Performance as Protest

“This morning I woke up, cut my hair, danced with the trimmed hair flying open all as a matter of factly without realising what it might mean to do something like this, or BE this person in another setup or another country. The familiarity and the mundane-ness of our privilege is so hidden that it’s nearly impossible to know what you have until one day you don’t. The gaze on the feminine is stronger than ever, the scrutiny is inhuman. Whether it is our right to cover our head, or uncover it, the laws around what a female body should or should not do and the mandates that are dictated for the script of the feminine are outrageous.” – Aditi Venkateshwaran, Performer/ Artistic Director IAPAR. 

Although this performance wasn’t directly meant to be a protest, it is our small attempt to show our absolute and unwavering solidarity for the protests, for reclaiming our right to exist, and to exercise the will and choice to do so in whatever way we please. Performance was, is and will always remain a powerful tool to protest, and we continue to remain inspired by the immensely powerful acts of resistance taking place on the streets of Iran, and by those that have been demonstrated across the world in moments of relevance.

“In light of the protests happening against the killing of Mahsa Amini (Zhina Amini), where women have been marching out on the streets of Iran, defiantly opening and cutting their hair in public and dancing and demanding that their oppressive ruler be removed from power, I think our performance We Dance Ourselves (an adaptation of ‘Rosas Danst Rosas’ by Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker) last weekend happened at a very crucial time, where our hair flying unabashed and free was observed to be as important an element as the rest of our movements – as a member of the audience put it, “your hair seemed to have a personality of its own”. It is incredible to think that this performance would perhaps have been banned in Iran today, perhaps with hefty fines, arrests, or fatal consequences for its performers? And is the situation very different in our country? In 2022, we are still fighting for our right to be the way we want to be, to make the choices we want to make.” – Tanvi Hegade, Performer / Writer / Dance Movement Therapist. 

We Dance Ourselves – Adaptation of Rosas Danst Rosas performed for the Dance Festival at Kalachhaya April 2018.

Before the pandemic Aditi and Tanvi were both a part of the Indian Adaptation of the Chilean Anti Rape Song Protests in Mumbai and in Pune. On the 26th of January 2020, they performed the Hindustani version of the Chilean Anti-Rape Song – translated in Hindi by Sapan Saran, something that some of us have been deeply moved and inspired by. Based on the work of Rita Segato, the piece was created by the Valparaiso Feminist Collective called Las Tesis. It was performed at the International Day of Elemination of violence against women on the 25th November 2019 and has been performed all over the world since.

Chilean Anti Rape Sqaud Pune performed at Jyotsna Bhole Sabhagruh January 2020.

The Mumbai performances happened on 22nd January in Andheri and Versova and another one on the 26th January at the Juhu Beach. In Pune it was performed on the 26th January outside TIFA Working Studios and Jyotsna Bhole Sabhagruh in the evening. Everyone in both the teams have come from different walks of lives, professionals, students, homemakers aged 16-81 were a part of this. The movement that was initiated in Mumbai by Anat Speaks and Studio Tamasha is supported in Pune by organisations like IAPAR, TIFA, many many friends and loved ones.

“I’ve always struggled to express my political and social discourse. But my art then becomes my healing, for me and for many like me who go to it to find meaning in the chaos.

In November 2020, we started the creation of the work “Constant Acts of Disobeying” which was another way to voice and question the gender narrative and the burdens that are attached to it. We’ve performed over five shows of this production and there’s so much yet to be done with it. Understanding the new and questioning the old. Women and Men who break the rules, who disobey, yet hold each other through!”, says Aditi. 

Constant acts of Disobeying – A performance questioning the gender norms and stereotypes. Premiered December 2020.

These and several other performances talk of every woman, every man’s journey into empowering many more along with their own selves. They talk about everyone who’s had to shout to be heard. They talk of the exhaustion and the little successes along the way. Coz it’s all justified when you think of our future children, those who may not be born to us, but those who we live for and those we leave behind. 

There is more than one way to voice support and to protest. Because most of the time, solidarity is shown through simple acts of kindness, through smaller moments of consideration, through art. These are difficult times, confusing times, and the only thing that’ll keep us all sane is having each other’s back and not spreading more hate than there already is. 

Through anxiety and panic, let’s all hold each other close, let’s listen, observe, educate ourselves and take turns to protest our unrest. Because in the end – “In diversity we evolve”. May our collective light shine sharp, bright and blindingly on oppression, bigotry and fanaticism. And continue to dance ourselves, we shall.


Contributors to the blog – Tanvi Hegade and Aditi Venkateshwaran. 

Some more performances in protest for justice for #mahsaamini




World Theatre Day 2022 Message

(Featured Image Credits – Ruth Walz for Peter Sellars)

This year’s World Theatre Day message from the International Theatre Institute is authored by Peter Sellars, an opera, theatre and festival director who has gained international renown for his ground-breaking and transformative interpretations of classics, advocacy of 20th century and contemporary music, and collaborative projects with an extraordinary range of creative and performing artists. His work illuminates the power of art as a means of moral expression and social action.

To view the message in Assamese, translated by Bornali S Deka and Jugesh Kalita on the ITI website, click here.

More translations of the WTD 2022 message can be found below.


Festival Frames

A collection of some of the most exquisite moments captured at the IAPAR International Theatre Festival 2021.

“It was a hot Indian summer afternoon when our festival director & my mentor called me for a meeting. He wanted me to help him with the theatre festival he had always visualised. As always, I was delighted to work with one of my favourite people, especially since events have been my forte since I was in school. This time however, I wanted to do more than just managing the festival like an event. After much deliberation, it was decided I will head documentation at the IAPAR International Theatre Festival. From the sound of it, ‘documentation,’ sounds like very administrative, almost bureaucratic work. What I did not know back then, was that this would come to be one of the most enthralling experiences of my life, something I look forward to each coming year.

I am not a trained filmmaker/photographer/cinematographer, but I have always been fascinated by moving images. As a child, movies always profoundly impacted me. W. J. T. Mitchell’s quote continues to inform my work at the festival, “Images are not only visual. They’re also auditory, the involve sensuous impressions, bundles of information that comes through us through our senses, and mainly through seeing and hearing: the audio-visual field”. When I started planning for documentation at the festival, I only had one clear goal – I wanted to make sure that people not at the festival also had as exciting and significant experiences as those attending the festival. I wanted to tell a story about performances, about the festival and about the people who created it. The challenge was telling this story through still & moving images, through this audio-visual field.

At the second year of the festival, we worked with a group of volunteer students from a film & television institute. Even though we were all still getting the hang of things, we managed to capture the most vivid moments of the festival. For the next year, I had bigger plans. By this time, we had a strong team of creative people in Rajat, Radheya and some others. We wanted to capture the festival theme, “Actor at the Centre,” a task that required us to deeply engage with every performance, every actor, and every production.

Anticipation & patience are the two skills required to capture the correct expression; one needs to understand the mood, movements and light design of the performance. As the performer moves, the light follows and so does the camera. You need to be involved in performance and yet be detached; detachment is important to stay grounded in your job of capturing the right moments.

We also paid special attention to curating an immersive experience for those who couldn’t attend the festival. We created one-minute videos encapsulating each day’s events, with our theme song that added a cinematic touch to our videos making them more immersive. It was an instant success, adding a nice touch of nostalgia to our festival archives.

