs of Bollywood movies.