An Opportunity to Look East – IIC Experience | Manohar Khushalani

Being Human The Play
Being Human – The woman with sagging breasts

Condensed Version Published in IIC Diary Nov - Dec 2018
During the North East fest on Monday, the 29th October, 2018, at the Fountain Lawns, the audience was confronted by a disturbing solo performance by actor director, Lapdiang Syiem from Meghalaya, called A Being — Human; Being Human Human Beings. She was supported by a one man multitasking band, Apkyrmenskhem Tangsong, who played a variety of Khasi folk instruments, such as; maryngod, bisli & ksing. The play opened with Syiem emerging from the audience, with sagging breasts provocatively stitched to her costume, challenging at the top of her voice with the agonized delivery of an embryo symbolized by a balloon emerging from her womb. Later many balloons were burst on stage, as if they were marginalised humans whose survival didn’t matter. Besides portraying angst about loss of identity, dislocation and violence, one also perceived reflections of real life events being portrayed abstractly, but, at the same time, the finger pointing at the audience was also implied, though unobtrusively. It was as if they were accomplices in the death of a mother, Ka Likai, who upon learning about the death of her daughter in hands of her current husband, jumped over the water fall, which is named after her – Nohkalikai Falls. Then there is Sophia, the robot programmed to behave like a human being, who is a Saudi citizen, who also wants to bear a child without having a clue about the pangs of child birth. It wasn’t as if she was only challenging the ruling class, Syiem also had a dig at the Khasi tribal society which disowned a woman who married a non Khasi.

The Vibrant ambiance at the IIC North East Festival 2018

Earlier on the same day we had a presentation by Soli Roy about a Manipuri play, Crimson Rainclouds, written by his own mother, Sahitya Akademi Awardee, Binodini Devi (1922–2011). The play draws on the playwright’s dialogues with the eminent sculptor, Ramkinkar Baij (1906-1980), with whom she studied in Santiniketan, and who has left behind a big collection of sculptures and paintings of Binodini. Born a princess, she broke free unhindered by her royal past, to live life to the hilt as a creative commoner, and evolved into an iconic Manipuri modernist, through her outstanding contributions to poetry, visual arts and dance. Collaborating with filmmaker Aribam Syam Sharma, she also scripted his award winning films.

There was a heartwarming poetry reading session by following poets of the North East. Anice Pariat, Anjum Hasan, Mona Zote, Lalnunsanga Ralte, Mamang Dai Guru & T. Ladakhi However all poems read out at the event were in English, some wrote only in that language, others did write also in their mother tongue, but chose to read out only the English ones. Due to lack of space I share a poem only by T. Ladakhi


Separated by twelve years,
both born in the year of the snake.
She was the youngest child
and he the eldest son.
My uncle is the head of his clan.

Soon after my mother died
just shy of her 53rd birthday,
my uncle stops imprinting his memory
as if it did not matter anymore.
I remember my mother’s tender story,
how he carried her as a fading child on his back
trekking for several days to “Phur Chachu”-*
invoking the gods with his fierce love-
a brother grows taller and taller in a little girl’s eyes.

I meet him now and then since twenty two years ,
drooped are his broad shoulders,
gone is his ruddy vigour.
He bothers me for some tobacco and rum
this time I carry none.
Memory and awareness are the materials of the mind,
but time is a fabrication.
Amidst obviously embarrassed cousins,
he inquires who I am and to state my purpose of visit.
I tell him I’m his kid sister’s son,
he looks at me most incredulous,
my grey beard finally pulling the rug under him.
He beckons me to his side and declares
that I’m a most disgusting low-life liar.
* the holy hot water spring in South-Sikkim, India popular among pilgrims seeking cures.
Condensed Version Published in IIC Diary Nov – Dec 2018

Aurangzeb – a critique of the play by Manohar Khushalani

A review of the play performed at IIC in March 2013
First Published in IIC Diary March April 2013

The story of Aurangzeb is well known. In 1657, Emperor Shahjahan fell ill, leading to a war of succession among his four sons, The main contenders were Dara Shuko and Aurangzeb supported by their sisters, Jahanara and Roshanara respectively,

The Emperor, however, favoured his eldest son Dara, who, was conveniently present at Agra and willing to undertake his financially wasteful project of building a black-marble-masoleum for his father on the other side of Yamuna river facing Mumtaz’s Tajmahal. The playwright, Indira Parthasarthy, through Ideological Interplay and historical references to the earlier secular reign of Akbar, has brought out the inner conflicts of the characters.