In the following year, we introduced the “Green Room Diaries,” a series where we interviewed performers, facilitators, directors and brought their experiences to the forefront, speaking with them about the performances, processes, and technicalities. It has been a deeply learning experience for many of us because it gave us a deep dive into the artist’s mind.

During the festival, we spend hours watching performances, discussing them at tea breaks; as time passes, we only remember the actors, some remarkable visuals, and gradually the memory fizzles out. Over the years, all we remember is the name of a play or maybe a performer from a specific part of the world; a single memory representative of a once-immersive experience. In this way, documentation of the festival is as impactful as the festival itself. There are multiple narratives that can be woven through it to for people living in different times & spaces. Generations to come will benefit from these archives we have created over the past five years and those we continue to create.”

~Rohan Wekhande, Creative Associate and Festival Documentation Head


माकड, माणूस आणि डार्विन

(डार्विन या एकल नाट्यप्रयोगाच्या निमित्ताने)

सुमारे दोन वर्षांपूर्वी माझी पत्नी मृणालिनी मला डार्विन विषयी काही सांगत होती. माझा आणि डार्विनचा संबंध शाळेच्या पाठ्यपुस्तकातला ‘उत्क्रांती सिद्धांताचा जनक’ इतपतच मर्यादित होता. दोन मार्काच्या गाळलेल्या जागा भरा किंवा जोड्या लावा मध्ये हे येत असे. आपण माकडापासून तयार झालो (!) या विचाराची मला तेंव्हा फार मजा वाटली होती. पण त्या दिवशी ती जे काही बोलत होती ते ऐकून मी थोडासा गडबडून गेलो होतो. मनुष्यप्राणी माकडापासून निर्माण झाला असं डार्विन म्हणालेलाच नाही हे ऐकून मी गोंधळून गेलो. म्हणजे लहानपणापासून आपण जे समजत होतो ते तसं नाहीये? अजूनही आजूबाजूला डार्विन विषयी कुणी काही बोललंच तर ते एव्हढच असतं. आणि ही सांगतेय कि ते तसं नाहीये! मग आम्ही खूप बोललो. डार्विनच्या संपूर्ण प्रवासाबद्दल तिनं अनेक विस्मयकारक गोष्टी सांगितल्या. मी तिला विचारले की ती डार्विनवर नाटक लिहू शकेल का? आणि तिनं होकार दिला!

डार्विन हा काही रूढार्थानं नाटकाचा विषय नाही. तो मुख्यतः अभ्यासाचा विषय आहे. विज्ञानाच्या आकलनामध्ये डार्विनचं योगदान ही काही केवळ मनोरंजनाची गोष्ट नाही. नाट्यपूर्ण असली तरी. मग याचं नाटक करताना ते रंजक होईल का? की केवळ उपदेशपर चर्चानाट्य असं त्याचं स्वरूप असेल? तसं तर नक्कीच नको होतं. माणूस म्हणूनही डार्विन काही जगावेगळा नव्हता. चारचौघांसारखाच एक सामान्य मुलगा होता. शालेय अभ्यासात फारसं लक्ष नसलेला, वडिलांच्या दबावाला घाबरून राहणारा! पण आजूबाजूचं जग मात्र तो निरखून बघत असे. त्याला भटकंतीची नितांत आवड होती. दगड, किडे, फुलपाखरं, झाडं याचं निरीक्षण करताना तो तासनतास रमून जात असे. या गोष्टीचं नाटक होऊ शकेल?

हे नाट्यलेखन आणि मग नाट्यनिर्मिती ही एक दीर्घकालीन प्रक्रिया होती. मृणालनं नाटकाचा पहिला मसुदा फार लवकर पूर्ण केला. आणि मग नंतर दुसरा आणि नंतर तिसरा… आणि मग त्यावर काम करण्याची माझी पाळी होती. आणि याच सुमारास जगामध्ये कोरोना हा एक नवा शब्द उदयाला येत होता. फार काही समजायच्या आतच त्यानं संपूर्ण जगाचा ताबा घेतला. आणि मग उत्क्रांतीच्या प्रक्रियेतली ही नवी मजा बघत डार्विन विंगेत जाऊन थांबला!

या प्रक्रियेमध्ये मला अनेक प्रश्नांचा सामना करावा लागला. हे नाटक काही डार्विनचे चरित्र नव्हे. ही एका शास्त्रज्ञाची अशी जीवनगाथा आहे जिच्यामुळे मानवजातीचा स्वतःकडे पाहण्याचा दृष्टीकोनच बदलून गेला. त्याच्या संशोधनामुळे माणसांत, माणसाच्या जगाविषयीच्या आकलनात मोठा फरक पडला.  

डार्विन ज्या कालखंडात होता त्या काळात विज्ञान हे धार्मिक कल्पनांच्या पलीकडे जाऊ शकत नव्हतं. तशी परवानगीच नव्हती. गलिलिओला ज्या प्रकारच्या विरोधाचा सामना करावा लागला होता त्या परीस्थितीत इतकी शतकं उलटून गेल्यावरही फारसा फरक पडलेला नव्हता. परमेश्वराच्या अस्तित्वाला आव्हान देणं हा काही डार्विनचा हेतू नव्हता, पण त्याच्यासमोर जे उलगडत होतं त्यामुळे त्या परमेश्वराविषयी खूपच प्रश्न निर्माण होत होते. ख्रिश्चन चर्चच्या मान्यताप्राप्त चौकटीला न मानवणारं काहीतरी त्याला गवसलं होतं.

मृणालनं लिहिलेल्या संहितेमध्ये तीन भाग आपल्या समोर येतात. पहिला भाग हा डार्विनच्या बालपणीचा आणि तरुणपणाचा आहे. या वयात त्याला अनेक प्रश्न पडत होते आणि त्यांची उत्तरं त्याला पाठ्यपुस्तकांमध्ये सापडत नव्हती. त्याची शोधक नजर आणि संशोधक वृत्ती यांना खतपाणी मिळत होतं. आयुष्यभराचे मित्र जोडले जात होते. त्याही काळात मेडिकलला अडमिशन घेणं सामाजिकदृष्ट्या महत्वाचं होतं. त्याच्या वडिलांची तशी दृढ इच्छा होती. पण त्याला मात्र मेडिकल शिक्षणात रस वाटत नव्हता. या स्थितीतून मार्ग शोधण्याच्या प्रयत्नात असतानाच त्याच्या समोर एक मोठी संधी आली. पृथ्वी प्रदक्षिणा करण्याच्या एका सफरीची. इथून या नाटकाचा दुसरा भाग सुरु होतो. एच. एम. एस. बीगल या जहाजावरून त्यानं केलेली पृथ्वी प्रदक्षिणा, त्याला झालेलं जगाचं दर्शन, आपल्या समोर येतं. दक्षिण अमेरिका, पसिफिक महासागर, गालापागोस बेटसमूह, हिंदी महासागर अशा विविध ठिकाणांना भेटी देत त्यानं आपला अभ्यास सुरु ठेवला होता. आणि त्या सगळ्याचा अन्वयार्थ लावण्याचा त्याचा प्रयत्न आपल्याला दिसू लागतो. आणि तिसऱ्या भागात आपल्याला दिसतो तो या सगळ्या गोष्टींकडे एकविसाव्या शतकात येऊन बघणारा डार्विन. जुन्या प्रश्नांची उत्तरं शोधता शोधता नवनवीन प्रश्न शोधणारा आणि त्यांची उत्तरं शोधण्याची जबाबदारी प्रेक्षकांची आहे याचं भान देणारा.   

