I think of cinema and of images that move and of those which don’t. Thinking of a torn sari clad woman at the hearth under the sky. Blowing her life into the fire that refuses to quickly send the chapatis in the daughter’s plate lying in front of the little imp in a blackened frock with mickey mouse prints hidden beneath layers of dried mud, dried pulse stains and in places with remnants of coal lozenges that she played among since the yellow morning as the unyielding, sick sun rose today. The mother looks perturbed as the girl’s father is likely to come back from the town empty-handed. The brown of her dress reveals the dark of her blemish free dark face where a little black dot finds a neat spot to the right of the lower lip. She swears at the waiting girl who has a running nose while balancing the other infant lying carefree in the lap and positions her breasts for the tongue of the hidden tiny creature. She streamlines the fuel and makes it cross the bottleneck of the mud house of the hearth into flames as the flour ball kept in the wooden bowl to her side diminishes in size. Her hands twist over the round chapati on the hot plate till it steams off hot puff through the orifices left open in the body of the flat circle. A sudden stream of this puff aims at her fingers with the worn out silver ring and in disgust she utters ‘damn it’ while the wrinkle on the forehead too artificial for her vibrant visage appears to soon make way for the droplets of sweat that emerge from the crevices. An earthen pot falls behind her wooden seat and the water flowing out of it drenches the clay floor. Clogs stick to the protruding tiny feet of the infant in the lap. As the toddler tries getting rid of the glue with its other toe, the splutter muddies the floor further and spreads to the other toe making for a pair of muddy toes. Passes from the scene a village elder who pauses and asks the girl with the plate about her father while trying hard to get a glimpse of the woman’s face. The girl is too dumb to answer that. One end of the brown cloth gets clipped between the woman’s canines and she looks away. Whispering from that hidden angle to the child “Tell Uncle he is in the town and will be back soon”, she directs her to him. The child leaves the plate and walks briskly towards the man. Tries to pull down the red and white balloon that he has bought for his grand-daughter who is sitting with a plate in a similar kitchen elsewhere in the village. The old man raises his hand so that the balloon goes higher up in the air, beyond the girl’s leaps and bounds. The woman after a while yells out her name “Lalli” only to realize that Lalli isn’t around and two of those expressive eyes etched above whiskers and below the turban are still busy hunting for a glimpse. Lalli’s mother blushes and keeps the chapatis going as they were.
In the cloud of my rain
was nectar attenuated
it was laden with tar
that had stiffened in the heat
Stirring vigorously was the spoon
and a cluttering sound it made
and the rain fell drop by drop
quenching the river
When it was sunny
the honey was granule
the nectar stale
and the river polluted like hell.
For me Gasha turned out to be a curious sound. Pronounced as Gaa-Sh-Aa it is the name of the latest play produced by the Bangalore based theater group Indian Ensemble. As a nominated entry under several categories (including Best Play and Best Director) at the ongoing theater festival organised by the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards, it was performed last evening at the Kamani Auditorium. The production tries to explore the convoluted frames of the conflictual socio-political zone i.e. Kashmir and makes an earnest attempt at laying bare the subjectivity and the everyday lives of people severely affected by the ongoing conflict in the region. The only two actors we see on stage are Adhir Bhatt (as Gasha) and Sandeep Shikhar (as Nazir). Gasha is the attempt by the scriptwriter Irawati Karnik to bring to light the various facets that come to constitute the fate of two childhood friends. Gasha and Nazir are neighbors from a locality in Srinagar who are separated because of Gasha’s family leaving Srinagar for Mumbai in the wake of ‘militancy’. The narrative goes back and forth in time. Gasha’s family revisits their hometown after a gap of twenty years for the ritual worship of the much revered deity Kheer Bhavani. At the Srinagar airport, Gasha chances upon a loader whom he identifies as Nazir. The encounter makes him think of events past and of the days gone by. For the audience it is a pleasant and yet a very serious detour across the landscape of such remembrance.