The Director K.S. Rajendran has evolved a gripping tale through his presentation. The set was erected in the IIC rose garden. By relocating simple elements such as an arch, a make shift throne, a stool, Rajendran was able to switch the ambience from a palace, to a prison, to a war-zone. It was a treat to watch intense performances by actors playing Aurangzeb (Mahendra Mewati), Roshanara (Priyanka Sharma), Dara, and Shahjahan (Neelesh Deepak). In different productions, one has seen very different interpretation of the same historic event.

Ajoka theatre group from Pakistan presented ‘Dara Shuko’, in Bharat Rang Mahotsav, in 1911, which was totally empathetic to the elder brother Dara. Rajendran’s play empathised with Aurangzeb, highlighting him as a tragic figure who was repentant in his old age. The play was written during Emergency and in some ways reflects the political compulsions of that time as well.

Manohar Khushalani
March 20, 2013

Aurangzeb – The Play
First Published in IIC Diary March April 2013

Diary of Anne Frank – a review by Manohar Khushalani

Original Title: A face of fascism published in Pioneer on 31/12/2000
DOI: 10.6084/m9.figshare.12639266

A Leaf from Diary of Anne Frank

Ruchika Theatre Group is one of the oldest surviving theatre groups of Delhi. The reason is simple. It keeps regenerating itself. The Diary of Anne Frank was one such exercise in which, Feisal Alkazi, the director of the play, used an entirely inexperienced cast, inducted from the Little Actors Club. Obviously, therefore, there would be unevenness of talent, but viewed within those limitations The show put up at India Habitat Centre last week held together due to sheer sincerity of effort and excellent performance by Gayatri Khanna, Keerthana Mohan and Sahil Gill. The actress who deserves special mention is Aarti Sethi, who gave a vivacious performance in the lead role of Anne Frank, despite the fact that she had an asthmatic attack just before the show began.

The Diary of Anne Frank has sold more than 25 million copies, since it was first published in 1947. Anne Frank has become a symbol of 10 million Jews murdered by Hitler, one million of whom were children like her.

The theatrical version of this diary by Mrs and Mr Hackett was published four years later in 1951. It is a lucid and slick adaptation of the diary of the sensitive Jewish teenager who died at Bergen-Belsen, Germany, in 1945. Anne Frank received this ready-to-write diary on her 13th birthday, just before she and her family had to go into hiding in Amsterdam, which was occupied by Hitler’s army since 1940.

Her engagingly personal account in which she was cooped up in a stifling Attic for over two years with her parents, sister Margot, another family, the Van Dans and Janice Dussel – a fastidious middle aged dentist who had little patience for Anne’s effervescent liveliness.

The chronicle derives it’s appeal from its engaging mix of the mucky details of life during war and candid revelations of confused emotions of an adolescent girl.

Otto Frank began preparing and stocking an attic behind his business office at Prinsengracht 263 into a hiding place. When the freedom of the Jews began to be severely restricted, with does and don’ts about where they could shop, swim or study. It is this annexe where all the action in the play takes place. Feisal had orchestrated simultaneous action in various living areas of this claustrophobic space that brought alive the ambiance. In one scene while Anne is talking to Margo in the bedroom. In the meanwhile Janice waits impatiently on the sofa for them to finish their conversation in the living room, others are playing cards at the table. It was such skillful touches that heightened the drama.