ही डार्विनची गोष्ट प्रेक्षकाना कशी बरं सांगावी? डार्विन स्वतः त्याची गोष्ट सांगत असेल का? की एकविसाव्या शतकातील एक अभिनेता ही गोष्ट सांगत असेल? डार्विन आणि निवेदक अशी दुहेरी भूमिका निभावणारा अभिनेता असेल का? तो केवळ कथावाचक असेल? की प्रेक्षकांना कथा सांगता सांगता अनुभवही निर्माण करणारा असेल?

लॉकडाऊनच्या काळात या प्रश्नांशी आम्ही दोघेही लढत होतो. हा प्रयोग एकाच नटानं करण्याचा आहे हेही एव्हाना अगदी स्पष्ट होतं. आणि ते मीच करावं असंही वाटत होतं. त्यामुळे ते दिसेल कसं याबरोबरच ते पाठ कसं करायचं याचंही एक ओझं होतंच. चार-पाच वर्षांपूर्वी अनिरुद्धनं बसवलेल्या ‘पार्टी’ या नाटकात काम केल्यापासून माझाही अभिनयाचा उत्साह थोडा वाढलेला होता. आणि डार्विन हे त्या दृष्टीनं उत्तम आव्हान होतं.

या दरम्यानच्या काळात मी अजून एका एकल प्रयोगावर काम करत होतो. आदिती वेंकटेश्वरन या गुणी अभिनेत्री आणि नर्तिकेनं लिहिलेलं ‘Fall Again, Fly Better’ हे इंग्रजी एकल नाटक आम्ही स्काईपवर तालमी करून तयार करत होतो. त्यामुळे ते पूर्ण झालं की डार्विन करायला घ्यायचं असं ठरवलं होतं. ते नाटक हा एका स्वतंत्र लेखाचा विषय आहे, त्यामुळे त्याविषयी सविस्तर पुढे लिहीनच. त्या नाटकाचा पहिला प्रयोग नाट्यगृह खुली होताच झाला आणि मग डार्विनच्या तालमी सुरु झाल्या.   

डार्विनची तालीम सुरु करण्यापूर्वी मृणालला हे नाटक डॉ. मंदार दातार या संशोधक मित्राला वाचून दाखवायचं होतं. मंदार पुण्याच्या आघारकर संस्थेत संशोधक म्हणून कार्यरत आहे. आणि डार्विन हा त्याचा अत्यंत प्रेमाचा आणि अभ्यासाचा विषय आहे. त्याच्यासमोर नाटकाचं वाचन झालं. त्यानं हिरवा बावटा दाखवल्यानंतरच तालमीला सुरुवात झाली.

तालीम करताना सुरवातीचा पुष्कळसा काळ हे आपल्याच्यानं पाठ होईल का या चिंतेत गेला. मी एकल प्रयोग केल्याला काही दशकं उलटून गेली होती आणि मधल्या कालखंडात माझं संपूर्ण लक्ष दिग्दर्शन आणि प्रशिक्षणाकडे होतं. अभिनयाची सवयही सुटल्यासारखी झाली होती. पण नटाची म्हणून जी एक आंतरिक प्रक्रिया सुरु होते ती केंव्हाच झाली होती. आणि उभं राहून तालीम सुरु झाल्यावर अधिकाधिक मजा येत गेली. या तालमीला आदिती, आशिष वझे, विक्रांत ठकार अशी तरूण मित्रमंडळी हजर असत. त्यांची निरीक्षणं ऐकणं, सूचना ऐकून पुढच्या तालमीत योग्य ते बदल करणं अशा गोष्टी सुरूच होत्या. मृणाल तालमीला आली तर मला जरा अधिक टेन्शन येत असे. ती माझ्यापेक्षा अधिक अभ्यासू आहेच. विज्ञान, तत्वज्ञान, कला, साहित्य या विविध प्रांतांमध्ये ती लीलया मुशाफिरी करत असते. त्यामुळे तिनं लिहिलेल्या प्रत्येक शब्दाला काही ना काही अत्यंत महत्वाचे संदर्भ असत. त्यातलं काहीही आपल्याकडून सुटू नये याची काळजी मी सातत्यानं घेत असे.

उभं राहून तालमी सुरु करताना नेपथ्याचा एक ढोबळ आराखडा माझ्या डोक्यात होता. टेबल-खुर्ची मला अपरिहार्य वाटत होतं. त्याव्यतिरिक्त अनेक छोट्या मोठ्या वस्तू वापरल्या जाणार होत्या. वेशभूषा कशी असावी यावरही बराच खल झाला. एक गोष्ट नक्की ठरली होती की डार्विनसारखं दिसण्याचा प्रयत्न करायचा नाही. पण तो कालखंड उभा करण्याचा प्रयत्न मात्र जरूर करायचा. स्मिता तावरेनं ही जबाबदारी लीलया पार पाडली. तिच्या बरोबरीनं आशिष वझे यानंही अपरिमित कष्ट घेतले. नेपथ्य, वेशभूषा योग्य रीतीनं व्हावं यासाठी या दोघांनीही तुळशीबाग, लक्ष्मी रोड किती वेळा पालथे घातले त्याला काही अंतच नव्हता. नाटकाची प्रकाशयोजना विक्रांत ठकार यानं केलेली आहे. नाटक समजावून घेऊन, तालमींना नियमित हजर राहून, समोर निर्माण होणारं दृश्य अधिकाधिक अर्थपूर्ण करण्यावर त्यानं भर दिला. डार्विनची अभ्यासिका, समुद्र, जहाज आणि इतर असंख्य जागा त्यानं प्रकाशयोजनेतून जिवंत केल्या. या नाटकाचं संगीत ही एक अवघड गोष्ट होती. ते एका काळाशी नाळ जोडणारं तर हवंच होतं, पण त्याबरोबरच त्यामध्ये कुठलाही परकेपणा नको होता. नाटक बघताना प्रेक्षकाला सहज आपल्याबरोबर घेऊन जाणारं हवं होतं. संगीताबरोबरच विविध ध्वनींचाही वापर यात होता. आदितीनं हे सगळं अतिशय उत्तम रीतीनं पेललं. डार्विनचं आवडतं संगीत कुठलं होतं ते तिनं शोधून काढलं आणि त्याचाही यथोचित वापर केला. एकूणात काय तर प्रयोगाचं रसायन चांगलं जमून येत होतं.

या नाटकाच्या शेवटाकडे एक वाक्य आहे:

“खरी गोष्ट तुम्ही जाणता… आपण काही माकडापासून झालो नाही, माणूस काही माकडापासून झाला नाही. तर माणूस आणि माकड यांचा पूर्वज एक होता.”

हे वाक्य म्हणताना समोर बसलेल्या अनेक प्रेक्षकांच्या चेहऱ्यावर मला एक भलं मोठं प्रश्नचिन्ह दिसतं. कारण आपल्यापैकी अनेकजण खरी गोष्टी जाणत नाहीत! या नाटकाच्या निमित्तानं अशा अनेक खऱ्या गोष्टी जाणून घेता आल्या. डार्विनचा हात धरून दोन मार्कांच्या पलीकडे जाण्याचा प्रयत्न करता आला. विज्ञानाकडे वेगळ्या नजरेनं पाहता आलं.