Needless to say that the script beautifully peels quite a few layers deep into a number of issues. The director Abhishek Majumdar succeeds in making Bhatt and Shekhar impeccably don the role of several characters- of children in a classroom, of Bukhari sir- their teacher, of Gula- the Muslim attendant at the Kheer Bhavani shrine, of the angry-old controlling Arjun Mama and the most endearing of them all- Dadi Jaan. An innovative stage design, intelligent handling of the lights, an apt sound arrangement and a minimalist use of stage props are other noticeable aspects of this production.
Apart from making for insightful angles from which to look at the Kashmir issue, the play leaves the audience with interesting material for further reflection. The characters for instance ask some very evocative questions in jest, as exclamations or dumb anguishes, satires or even as morose ramblings. Notice Gasha’s mother asking- “Bhala Koi Churaai Hui Kaaleen Pe Namaaz Kaise Padh Sakta Hai?” (How can anyone offer prayers on a stolen carpet?) or Arjun Mama asking Gasha “Daikin badi company kaise ho sakti hai jab maine uska naam hi nahin suna?” (How can Daikin be a big company when I have not even heard its name?” and further on “Tu Kashmir ka Mausam bechta hai?” (You are selling the weather of Kashmir) referring to Gasha’s job in a company that manufactures air conditioners. All the more funny is Arjun Mama scolding a seemingly uninterested Gasha to concentrate in prayers before the Goddess and to “feel the tiger”!
I see the play to be about the problems with our reliance on memory as a tool to reconstruct and make sense of all that happened years ago. It presents in vivid details the ways in which children make sense of their world. There is this just right dose of genuine comedy sprinkled all across the duration of the play. The ways in which violence gets appropriated by the imagination of a child is well documented through very subtle injunctions in the script and in facial expressions that aptly correspond to it. Where should a child play and where should he study, what has happened to schools in Kashmir post militancy and what are the possible future careers that the ‘unschooled’ children in Kashmir will have in the years to come, Gasha is a nuanced comment on all these social issues.
Yes, the briefcases as props seem too many in some scenes, they are dragged too often on the wooden floor, the repeated falls and the thuds of the actors at times insert a break in the flow. Despite these glitches, Gasha is a play that has a message, ranks high on entertainment quotient and oozes a meaning that might require repeated attempts in order to be gleaned. I sincerely hope that the team comes up with more such creative productions and do the little possible so as to bring sanity back to where it belongs. In troubled times, sanity often happens to be the resource that becomes scarce. Even when available, it gets under or over-represented in discourse. The impact of counter currents that an artistic work like Gasha is capable of creating remains to be estimated. I wish this team all the very best for its future productions.
‘Leave me alone’ she said with a smile
Thinking of a trip to the Amazon and the Nile.
Away he walked in some relief
Made his way to the coral reef.
She rode on boats of waves and rains
He walked alone in mounts and plains.
Further as she touched the banks
To many more suitors she said “No Thanks”.
He befriended men on distant lands
Clicked naked women wearing flowery bands.
As affairs blossomed, she grew in repute
As wisdom dawned, he allayed dispute.
These journeys brought them together in the rain
They promised to each other “No quest again”.
They lived and loved in the city forever
Lost in the crowds very high on fever.
Till one day when arose disbelief
Knowledge or bliss was the contention chief.
He knew of nothing he had ever felt
She had no feeling of all that belt.
Leaving the world they landed in space
Dwelt thinking and feeling of love and race.
The oxygen depleted and she had no clue
His hope had died long before he knew.
Breathless they ran and hugged in the dark
No flowers bloomed and sang no lark!
In the pages of this slick and colorful book lie wonderfully captured the lives of an impressive range of characters. The people in these stories, their life worlds and above all their strikingly individual attempts at finding a way out of crucial existential dilemmas they face is the reason the nine stories in this anthology deserve to be read, appreciated and pondered about.
Firstly, each of Verma’s stories are about a sufficient detailing of the predicament in which the protagonists are situated. Secondly, each story uses the technique of conversation and dialogue quite powerfully. As a result, we meet quite a good number of people from varied socio-economic backgrounds, read about who they are, get to know of what they think and ‘hear’ a lot of their justifications for the decisions and choices that they have made in their lives. Each story is ultimately about a tension that we aim to resolve so very often in our lives that it begins to seem unresolvable and hence banal. Verma takes us back to those ‘love marriage versus arranged marriage’ and ‘learning to say No versus learning to compromise and sacrifice’ debates.