According to the director, Feisal Alkazi, improvisations were used to develop this as a play about fascism mainly to get the younger generation involved in the issues. However, the improvisations appeared to bring out the tension between the generations. The political statement emerged more in the brochure, at the level of relationships. Älso, the sexual empathy between Anne and Van Dan’s son Peter, the mixed feelings between the two sisters; and, above all, the relationship between “a girl of 13 who has no friends” and an inanimate object – her diary – whom she chose to call ‘Kitty’, were all well worked out. As usual Feisal had chosen his music pieces well and the clear playbacks of well-recorded voice-overs synchronised perfectly with the action on stage. MK

Diary of Anne Frank
A Face of Fascism

An Ode to Sushant | Renu Mal

An Ode to Sushant (Image courtesy Instagram)

Everyone is talking about Sushant Rajput today. Why is it that people gather and media gets hysterical when a tragedy happens.. The fact is that we all are so consumed by ourselves that we do not even lift our heads to notice a person sitting next to us.
Forget reaching out, we ignore people who do reach out to us too.
I had written a poem about forty years back, and that holds good even today.
Read and look around… You may be able to help another Sushant…

A man alive
Searches for a shoulder
To lean on
To cry, to rest,
To draw strength from
He begs for it
Cries for it
And in the end
Dies for it
In vain.
And then
There are
Not one
Not two
But four shoulders
Carrying him to his graveyard
And many more
Willing ones
Walking behind
The fools don't understand
If they had given him one
He wouldn't have died
He would be alive.

The Elusive Mr Tanvir / Partha Chatterjee

Habib Tanvir (Courtesy Outlook)

       Habib Tanvir (1923-2009), was perhaps the most famous Theatre personality in north India. An actor-manager in the Old-School mould, he led a crowded professional life, which, over the years, had invariably spilt over into private moments with family, friends and lovers, often to detrimental effect. The Raipur-born Habib Ahmed Khan assumed the nom-de-plume of Tanvir after he started writing poetry in Urdu in his senior years at school. He rose to fame as the founder-director of Naya Theatre along with his wife, Moneeka MisraTanvir, a strong,dedicated and talented theatre person in her own right. The actors were from the folk-theatre of Chattisgarh, near Raipur in Madhya Pradesh. It was through his unknown but highly accomplished actors and actresses that Tanvir was able to create a body of work in the Hindustani (Hindi-Urdu) theatre that stands alone.  Two plays that come to mind and were hugely popular in their time, are Agra Bazar, based on the times of Nazir Akbarabadi( d-1830), the great Urdu poet, and, Charandas Chor  taken from a Chattisarhi folk tale.  Not without reason, he has remained for many, the most important director- playwright in the region. He was, for all his artistic accomplishments, a sadly flawed man. Without purporting to be a review of his memoirs, simply titled ‘’Habib Tanvir : Memoirs’’,  (publisher-Penguin-Viking) this piece is a rebuttal of some of its contents to set the record straight.

The book is a translation from the Urdu by Mahmood Farooqui, a well-known historian and performer of Dastangoi, a near extinct art of story-telling, popular in 19th century Avadh, of which Lucknow was the cultural centre. Habib Tanvir’s life has been reconstructed through a series of remembrances dictated to Farooqui. One of the problems to arise from such an excercise is the propensity of the person remembering, to distort facts that may be too painful or embarrassing to remember. There were many such instances in Tanvir’s life but his letting down  of Barbara Jill Christie nee Macdonald, a fine trained singer from Dartington Hall, Devonshire, England is the worst because it had a far reaching psychological effect on Anna, the talented singer daughter born of this relationship, on Nageen , his daughter from his marriage to Moneeka. The shadows of Anna and her mother Jill, through no fault of their own, always hovered over Nageen and her late mother Moneeka.  Tanvir continued to visit Anna and her mother Jill, in England and France till 1996, when he was seventy three.

When Habib Tanvir had first met Jill, in England, he was thirty two and she, an easily impressionable sixteen. The year was 1955. He was handsome, dashing, a poet, and a student at RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts) in London. There was no Moneeka Misra then, on the horizon. He was already a man of the world, though with the airs of an idealist. It was easy to capture Jill’s heart. She loved him with a kind of sincerity and intensity that possesses the starry-eyed young, who in their optimism can go through hell and high water in search of the pure and the beautiful. One must also remember that when Habib and Jill had met the Second World War had ended only eight years ago, and the world, then as now, was desperately in need of love and hope.