नाटकाच्या प्रत्यक्ष प्रयोगाविषयी याहून अधिक काही लिहित नाही. डार्विनच्या आणि बीगलच्या प्रवासाला पुन्हा एकदा सुरुवात होईलच. सध्याची बंदिस्त स्थिती लौकरच संपून जाऊ दे आणि आपल्या सगळ्यांच्या समोर प्रत्यक्ष रंगमंचावर याचा प्रयोग करता येऊ दे हीच सदिच्छा. भेटूच!

विद्यानिधी वनारसे (प्रसाद)
भ्रमणध्वनी: +९१ ९१३०० २५७५६
इमेल: iapar.india@gmail.com

‘माकड, माणूस आणि डार्विन’ हा लेख यापूर्वी कणकवली येथील कै. वसंतराव आचरेकर सांस्कृतिक प्रतिष्ठानच्या ‘रंगवाचा’ या त्रैमासिकात प्रकाशित झाला आहे.


Science, Philosophy and Art!

Science, philosophy and art? Can they be clubbed together? How, why? A young friend had these questions writ large on her face when she heard about SPA for the first time. The name SPA sounds exotic! Does it come any closer to the actual experience of real spa? If yes, I’m in! If not..alas! What do you really have in store under the name SPA?

Image by Gerhard G. from Pixabay

Here’s what I said to her!

The spa that you know, tickles your senses. This SPA tickles your frontal lobe!  You go to spa to relax, put all your tensions away, talk deeply with your body and mind and rejuvenate.  The SPA that we offer calls for higher attention. It responds to the urge we all have to see newer horizons, the need for serious reflections.

But don’t we have too much on our platter already? Why bother with more serious stuff?

Because deep down we all are already bothered! So many unresolved questions and riddles!  So many ideas and conceptions! It is in our nature to be bothered.

Imagine a herd of deer grazing in the meadow in the forest. What a peaceful and pleasant sight. Then there is a slight movement in the bushes, not a leaf crackles, only the stare, and if the wind is favorable there is also a smell..one or two are the first to notice. Drooping ears get erected. In a second everyone is alarmed. They leap and run. As the saying goes, the tiger runs for a meal, the deer runs for life.

Next day, same time, same meadow and the same amazingly peaceful herd! No trace of yesterday’s anxiety in the air. Not that the deer don’t retain any memory from the past, it just doesn’t make them build fences, ignite fire, make tools and weapons and build temples.

We, homo sapiens, did this! Not once, but again and again. What we created changed our environment. That led to newer challenges for us and that, in turn, called for new tools.  The game continues till today.

Arguably, the most anxious, discontented and dabbling species on earth. No any real spa in the world would be sufficient to bring us the calm of the deer. Only if we know how to deal with our own selves, we would perhaps save a lot of trouble for ourselves and for the world.

But is this not what they do in spiritual practices and psychology therapy sessions?  Why SPA?

Because SPA brings together three ancient responses of mankind. We humans wanted to know the nature of reality, we had passion for what we call wisdom and somewhere in the process of becoming human we learnt to take a broken heart and make it into art! How wonderful it is to weave these responses together and see what emerges. Magic happens when we do it together. It is for this experience- SPA!

In SPA we dig deeper into the history of science, philosophy and art. We see what separated them. We also try and find the bridges that connect them together.

This is something our formal education, our career, seldom allows us to do; to gain perspective on these three fundamental qualities of ours.

New challenges are already showing up on the horizon, the challenges posed by biotechnology and silicon life. It’s our own creation. Soon to crack us open. Are we there? Are we listening? There is no place to leap and run away. If we are not to become a meal, we need to look into the eyes of danger and sustain. We look forward to SPA to talk about this and many other such interesting tales.


Where The City Is

Liminal Spaces are the physical spaces between one destination and the next – elevators, trains, corridors. In Anthropology, liminality is the disorientation that one experiences in the middle of a rite of passage – when you’re no longer the person you were before you took on this journey, and you’re nowhere near to being the person you would be at the conclusion of it.

For the past few years, since I started college, I’ve been feeling this liminality – in school, at work, with family. This disorientation has only become so much stronger in the last one year, while I waited, with everyone else, to start my life again. I’ve come to accept that being in your 20s, is being in the longest liminal space (time) of your life. Add to it actual travel, changing cities for study, work or hobbies – and you are always leaving.

“Self love happens in liminal spaces,” I said when my friend pointed out that I only click selfies in elevators. These liminal spaces, although not destinations on their own, offer us opportunities that destinations don’t – opportunities to indulge in self-love, in hobbies, opportunities of warranted escapism. They come with an allowance for us to be disoriented, to be carefree, to be everything we don’t really imagine being when we’re at our destination but would enjoy right here, right now.

Another liminal space I have recognised recently, especially reinforced by learnings from the pandemic, is cities. For most of us who were not born in big cities, cities are not retirement destinations. More and more people are realising this as they are forced to work from home, rendering the hustle and palpitation of the big city unnecessary. Thus, not only is my very time (age) liminal, my space (city) is too.

This explains not only the disorientation I and my peers feel at all points of time, it also explains our indulgence in escapist behaviours. For me, that would be a constant chase of art and aesthetic respite. I am not an artist. With the way I have struggled in the last one year with writing, I don’t know if I can call myself a writer either. I am just a liminal being, always leaving, indulging in theatre and literature because my time and space allows it and I enjoy it.

I have lived in three cities in my 22 years, and I’m looking forward to making my next big move soon. As I look back at my hazy days and bokeh nights in all these cities, I don’t remember the places I felt at home at. I only remember the places that told me, “You are leaving, and it is okay. Would you like to indulge a little while you’re still here?” Theatres, art galleries, cinema halls, house parties with people I will never meet again, bookstores – every place that I resolved to return to, but always knew I would not really. Not yet. I am just passing through.

“You wanna find love, then you know where the city is,” goes a lyric by the 1975, an indie/pop/rock band we absolutely adore. Although very antithetical to the theory I am sharing here today, it’s been sort of my mantra all these years, as I fell in love with Mumbai, Pune, Panjim, New York City, Delhi. Did I really expect to find love in these places? I did not. I did expect art, a lot of it, because what else do I escape into while I wait?

Art is an integral part of the urban fabric, especially in a post-industrial, media powered era. While exploring this train of thought, it is important to realise that we are not just thinking about art and cities as given objects but as dynamic processes of representation. They shape our experiences, memories and learnings. My time at the IAPAR International Theatre Festival in Pune in 2018 and the Serendipity Arts Festival in Panjim in 2019 did not just further my artistic sensibilities but shaped my very memories of the years, my learnings from them, and shaped my relationships with these cities.

It is not only the experience of consuming art that produces sentiments, it is also the very existence of these festivals and physical venues, in these particular cities, that creates sentiments in the life of aesthetes like me.

The complete scope of geographic engagement with art, more particularly performing art because of its inevitable relationship with physical space, is very wide because it spans the construction of identity, memory and expectations. It also strengthens the vision of the very home we are headed towards. In a way then, we are not just waiting to get where we have to, we are waiting to know where we want to go and to learn how to get there. Chances are, I will not find love and home in the next big city I move to. These liminal spaces and times, these cities and ages, theatre venues, art galleries, cafes and even people we keep going back to because we know we can’t forever, are both an escape from the unavoidable wait and constructions of the very destinations we are waiting to reach.


