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!