It was indeed a pleasure and a revelation meeting Barbara Jill Christie and Anna, a couple of years earlier at the India International Centre in New Delhi. An elegant, handsome lady of seventy two, Jill, came across as a cultured, really educated, as opposed to highly literate, though she was that too, person who viewed the past, that is, her relationship with Habib Tanvir, with warmth, and a certain detachment. She was quite aware of the fact that in spite of being treated irresponsibly by him, she had played an important role in his life, not the least because of Anna, their daughter and the three grandsons. Anna’s first son, Mukti, is eighteen; his grandmother has addressed her memoirs titled, ‘’Dreaming of Being’’ to him.  The recollections are written as a long letter to him, interspersed with his grandfather Habib’s letters written to Jill, his grandmother, over a period of nearly twenty years; beginning in  1955, and with the last letter dated 15 April, 1964.


The following quotation  appears on page one of the manuscript:-

The desire to write a letter, to put down what you don’t want anybody else to see but the person you are writing to, but which you do not want to be destroyed, but perhaps hope may be preserved for complete strangers to read, is ineradicable. We want to confess ourselves in writing to a few friends, and we do not always want to feel that no one but those friends will ever read what we have written.”

_ T S Eliot

This beginning, on a note of seriousness, is sustained throughout the narrative of 153 pages. Barbara Jill Christie writes with deep but controlled emotion and respect for her chosen subject.

Anna Tanvir has written the foreword to her mother’s Memoirs. She begins thus, “ I first read my father’s letters written to my mother a few months after his death. I was sitting in the aeroplane on my way to India to attend a festival celebrating his life and work that was taking place in Bhopal in October 2009. It was a confusing moment as I had not been to the state funeral held in held in Bhopal a few months earlier, and had not had the time to absorb the finality of his absence, nor was I sure why I was undertaking this journey at this particular moment. I simply felt I had to go to where he lived, meet the actors of Naya Theatre whom I knew well, and meet my Indian family; I needed to be in India, on his home-ground, to properly accept that he was no longer physically there.“

Nageen, Habib and Moneeka’s daughter, and Anna’s half-sister, always remained deeply unhappy at  her father’s philandering with various women over the years, though she would dutifully accompany  him  when he visited Jill and Anna in England and France in his old age. Once, in Exeter, Nageen, having gone to stay with Jill and Anna, turned hysterical. She kept saying that Jill did not really know Habib, for the compulsive womaniser he was. She also held Jill responsible for her mother’s continuous unhappiness. Nageen, all too aware of her father’s failings, loved him  unconditionally.  She could not tolerate the fact that she had to always share her father’s love with Anna and Jill. Habib, in his old age called Anna and Jill, “my two pearls”. He was spot on. Anna, born in Ireland, seven months before Nageen, is a gifted singer and has several albums to her credit. Nageen is a fine singer of the folk songs of Chattisgarh she learnt from the actors in her father’s troupe,  is also  a trained singer, she has also learnt Hindustani vocal music from the famous Salochana Yajurvedi. Anna and Nageen continue to be distanced from each other.

The release of Habib Tanvir’s memoirs on 28 May, 2013  at the Habitat Centre, New Delhi  was a sham Public Relations job. Translator Mahmood Farooqui went on stage with Nageen, and together the two, lionised the deceased Tanvir. The announcer, a young lady, set the proceedings in motion by calling him one of the greatest Indian theatre directors of the 20th century; a fact that can be challenged by the serious followers of the work of Shambhu Mitra, Utpal Dutt and Ajitesh Bandopadhyay, all stalwarts of the Bengali theatre, and Jabbar Patel, a major figure of the Marathi stage. It was a veritable love-in, where critical judgement had been completely suspended. Habib Tanvir, the uncanny spotter of talent hardly got a mention. He was instead hailed as a messiah of Indian theatre, who worked with hardly any props, in the last twenty five years of his career. No one said while his minimalist approach was often very effective, he was not the first to use it well. There was not a word about Jill and Anna, for all practical purpose they did not exist. They are mentioned, albeit in passing, in the closing portion of the book. What Tanvir, with his cavalier attitude to facts related to his private life, could not ignore, his craven fans did.