कोरोना आणि कलेचा ‘काळ’

कोरोना या प्रकरणाविषयी २०२० सालच्या सुरवातीपर्यंत जनसामान्यांना कल्पनाही नव्हती. फारतर करोना नावाची एक बुटांची कंपनी माहित होती. जगाच्या इतिहासात येऊन गेलेल्या साथीच्या रोगांची माहिती शालेय इतिहासात येऊन गेली होती. आणि त्यावेळी तरी त्या माहितीची व्याप्ती वार्षिक परीक्षेबरोबर संपत होती. हे असं काही आपल्या अनुभवाला येईल याची पुसटशी कल्पनाही कुणी करत नव्हतं. आधुनिक वैद्यकशास्त्र आणि प्रगतीपथावर असलेली मानवजात आता यापुढे असल्या यःकश्चित आणि क्षुल्लक आजारांना अजिबात भीक घालणार नाही याची खात्री होती. आधुनिक मानव हा या सगळ्याच्या खूप वर आलेला आहे याविषयी कुणाच्याही मनात तिळमात्रही शंका नव्हती.

पण गतवर्षीपासून सगळं जग संपूर्णपणे कोरोनामय झालं आहे. कुठल्याही दोन व्यक्तींचं संभाषण हा शब्द किमान एकदा उच्चारल्याशिवाय संपत नाही. किमान एकदा!

या सगळ्या कालावधीत अनेक गोष्टी घडून गेल्या. सुरवातीला तर याचं गांभीर्य फारसं लक्षातही आलं नव्हतं. मार्च २०२० मध्ये जेंव्हा पहिला लॉकडाऊन झाला त्यावेळी, पंधरा दिवसांचा तर प्रश्न आहे असं वाटत होतं. फार तर तीन आठवडे… अगदीच ताणलं तर एप्रिल अखेर. एक क्षुल्लक व्हायरस तो काय… पण तो पुरून उरला. अजूनही आहे. आणि तो जाण्याची कोणतीही लक्षणं दिसत नाहीत. उलट तो दीर्घकाळ आपली सोबत करणार आहे अशीच चिन्हं आहेत.

या प्रकरणाचं गांभीर्य लक्षात येईपर्यंत अनेकांची वाताहात झाली होती. शासकीय पातळीवर खूप धावपळ सुरु होती. या कालखंडात लोकांना मदत करायची म्हणजे काय करायचं हे लक्षात यायलाही खूप वेळ गेला. हा मुद्दा शासनाला दोष देण्याचा नाही. शासन म्हणजे आपल्यासारखीच माणसं आहेत. त्यांनीही हे कधी अनुभवलेलं नव्हतं. अचानक कुणीतरी डोक्यात दगड घातल्यासारखी शासनाची अवस्था झाली होती.

हे सगळं आत्ता लिहिण्याचं कारण म्हणजे या काळात कलावंतांची झालेली परवड. समाज म्हणून आपण कलेकडे आणि कलावंतांकडे कसे पहातो, शासन म्हणून आपल्या लेखी कलेची आणि कलावंतांची किंमत काय अशा प्रश्नांची काहीशी माहित असलेली पण मान्य करायला अवघड अशी उत्तरं स्पष्टपणे समोर येत गेली. आपल्या समृद्ध संस्कृतीच्या वारश्याचा (आणि तो समृद्ध आहेच) डांगोरा पिटत असताना तो वारसा सांभाळणाऱ्या मंडळींकडे केलं जाणारं दुर्लक्ष आणि अवहेलना असहनीय आहे. सर्व प्रकारच्या समाज घटकांचा विचार होत असताना कला आणि कलावंत यांचा स्वच्छपणे पडलेला विसर हा अंगावर येणारा आहे.  

कोरोनानं माणसाला स्वतःकडे पेशींच्या पातळीवरून बघायला शिकवलं. मोठी गोष्ट झाली. पण माणूस म्हणजे केवळ पेशींचा समूह नाही ना… त्याला जिवंत राहण्यासोबतच आपल्यातलं माणूसपण ओळखण्याची, जपण्याची आणि जोपासण्याचीही आस आहे. आणि कला ही माणसाला तिथवर नेणारी एक वाट आहे. कलावंताला डावलून या वाटेवर कसं चालता येऊ शकेल?  

बहुसंख्य कलाकार मंडळी ही हातावर पोट असणाऱ्या असंघटीत कामगारांप्रमाणे असतात. रोज काम केलं तरच त्यांना पैसे मिळतात. त्यांना कुठलीही नोकरी नसते. आणि कुठल्याही मेहनातान्याची हमी नसते. किमान वेतन कायदा नसतो. तुमच्या निगोसिएशन कौशल्यावर तुमचा मेहनताना ठरतो. याला अर्थातच काही अपवाद आहेत. पण मूलतः पैसे देणाऱ्याची मेहेरबानी महत्वाची होऊन बसते.

समाज म्हणून आपण कलावंतांच्या आर्थिक परिस्थितीविषयी संपूर्णपणे अनभिज्ञ असतो. “ते स्टार लोक आहेत! सेलिब्रिटी आहेत! बक्कळ पैसे मिळवतात!” हे वाक्य अत्यंत नगण्य अशा कलावंत संख्येला लागू होते. बहुसंख्य कलावंत हे ‘स्टार’ नसतात. ते कष्टकरी असतात. कला हे क्षेत्र त्यांनी जाणीवपूर्वक स्वीकारलेलं असतं पण त्याचा व्यवसाय कसा करायचा याची अनेकांना अजिबात कल्पना नसते. अर्थात यालाही आपले सामाजिक समज कारणीभूत आहेत. कला ही जन्मजात असावी लागते इथपासून ते विविध मंडळींना लहान किंवा तरूण वयात प्रती-लता, प्रती-आशा, प्रती-बच्चन, अशी विशेषणे लावून त्यांची शिकण्याची उर्मी संपवून टाकण्यापर्यंत अनेक गोष्टी आपण करत रहातो. वेगवेगळे आयडॉल्स, सम्राट आणि सारेगंपुंच्या गोष्टी बघत राहतो. मला अनेकदा असं वाटतं की हा एक सामाजिक कट आहे की काय? कलावंताला महान म्हणायचं, त्याची कला अनमोल-अमूल्य आहे वगैरे म्हणायचं, त्याला मखरात बसवायचं आणि जवळ जवळ देवत्व बहाल करून टाकायचं. आणि एकदा देवत्व बहाल केलं की त्याला एक नारळ दिला तरी पुरतोच की! त्यालाही रोज दुपारी बारा वाजता भूक लागते याचं भान ठेवण्याची आपल्याला गरज भासत नाही.

कला आणि रंजन या दोन भिन्न गोष्टी आहेत याचंही आकलन आपण समाज म्हणून करून घेणं गरजेचं आहे. जे जे मनोरंजन करते ते सर्व कलात्मक असेलच असं अजिबात नाही. आणि रंजन करणं हीसुद्धा काही सोपी गोष्ट नाही. पण रंजन करतो म्हणून तो कलाकार असं समीकरण बनवलं की कलात्मकतेचा, सौंदर्याचा मुद्दा पूर्णपणे गौण करता येतो. प्रसिध्द होण्याची क्षमता हा कलेचा मापदंड नसतो. आणि हे लक्षात न घेतल्यामुळेच आपल्याकडच्या असंख्य पारंपारिक कला अस्तंगत होण्याच्या मार्गावर आहेत. त्यांचा उपयोग आपण तोंडी लावण्यापुरता आणि जाज्वल्य वगैरे अभिमान जागृत करण्यापुरताच करतो. प्रत्यक्षात त्यांच्या अस्तंगत होण्याने आपल्याला काहीही फरक पडत नाही.