These stories do not make a villain out of any of these actors and refrain from offering easy solutions to the deeply philosophical issues they raise. Interestingly, the book offers the readers an innovative option to rewrite the endings of these stories on the author’s website in the event of their dissatisfaction with any of the endings. The episodic nature of some of these stories and the detailed biographical element in others arouse equal amount of interest and one would have to appreciate the comfort and ease with which the author addresses an impressive range of emotional entanglements. Be it the plight of a failed love affair, anxieties and insecurities of a marital discord or the complexities of living in a joint family, Verma addresses them all with a studied sensitivity.
Two stories that I specially enjoyed reading would be The Practitioner of Austerity and The Soul Mate Theorist. The former reminded me of Ritwik Ghatak‘s classic Meghe Dhake Tara. Through a glimpse into the tribulations of its protagonist Aparna’s life, the story says a thousand things about the meanings of being a daughter, a woman and a civil servant from the scheduled caste whose life is ultimately nothing but a sacrifice that hardly anyone takes a note of. In what appeared to me to be a modern-day adaptation of the Rajesh Khanna starrer Amar Prem, The Soul Mate Theorist takes us to a bar where two college friends discuss women, love and sex. From the bar we are taken to the apartment of a sex worker where we meet her son. This story is a wonderful take on the static and constraining institutions that marriage and family can actually turn out to be.
The book is written with a specific audience in mind and does falter on its ‘appeal’ quotient. In a few places, the descriptions seem trite and unnecessary. The reference to the internet pages where background research on the settings of these stories was undertaken could have been avoided. Overall, this is an interesting book- one that ideally can be read on one of those days when the mind is prone to some retrospection and is willing to pause and take stock of all the puzzles that life has had to offer!
(For the fifth post in this series, for which I have interviewed people I am close to, I emailed Sharmishtha a set of questions. Her responses have been reproduced here. I hope that you would like the idea and enjoy the conversation. The series is to be continued with other friends as and when possible. Sincere thanks to all readers who commented on and appreciated the earlier posts).
Three posts ago, I wrote a few things about the person Sharmishtha Basu is- an artist, a nice friend and above all an active blogger who is not just regular but also remarkably consistent with regard to the quality of her posts. I hope this interview serves as a little window and brings us face to face with some of the unnoticed aspects of the person behind the lovely colors that she employs to illustrate the rhymes of her delicate words.
Personal Concerns- To start with, I would like to ask you something about your blogs and your experiences with WordPress?
Sharmishtha Basu– As you already know, I am obsessed with writing. I started with Mydomainpvt, so I could use my blog in Intent.com properly, the posts of WordPress can be copied in intent without any editing. Then intent.com shifted to Facebook and I concentrated on WordPress. Two of my earlier blogging experiences- with MSN ( a mixed experience) and Blogspot (horrible) initially made me a bit skeptic about WordPress. Now I feel that WordPress is the place every writer who loves to write and wants genuine readership should be in. It’s an amazing site, the more I compliment WordPress the little it shall be. I have found the very best people of the world both at intent.com and here. I just love the readers and writers at WordPress. They are amazing.
SB– Haiku is the form that unleashes the dreamer in me fully. I love writing Haiku because its main concept is to capture nature, being a great lover of mother earth I really love to play with this form, trying my best to capture mother earth’s beauty in every way I can.
SB-I love Kolkata because of its people. It’s the best place for a single woman to live in. Delhi is the scariest place in India I believe. Even when I left Delhi at the age of sixteen, I could feel the scariness of that place. The worst part is that one had to be cautious about family men, neighbours – something which fortunately is still absent in Kolkata. Most probably because Bengali men respect their wives…. Ha ha. They don’t want to get spanked by their wives for eve teasing. Kolkata is full of warm people who let others live in peace.