As stated earlier, this is not a review of his memoirs but an attempt to redress a wrong committed fifty years earlier. Habib,, at forty, is still playing the ‘young Lochivar’; this is after his marrying the constant, deeply loving but neurotic Moneeka, and the consigning of Jill far into the background. In a letter dated 21 December 1963, written to Jill from Raipur, MP, he says thus :-

Dearest Jill,          

                                                                      Yes, I know. You have every right to feel sore. It is five weeks since I arrived. Well, this is the first time I am writing any letter at all. But darling, not for a day have you ever been out of my mind. I was having the sweetest thoughts about you and your wonderful letter was so welcome. It came in very good time. And I began to visualise all kinds of lovely things about you. Actually this is the first time we have ever shared life at all properly and for any length of time – and the whole things haunts.

He proceeds to tell about the acute paucity of funds and how theatre groups were falling all over him to work with them. To quote from the letter once more, “My mind goes back to each detail whenever parallel situations occur striking a contrast and I even think of the peace with which we shared our monies. Oh thank you so much Jill darling for all that most wonderful period of time”. Jill, writing to her grandson nearly fifty years after receiving the letter said, “I like this letter so much Mukti and I remember being overjoyed to get it – the longest Habib ever wrote to me and full of warmth and interesting news.”

Domesticity never suited him, though he had schooled himself into accepting it, lest he seem an ingrate to Moneeka and Nageen, and vital, rejuvenating romance that had awakened the artist in him after he fell in love with Jill, became a dream he could not sustain with any degree of consistency or loyalty. He was cleaved right down the middle of his being, if such a thing were possible.

Jill remembers in her memoirs, “By this I was still living in London but had to move into the house of a friend called Betsy Phillips, a rare and wonderful being. She had been an art teacher who taught me when i was a child. I had loved her lessons and we had always kept in touch.  … She was not censorious, either of myself or Habib, nor particularly worried, which was most unusual under the circumstances! She seemed to be more than a little excited that a baby was coming along. I think the idea of a new life appealed very much to her sensitive, creative nature and she knew that I had loved Habib for many years, and that I would cope. That such a thoughtful person actually believed in me was indeed a great help.”

Habib ‘s take on Jill, her pregnancy, and then motherhood, in his memoirs is weary and  resigned.

“Somehow, Jill managed to trace me in Dallas, Texas, and landed there. From there she accompanied me to New Orleans, East Virginia and Washington D.C.  and stuck to me like a shadow. This was a great phase for my poetry. .. I came back via London and went to Edinburgh from there. Jill’s dream eventually bore fruit. Anna was born on 6 May 1964. Later Jill married Christie who gave her another daughter. … When both daughters joined school, Jill wanted them to have separate identities – one should have Christy as a surname and the other should be called Tanvir. She sent me the school form, and I signed it and sent it back. … But Moneeka did not like it.” (pg 308, Habib Tanvir : Memoirs).

He goes on to say how Moneeka, who had earlier lost their first child in Panchmarhi, had three miscarriages in quick succession. This was after Tanvir’s return to Delhi in 1963. Thanks to the timely intervention of Sheela Malhotra, who advised Moneeka to use a bolster under her feet while lying down, Nageen was born 28 November 1964. “Moneeka was amazed and always considered Sheela to be Nageen’s second mother.” (pg 308, Habib Tanvir : Memoirs).

Habib’s life, over the years, thus rolled on amongst the comings and goings of girl friends, with whom, to his amazement, Moneeka, invariably bonded! Jill, of course was an exception, she was the great love of his life and the mother of his child, and so, was the ‘outsider’ whom, Habib, could  neither forget, nor give up. He visited Mother and daughter, whenever he could.  His silence, for some years following the birth of Anna was, in retrospect, not inexplicable. He just did not know how to accept responsibility for his actions, especially in his private life, not that he would acknowledge, much less accept, responsibility for his feckless and even cruel behaviour towards colleagues in his professional life. Deep down inside he seemed to be convinced that since he was an artiste, he was entitled to behave as he pleased.