गेल्या वर्षभरात आपल्याला असं दिसतं की समाजाच्या विविध घटकांना उपयोग होईल, मदत होईल असे अनेक निर्णय शासकीय पातळीवर घेण्याचा प्रयत्न झाला. पण कलावंतांसाठी कुठल्याही प्रकारची भरघोस मदत झाली नाही. काही ज्येष्ठ कलावंतांनीच पुढाकार घेऊन आपल्या खिशातून आणि आपल्या काही मित्र मंडळींच्या मदतीनं कलावंताना आर्थिक आधार देण्याचा प्रयत्न केला. बुडत्याला काडीचा का होईना, पण आधार मिळाला. तो स्पृहणीयच आहे. परंतु त्यांच्यापासून प्रेरणा घेऊन शासकीय पातळीवर मोठ्या प्रमाणात काहीही घडताना दिसले नाही.

कामगारांच्या पाठीशी त्यांच्या संघटना असतात, व्यापारी संघटना असतात, चेंबर ऑफ कॉमर्स असतात, पण कलावंत हे दुर्दैवानं राजाची मर्जी बसण्याची वाट पहात राहतात. कधीतरी राजा माझ्याकडे बघेल आणि त्याच्या गळ्यातला मोत्याचा कंठा माझ्याकडे फेकेल या आशेने गात रहातात, नाचत रहातात, अभिनय करत राहतात.

कलावंत हा बहुतेक वेळा आंतरिक ओढीनंच हे सारं करीत असतो. त्याचा कलंदरपणा लपून रहात नाहीच. पण सुदैवानं म्हणा किंवा दुर्दैवानं, पण तो सहसा बिलंदर नसतो. त्यामुळे तो रसिक प्रेक्षकांना मायबाप वगैरे म्हणतो. पण ते मायबाप प्रयोग संपल्यावर त्याला अत्यंत निरपेक्षपणे वाऱ्यावर सोडून देतात हे कटू सत्य आपण नाकारू शकत नाही. यातही जे शहाणे असतात, हुशार असतात, त्यांना याचा सुगावा आधीच लागलेला असतो. ते स्वतःच्या जगण्याची घडी वेगळ्या पद्धतीनं बसवतात. आत्तासारख्या परिस्थितीत त्यांना याची झळ कमी लागते. पण त्यांचीही संख्या अर्थातच नगण्य.

या सगळ्या परिस्थितीमध्ये बाकी सर्व व्यवहार सुरू झाले तरी नाट्यगृह सुरु होत नाहीत. मनोरंजनाच्या कार्यक्रमांना परवानगी मिळते पण नाट्यगृह बंदच ठेवावी लागतात. यातून कलावंताला हात चोळत बसण्यापलीकडे फारसं काही करताही येत नाही.

खरं सांगायचं तर नाट्यगृह बंदच राहणार हे समजल्यापासून कोरोनाचे धाबे दणाणले आहेत. आता आपलं कसं होणार अशी चिंता त्याला सतावू लागली आहे. तुळशीबाग, मंडई, लक्ष्मी रस्ता यापेक्षा हजारो पटींनी माणसं नाट्यगृहात असतात! तीच बंद झाली तर आपलं अस्तित्व कसं टिकणार? फक्त दिवसभराचा बाजार, रस्ते, ऑफिसेस, यांवर आपली गुजराण कशी होणार? आपल्याला संपविण्यासाठी या चतुर माणसांनी चक्क नाट्यगृह आणि चित्रपटगृह बंद करावीत? आमचा सर्वनाश करण्यासाठी असा रामबाण उपाय? आता अगदी नाईलाज म्हणून तुळशीबागेत जावं लागणार, मंडईत जावं लागणार, लक्ष्मी रोडवर जावं लागणार, उन्हातान्हात, भर पावसात आम्ही रस्त्यावर येणार… आमची हक्काची आणि लाडकी नाट्यगृह सोडून!

माझी तर खात्रीच झाली आहे की कोरोना हा एक नाट्यप्रेमी आणि चित्रपटप्रेमी जंतू आहे. (तसेही नाट्यप्रेमी आणि चित्रपटप्रेमी हे समाजाच्या दृष्टीनं जंतूच असतात). तो इतरत्र फारसा आढळत नाही. पण नाट्यगृह आणि चित्रपटगृह इथंच त्याचा मुक्काम असतो. या दोन जागा उघडल्या तर लाखोंच्या संख्येनं रसिकजन गर्दी करतील आणि कोरोनाला मेजवानीच मिळेल. सगळ्या जनतेला आता कलेचा आस्वाद घेण्याची इतकी आस लागली आहे की जिवाची पर्वा न करता तमाम लोक लोणावळा-खंडाळा आणि खडकवासला-सिंहगड या जागा रिकाम्या वाटाव्यात इतकी तुफान गर्दी करतील. धार्मिक आणि राजकीय उन्मादापेक्षा नाट्यगृह आणि चित्रपटगृह या जागा अधिक घातक आहेत. या दोन गोष्टी सुरु केल्या तर न भूतो न भविष्याती अशी परिस्थिती निर्माण होईल. कोट्यावधी माणसे मृत्युमुखी पडतील. आणि अशी भयावह परिस्थिती निर्माण होऊ नये यासाठीच बहुधा या दोन्ही जागा बंद ठेवण्यात येऊन बाकीचे सर्व व्यवहार जवळ जवळ पूर्ववत करण्यात आले असावेत.

आमचा पिंड नाटकाचा असल्यामुळे आम्ही आमच्या नाटकांचे प्रयोग जाहीर करतो आहोत. परंतु त्याची तारीख आणि वेळ आम्ही जाहीर करू शकत नाही. त्यासाठी आम्हाला सात दिवस लागतील. सात दिवसांनी, आठव्या दिवशी काहीच न घडल्यास, अजून सात दिवस लागतील. असे किती काळ होईल याची आम्हांस कल्पना नाही. पण तोपर्यंत दहावा आणि तेरावा दिवसही उलटून गेला असल्यामुळे कावळाही शिवून गेला असेल. मग आम्ही प्रयोग करून तृप्त होऊ किंवा कलेच्या आणि कलावंतांच्या संपूर्ण मरणाची आणि पुनर्जन्माची वाट पाहू.

ता.क.: कावळा शिवला नाही तर तो त्रस्त समंध कुणाच्या मानगुटीवर बसेल ते काही सांगता येत नाही. कावळ्याचे तळतळाट लागू नयेत यासाठी संबंधितांनी आपापली काळजी घेण्याचा प्रयत्न करून बघावा.

अजून एक ता.क.: बहुतांचे जीव वाचविण्याच्या प्रयत्नात थोडेसे कलावंत मेले तरी फारसे काही बिघडत नाही. तसेही ते किरकोळच आहेत.

कलावंतांसाठी ता.क.: आपण विक्रम आणि वेताळ वाचूया… तशीही डोक्याची शंभर शकले होतच आहेत… पण विक्रमादित्याने आपला हट्ट सोडला नाही हे लक्षात ठेवूया..