SB–Bengali, Hindi and English. I am equally comfortable in Hindi and Bengali. I love Bengali the most because it’s a very sweet language. It really sounds sweet to the ears. I have heard a lot of languages, some of them with a little bit of understanding and some without any understanding at all. Bengali really sounds sweet to my ears more than most of the languages, and a lot of my non bengali friends say the same. My English is not bad I believe.
PC- Sharmishtha is a nice sounding name. What does it mean ? Do you also have a nick name?
SB– Sharmishtha means extremely lucky- which I am. My self-given pet name is Trisha.
SB-My favourite most poet is Rabindranath Tagore, then comes Kazi Nazrul Islam, Wordsworth, Frost, Shakespeare (I love his sonnets). Its tough for me to look for one poem, song, movie etc. but one that touches me very deeply is Tagore’s Jethay Thaake Sabar adham (where the poorest of poorest dwells)
Your feet dwells
Where the lowest of the low dwells
In the lowest place of all
With Those without anything at all
When I lower my head at your feet
It stops somewhere midway
It cant reach the place
That lowest of low place
Where your feet dwells
My arrogance cant reach you
Down there where you dwell
Like the poorest of poor
Amongst the poorest of poor
I seek your company
Sitting on my pile of wealth
Surrounded by loved ones
But my heart never reaches
Down there where you dwell
Amongst those without anyone
Amongst those without anything.
SB- I was a student at Burdwan Raj College, two of my fondest memories of that college are that of our history teacher Alok Chakraborty- India really needs such teachers, and the five girl gang we had formed- me and Nilanjana, Rimita, Shampa and Swagata. We used to have so much fun. I graduated in 1995 and my combinations were Economics, Political Science and History. Well, Alok Chakrabarti confirmed my firm belief that even the rowdiest students respect the sincere teacher. Quite a handful of the students were older than him, yet the moment he walked inside the class it fell silent and his students almost never missed his class. He was not just an amazing teacher but he gave us suggestions that worked so well.
Well, we used to spend a lot of time together, I used to visit Swagata at her house regularly, and Rimita, Nilanjana and me went to the same tutor. It was girlish fun mostly, both Rimita and Nilanjana had boyfriends and we had to lie to their parents 🙂
One day Nilanjana did not come, we went to her house to ask how she was and to give her the notes of that day. Her mother opened the door and was shocked to know that Nilanjana had not been to the classes…because as she knew it, Nilanjana had gone for the tuitions. It took a lot for us to convince her that actually it was us who had bunked the classes and were looking for her notes. We used to go out together, and Nilanjana was the one with tight purse strings, always trying to convince us not to spend 🙂
SB- I am absolutely against it. The websites may keep an eye on their content but not the governments. I believe they are scared for the way truth is spread through the internet and the manner in which it has resulted in the collapse of so many corrupt governments.
SB- I have favorite films and the films that move me the most. There are too many in the ‘favorite’ section starting from all Jurassic Park movies, The Lord of the Ring, some horror films, some thrillers and quite a number of Bengali movies.
The movies that moved me the most are fewer. I am afraid I will not watch most of these movies again. Schindler’s List, Shawshank Redemption, Dead Man Walking, To Kill a Mocking Bird, Edward Scissorhands, My Fair Lady, Twelve Angry Men, Hirok Rajar Deshe, Sound of Music- I can watch these any day anytime.
PC-Please share with us a song of your choice. I would like to know what makes it stand apart?
SB-The same song that I added as a poem above- its lyrics; it’s amazing in Bengali, it touches your soul in its deepest place and moves it, asks you whether you have such humility?
SB- I am a horrible cook, I cook a lot and have been into full fledged cooking since the age of sixteen…a thing really uncommon for Bengali girls fortunately to juggle between cooking and studies, my expertise is some day to day Bengali cookings such as the poshto (poppy seed paste) and jhol (mixed vegetable curry)- just two out of many others.
(All comments and suggestions about the format and the presentation of the interview would be deeply appreciated. Friends who wish to be included in this series, please let me know. It would be lovely to have you here on my blog. Cheers!)