Habib Tanvir’s training in England in Theatre, first at Rada in direction, following which, a stint in acting at the Bristol Old Vic, cured of participating in the joys of the proscenium theatre and the dramaturgy it required. He was for a more spontaneous kind of theatre  that had its roots in the Indian soil, where sets and props were imaginative, and could be carried in a couple of suitcases and actors could express themselves with ease and freedom. 1954, found him working with Begum Qudsia Zaidi’s Hindustani Theatre in Delhi. She had managed to gather around herself several talented artistes, amongst them Habib Tanvir, the Hyderabadi Urdu poet Niaz Haider, the music composer from Bengal, Jyotirindranath Moitra, who had at one time or another been associated with IPTA ( Indian Peoples Theatre Association), the cultural arm of the Communist Party of India

Hindustani Theatre did three Sanskrit plays, Mriccha Kattikam by Shudraka, Shakuntala by Kalidas , and a play each of Bhasa and Bhavbhuti. It was with Hindustani Theatre that Habib Tanvir did his first production of Agra Bazar comprising tableaux of life in the times of Nazir Akbarabadi, the great Urdu poet whose verse sang of the joys and sorrows of everyday life. Habib was to tinker with the script over the years to make it more expressive and lively. Agra Bazar opened the doors to fame and Charandas Chor confirmed it. The grand success of this play was largely due to its blend of satirical comedy and high seriousness. The idea came from a Chattisgarhi folk tale, and which was brought sparklingly alive by a set of actors from there. Charandas Chor with its cast of folk actors, toured internationally, conquering the hearts of audiences everywhere despite its script being in a dialect from Madhya Pradesh.

It was the actors who did the trick with the plasticity of their body language and a gamut of emotions and ideas that their vocal inflections were able to convey to an audience that did not ostensibly understand the language in which the play was written.

Tanvir’s relationship with his actors had always been fraught on and off the stage. In spite of his wide and varied learning he was a little afraid of his actors, most of whom were barely literate. Why? Was it because they possessed an unusual amount of native artistic intelligence and so were able to convey his ideas with ease? It was widely said that they had to be coached in minute detail in the course of the rehearsals. This may have been true in the case of certain actors but certainly not with the gifted ones. His actors were already known names in the folk theatre of Chattisgarh.

Laluram, Punaram, Majid, Bhulwaram, Madanlal, Fida Bai, Teejan Bai, are some of the actors that come to mind who graced the plays staged by Naya Theatre. They were, like some who came in their wake, marvellous, and brought the intentions of the playwright, be it Habib Tanvir or Shakespeare, yes! Habib did do a Chattisgarhi version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream! These were poor folk who worked as farmers and artisans, did a little folk theatre, of which Naacha was an essential part, were discovered by Habib and brought to live and work in Delhi in the Naya Theatre plays.

These actors and actresses were poor in their villages and they remained poor in the Metropolis of Delhi. It was a lot more difficult to survive economically in Delhi, where day to day living was murderously expensive. In their villages in Chattisgarh, they could somehow get back, possibly by sharing their meagre resources. Life in Delhi offered no such consolation. Habib had very little money but he was loath to share it with the actors who had made him famous. Theatre is an actor’s medium. It is the actors who bring to life a director’s vision once the performance begins onstage. Habib’s actors from Chattisgarh, served him very well for a long time, but he had little for them once the play was over. The actors led a miserable life, while he managed to lead economically, an acceptable middle-class existence.

Habib had scrounged around for ‘pennies’ till his early forties, but once he found his actors to interpret his vision of the theatre in the Chattisgarh folk idiom, his fortunes began to change rapidly. He managed to slowly but surely stabilise himself economically. The grants that he got from various state institutions were barely adequate to run his drama company. And what was coming in (from performances abroad) he did not share with the actors. His attitude was, if the Government grants were insufficient to pay his actors, so be it. It was inevitable that his actors go on strike and they did when they and Habib were staying in a number of tiny Government flats in Ber Sarai, New Delhi, in the early 1990s. They went public with their grievances, saying that they knew that Habib had money, but he did not want to give what they thought was owed them.