#कोरोनाव्हायरसचाकोरस #नाटकमरूदे #संगीतमरूदे #नृत्यमरूदे #कलामरूदे


Peanuts for the Sellers of Magic Beans

The Balancing Act by IAPAR, directed by Prasad Vanarase at Amta, West Bengal

The other day, I had an enlightening conversation with my two-year-old niece. Our conversations have levelled up from being in philosophical gibberish to philosophical Marathi these days and I couldn’t be happier about it. We were sitting on our balcony staring at the sky when I found that the little child was unusually quiet. She was staring at nowhere for some time. First I thought she was mimicking me, which she does quite a lot these days. But then I realized, she was lost in her thoughts. So I asked her what she was thinking about. Now those of you who know Marathi would know that the acts of thinking and asking are conveyed through the same word – vichar. “Aga kasla vichar kartyes?” I asked. Now, this little girl wasn’t familiar with the other meaning of the word. So she instantly thought that I was asking her what she’s asking. “Kunala?” she retorted – To whom? I couldn’t help but laugh. Then I asked her what’s on her mind. “Kay chalue dokyat?” To which she was terrified because she thought something was running on her head. So I just hugged her and let her ponder upon whatever urgent matter she was dealing with. But I thought to myself, how wonderful it is that we start thinking before understanding what thinking means. Then she pointed out to a person on the road from our balcony and asked me where that uncle was going. I said I didn’t know. She seemed disappointed with that answer. I doubt she believed me. I don’t blame her for that. I remember believing that adults know everything.

A friend once told me about a funny situation she was caught up in. She was bathing her 3-year-old son and he began to cry. He was furious and he was crying. She asked him what happened. He pointed towards the sinkhole. “Someone’s taking away the water. I want it back!” She didn’t know what to do to distract the child. She asked me, “Now how am I supposed to explain to my little one the law of gravity when he’s only three?” 

It’s miraculous and wonderful to see little children ask questions about big things. This statement applies to the elder ones too. They believe in strange ideas and don’t buy the most obvious ones. That’s what makes them the most unpredictable and most challenging audience to perform for. They will surprise you by laughing in moments where you didn’t expect laughter or react to moments that you didn’t expect them to understand. Yet, oftentimes, they would not even react in moments where you had thought they surely would.

I was working on a story with some sixth graders. We were working on folk stories. In every drama class, we read one folk story and dramatised it in groups. The story for that session was a Chinese folktale commonly titled ‘Emperor’s New clothes.’ For those of you who don’t know, it’s about an emperor who is obsessed with buying new clothes. He’s a true connoisseur of textile. One day two thieves come to the palace and tell him that they have a unique ability to weave gold and silver and gems and riches into a cloth that fools can’t see. Everyone in the kingdom, including the king, pretends that they see the cloth for the fear of being taken as fools. He pretends to wear it and goes out on a small parade. When I asked my students what they thought the story was about, many students said that they think it’s about a king who got fooled by two cunning thieves. But one girl said to me that she thinks it’s about a man who decided to believe in a unique idea and then when he realised that he was deceived, tried to get out of the bad situation with confidence.

How sad would it have been had I told her what the supposed moral of the story was? Her question made me think more about this. What content do we let our children consume? Is it really what they need or only what we want them to need?

Content for children is usually looked down upon. Stories that adults don’t find interesting are handed over to them like hand-me-down clothes. Now hand-me-down clothes are wonderful. They are more comfortable than the newer ones. But I wouldn’t agree with the same about content. It is either that, or the widespread belief that people who can’t create content for adults end up doing it for children. How hard must it be to write for children? What’s the big deal in building a performance that a child can enjoy? How hard must it be to write textbooks? People underestimate the power of children’s literature, of children’s theatre just as much as they underestimate the work done by people who work with children. Stories have power. Theatre has power. And that’s why children should receive content that is nourishing enough for their minds and souls. That which fulfils the needs of both entertainment and knowledge likewise.

Neil Gaiman once quoted C. S. Lewis saying, “There is no such thing as writing for children.” I would like to re-quote him in a broader sense. C. S. Lewis probably believed that he wrote, and people decided that it was for children! I believe it is the same for theatre. A theatre performance that is devised for a younger audience shouldn’t ideally be something that is put down to them by the adults. Adults should be able to enjoy it just the same. If you can’t find it interesting, it’ll be wrong to expect them to find it interesting too.

As easy as it is to bring your content to the market of little people willing to buy anything you present, the biggest challenge is sustaining their attention. I once attended a wonderful performance of Hansel and Gretel for children at a literary festival. The storyteller was surrounded by little children like honey bees on a honeycomb, all of whom had taken the liberty of interaction very seriously. Every time the story went a little further, they’d ask her completely unrelated questions that were haunting them so badly, they needed the answers right away. And her? She was answering only what was necessary to take the story forward without hurting any little mind. The performance was thrilling. One boy ,in particular, was persistent in asking a question and she realized how important the question was for him. The performer wisely chose her words to make sure he got the answer and also made him realise that the question was a little out of context, without hurting him. She wasn’t only following rules, she also knew when to break them. 

Many people work with children in various ways; as parents, teachers, caregivers, facilitators, and content creators. They struggle with this common issue of not knowing what is meant for children and what is not. I’d say that the best way of doing the right thing is knowing that there is no right thing. Working with children is a mysterious, magical, wonderful, tough, and mind-boggling voyage and if you are sailing it, you should know that you have a gift. We see a lot of advertisements for protein powders promising the right kind of nutrients to children. We always worry about nutrition for the body but nutrition for the mind is just as important. If children get just what their minds and souls need, I can’t wait to see how beautiful the world would become. 

So does that mean explaining the law of gravity to a 3-year-old is necessary? Absolutely! Does giving psychology, sociology and philosophy lessons to school-goers count? Yes, anything and everything their minds and souls need. Does accepting your mistake when they have caught you go wrong count? Yes. It does. 

How funny is it that the makers of content for small people have to ensure that they create content that also appeals to the parents that decide if it is suitable? Parents, teachers and everyone who helps reach content to children play a very important role in what a child consumes. We control what our child sees and reads and listens to. This is one of the primary reasons why a lot of content creators end up doing things that will please the controllers of content. I won’t blame them. Everyone has their bills to pay. It is, however, important to keep our priority the nourishing of young minds and souls. That’s where a greater future for this beautiful world lies.


Dancers Don’t Talk About Dance

“Dancers don’t talk about dance, dancers talk about other dancers!”

In Transit by IAPAR, directed by Aditi Venkateshwaran.

A very wise eighty two year old friend of mine once said this to me in an unknown, unhinged moment, through her infinite wisdom. Ever since, these words I carry within me, my work and the community I represent. It’s always nice when things work out fairly. But more often than not, that’s not the case. Especially for artists, more so for dancers! We are creatures of habit. Human interaction, whether physical, emotional, intellectual or psychological, is at the core of our existence. In the past year, especially, we have been struggling to make sense of a lot of things that our narratives revolve around.

We’re trying to hold on, move ahead with the struggles that surround us. Many moments in a very confused and troubled time and space, trying to find stronger voices and form new perspectives of how we can grow and create a better future for our children and this earth. How does dance fit into this troubled narrative? How do we continue to move in restricted spaces with tired and confused bodies? How do we make ends meet with our art and whatever it represents for us? Do we have each other’s backs?