Habib Tanvir’s career, since his association with the Chhatisgarh actors, progressed steadily. The Government of India first awarded him the Padmashree, and later, the  Padmabhushan. The Madhya Pradesh state government, then Congress-led, honoured him and gave him a decent flat to live in. He showed exemplary courage persisting with the production of his play, Ponga Pundit, about religious hypocrisy, when activists of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and allied organisations of the Hindu Far Right, made repeated violent attempts to disrupt performances, after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. His Leftist political upbringing, with its emphasis on the exercise of discipline when under siege, came in handy. When the end came he was given a state funeral in June, 2009.

He had the privilege of courting the Soviet Union, and finding life-saving employment there as a Dubbing artist, and the United States of America, where he was invited as a speaker on theatre, and later with Naya Theatre Troupe, for performances. East and West Germany before the cold war, and then plain Germany, after the fall of the Berlin wall along with Poland were favourite destinations for work as were England and Scotland; the production of Charandas Chor with Chattisgarh actors was highly appreciated at the Edinburgh and won the Fringe First award.

As far as his sense of entitlement was concerned, he knew how much he could ‘squeeze’ in a relationship. Women continued to drool over him even in old age, as he smoked his pipe with a preoccupied air. Moneeka and Nageen, as wife and daughter, performed their filial duties with unflinching devotion. Moneeka passed away on 28 May, 2005. After having attempted suicide over Habib, as a young woman, she became indispensible to him, without her support he could not have gone very far in any direction. After her mother, went, Nageen looked after her father very well. The young, particularly those inclined towards the political Left came in droves to worship at his feet. Habib Tanvir had done very well for himself. There are two other participants in his story, namely Jill, the great love of his life, whom he had let down, and their daughter Anna.

When Anna was born in Dublin, her father Habib Tanvir was far away in India. His deafening silence worried her mother Jill terribly. Writing in old age to grandson Mukti, she recalls :

I wrote to Habib and sent pictures, but received nothing in return. You ask me Mukti what I thought had happened? It occurred to me that he might have died, or at least become ill. I read and re-read that last letter with its cool beginning, its preoccupation with theatre productions and its wistful air at the end. At the time I simply didn’t know, but felt that if no disaster had befallen him, he must have withdrawn. It was a horribly chilling sensation to feel that closeness simply disappearing as if it had never been,with no explanation. … Having a small person to care for who took up almost every waking moment meant I did not sink into despair. Even so his silence was insupportable; a dead-weight on my life, and totally bewildering. Looking after my dark-haired daughter who I so badly wanted him to see, made me wonder each day what momentous happening was stopping him from being in touch.’’

After two years of silence Habib responded to a letter from Jill informing him of her brother Kev’s death. Jill remembers, ‘’ I was surprised to get a reply. He wrote rather formally but comfortingly and asked after our daughter Anna, saying he would love to see her one day. … At long last, he did manage to come to see us, and continued to visit from time to time right up to the end of his life. There remained a genuine fondness between us and always unspoken efforts on his behalf to put things right.”

Anna responds to her father Habib’s absence in her childhoodin the Epilogue to her mother’s memoirs :

My first meeting with my father was unforgettable. It was not until I was nine years old that he came to meet me, by which time my mother had married, and I had a half-sister Vickie, who was as fair as I was dark. I spent my childhood conjuring up his image in my imagination, inventing him over and over again, in more and more exotic colours. My mother had always talked of him, trying to give me a sense of my Indian heritage through her stories and descriptions. … My father accompanied us in our daily lives in the imagination, and for me his image was so strong that he was somehow present despite his physical absence.”

Anna remembers her first meeting with her father:

“ He arrived clutching a chillum pipe that he puffed continuously that he puffed at continuously clouding him in wreaths of smoke, and wearing a large colourful shawl, a beret, a hand-made kurta and stylish jeans. … He seemed to create magic wherever he went, and as for telling a story without a book, he recounted to me hour after hour stories from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, and I was utterly mesmerised.”