One year already into the pandemic, and yet, no one has any more clarity on the future of dance and performing arts. Have we even learned our lessons yet? What is our tribe? Where do we belong? Do we have a community? Some of these questions have always come back to me throughout my journey as a dancer. For a classical dancer who never quite “made it,” I rebelled pretty early. And I don’t think I’ve yet “made it” into the contemporary world either. See the thing is, I’m not even sure if I want to. My journey with my dance and my practice goes much deeper and beyond and I’m glad it is what it is right now. Dance for me is no longer a routine, or a choreography or a style. It is a way of life, a philosophy of sorts, a trigger that has changed things for me like nothing else before. It made me listen to my body, believe in it, nurture it. Dance lives in me – deep in my skin and bones, in the injuries on the outside and the scars within. It makes me question everything – my faith, my loyalties, my privileges.  It makes me dig deeper into questions about where we belong, where we come from and where we’re headed. Especially this entire year.

For a community that thrives on philanthropic activities, patronage and community support, it has been pretty sudden for most artists to have that link completely cut off.  Almost everyone around us, especially in bigger cities have started looking at alternative mediums to explore. Online teaching and collaborations have become a thing and alternative sources of livelihood are more essential than ever. It is becoming evident that being the expert of just “ONE” thing is no longer beneficial. With social media and technology taking over our lives like never before – we need to look at acquiring alternative skills to survive. Honestly, more than anything else, finding relevance in the given scheme of things has become a bigger struggle for most of the dancers.

In Transit by IAPAR, directed by Aditi Venkateshwaran.

“Suddenly we were no longer essential, until we were.”

I recently read a wonderful article about ‘THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER CHOLUTEKA” by Prakash Iyer and I want to quote something from it that I find very relevant to this conversation – “The challenge for us is that we get focused on creating the best solution to a given problem. We forget that the problem itself might change.” We are all focusing on building the strongest, most sophisticated products or services, without thinking of the possibility that the need could vanish. The market could change. ‘BUILD TO LAST’ might have been a popular mantra, but ‘BUILD TO ADAPT’ could be the way to go!” I’m going to try very hard to not become another voice in the chaos and the anxiousness that surrounds us as artists, but what I feel we really need to immediately do is start looking beyond the arts. Start looking at science, at technology, at the society, at the products that govern our lives and those who we live with. The only way to incorporate innovation in our work is to be more open and accepting. 

Becoming accepting towards nature itself – how we treat nature, how we treat each other – will define our existence going ahead. Virtual or physical, to survive – we need to listen very carefully and observe. Physical spaces will always be around us, whether as our homes or black box theatres and proscenium spaces. Dance will always exist, but physical spaces running as business ventures will have to be recalibrated to fit the current narratives. 2020 has been a year of pause, of reflection and immense creative reimagination. In the wake of and still in the midst of a pandemic, how do we begin again? Are we looking at each other? Are we holding onto each other?

29th April is celebrated as International Day of Dance, and to celebrate that, a little perspective from the principal dancer of the Stuttgart Ballet – Friedemann VOGEL the author of the International Dance Day Message 2021 by ITI!

“Everything starts with movement – an instinct we all have – and dance is movement refined to communicate. Much as flawless technique is important and impressive, it is ultimately what the dancer expresses inside the movement that is the essence. As dancers, we are constantly on the move, aspiring to create these unforgettable moments. Regardless of the dance genre, it’s what every dancer strives to achieve. So, when all of a sudden, we aren’t allowed to perform anymore, with theatres closed and festivals cancelled, our worlds come to a standstill. No physical contact. No shows. No audiences. Never in recent history has the dance community been so collectively challenged to stay motivated, to find our raison d’être. Yet, it is precisely when something precious has been taken away from us that we truly appreciate how vital it is what we do, and how much dance means to society at large. Dancers are often celebrated for their physical prowess, when in fact we are sustained even more by our mental strength. I believe it is this unique combination of physical and psychological agility that will help us overcome, to reinvent ourselves to keep dancing, and to keep inspiring.”

I wish on everyone a little happy dance for a moment, a phase, a few years and for eternity – Hoping for a  better version of our future selves, and for reaching back to one another with inspiration, hunches, instincts, and impulses, just like when we move. When our bodies touch each other, when our eyes meet, when time takes off – breaking our bodies to the same rhythm – to help us bridge all gaps, connecting all the dots. Infinite possibilities –  Like a metronome!

The next is unknown yet exciting, and I have a feeling this pandemic is going to become a very important narrative of this generation’s artistic practise. So while I’m making space to mourn for what is lost, I’m also very desperately trying to look for the unimagined opportunities that may live.

Aditi Venkateshwaran

29th April 2021

Pune, India


All the Whole World – Our Stage?

Indian theatre and other performing arts have always been rooted in tradition. Performed in various Indian languages and in English, theatre in India today has immense diversity and potential. Younger artists are now addressing issues such as identity crises and the thematic handling of postmodernist angst. We take pride in our cultural roots, but funnily enough, we don’t do much to take these far on an international level, aside from the practices of tokenism. Contemporary modern Indian theatre longs to break away from these practices and create a space for itself, yet it often finds itself in a half-hearted effort to rebel against that which it does not truly understand. Our identity on the global stage is a confused, scattered truth, and while it understandably stems from the lack of a structured “Indian identity,” it also requires immediate attention to ensure continued growth in a fast-changing reality.

In the process of representing cultures and communicating this representation across cultures, some features are identified as ‘hallmarks’ of a particular culture. One needs to approach this representation with an open but wary mind and take note of the various nuances of cultures. Global understanding stems from an open-minded approach to the local truths. This approach is a part of the wider curiosity that we as artists must perpetually hold onto, not just to be able to create together but also to be able to learn from one another. Despite our differences in ethnicity, religion, race and access, we are artists who are devoted to a single goal – to create art. World Theatre Day was initiated in 1962 by the International Theatre Institute (ITI), an initiative of UNESCO. It started with 12 centres and now it has more than 90 centres around the world. Today World Theatre Day is celebrated to encourage the globally shared spirit of theatre.

When we create a performance, we want to present it in our town, we want to present it in Pune, in Mumbai, eventually in different parts of the country. On the same lines, what stops us from taking our ambition international? We share our work with people because we believe maximum people deserve to witness our art, as do we deserve to share it with them. Yet our imagination, ambition and faith is often limited by these physical and political borders. Similarly, a great need is also felt for initiatives to bring in international perspectives into the Indian theatre scene. The number of international theatre festivals that take place consistently in India today is a mere handful.

To be a global citizen is a responsibility, and it is also the need of the hour. The modern Indian theatre community is facing a crisis that it is refusing to address. One of the main reasons for this crisis, I believe, is a lack of enthusiasm for international collaboration and a global outlook. We are unable to reinvent ourselves, and we will never be able to truly do so if we refuse to expand our horizons. The advent of social media and other technologies is, without a doubt, a boon for all industries as well as the performing arts, but it is also far from enough. As artists, we still face questions of access, opportunity and networking that will not be solved without initiative. I do not claim international collaboration will rid the theatre community of all its problems, but I do believe that inviting performers from other countries, cultures, ethnicities and offering local students of theatre – formal and informal – an opportunity to view and learn from these artists will sometime, somewhere down the road create inspiration that is otherwise fairly unimaginable.

Over a  century ago, we struggled to formulate an Indian identity. Today, alongside this challenge, we must also forge a greater global identity for ourselves that is not based on mere tokenism but on an adventurous, curious and ambitious outlook.

Photo Courtesy: Carolin Sanders (Switzerland) IAPAR International Theatre Festival 2019