Anna and her mother Jill loved Habib devotedly, despite the years of absence and neglect, and that things came a full circle to bring hope and optimism before he passed away is indeed lovely.

Courage in his private life had never been Habib Tanvir’s strength, despite professions of often real love towards those he had, in some way, wronged. He gave Nageen exclusive rights over all his writing, including his correspondence. She is not keen that her father’s letters to Jill, and, hers to him should ever be published. It is perhaps out of a misplaced sense of loyalty to her mother Moneeka’s memory that she is acting in this manner. Who would know better than Nageen, how much her mother and Jill had suffered because of her father’s irresponsible behaviour towards both. It is time for a mature reconsideration of the past. It is time to let wounds heal. It is time   to look forward rather than back. It is time to understand that life is the source of all art and that artists are, at once, both strong and frail creatures, who are but mortals.


Marcello Mastrianni- An Actor for All Seasons / Partha  Chatterjee

Barun Chanda’s Murder in the Monastery: A Mini Review / Raj Ayyar

Barun Chanda’s ‘Murder in the Monastery’: A Mini Review

‘It rained unseasonably in the afternoon–a sudden shower that came without warning. High winds moaned through the glass panes of windows. People ran indoors.
Blue streaks of lightning zigzagged through dark clouds, freezing the raindrops mid-air. Then came the hailstorm.
In no time at all, the courtyard turned snow white.
Gusts of wind made the prayer flags flap loudly in protest.’
–Barun Chanda: Murder in the Monastery.
Unfortunately, the sun comes out a little too soon, just after the Gothic build up!
I have mixed feelings about this murder mystery set in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery high up in Sikkim, with splendid Himalayan views, and a cast of eccentric characters some murderous.
I’d say–one thumb up, and one thumb down for Barun Chanda’s second thriller translated from Bengali to English.
I don’t know why Chanda, a maverick actor (even had a role in Satyajit Ray’s ‘Seemabaddha’), cum executive cum author is considered the daddy of the Bengali adult thriller. Though Satyajit Ray wrote his Feluda mysteries for kids, I suspect more adults than kids read them these days. Ditto for Saradindu Bandyopadhyay’s Byomkesh Bakshi.
The text situates itself initially within the whodunit genre, with detective Avinash Roy and his sidekick Pradyot, surrounded by a host of suspects, many of them European expats of dubious credentials. However, it flip flops over to a Dan Brown style thriller, complete with a missing secret manuscript about Jesus spending time not during the missing years, but after his alleged death, at a Buddhist monastery in Kashmir.
The manuscript zealously guarded in a basement vault by the good Buddhist monks at Chanda’s Dengziang monastery in Sikkim. Yet it vanishes leaving a distraught abbot, tense monks running around, and two murders linked to the missing manuscript.
Chanda, unlike Dan Brown, manages a credible, minimalist diplomatic secularism–though the murderer is s hired goon of some Christian sect or other, Chanda does not point fingers at the Catholic church or Opus Dei, a la Brown in ‘The Da Vinci Code’.
I liked the erotic undercurrents in the novel overall–the steamy one-night stand between Miriam the fair-skinned Coorgi Catholic nun novice and Tenzing, the fully grown adolescent Buddhist monk novice, is deliberately understated and leaves the reader’s pornographic imagination to fill in the details.
However, Chanda is resolutely heterocentric, and his detective marginalizes suggestions of monkish gay sex with a disapproving homophobic sniff, that is implied, not expressed.
Well worth a read at an airport, or on a long airplane ride.
Raj Ayyar

Jashnebachpan: Puberty


Director: Sachithra Rahubadda
Group: Red Apple International Theatre Gathering, Sri Lanka
Language: Non-Verbal
Duration: 45 Minutes

About the Group
Red Apple Theatre Gathering seeks to develop appreciative skills in youth and children to create a new dimension in theatre while finding new methodology. It has received the highest award in Sri Lanka at the State Drama Festival twice. This year Red Apple Theatre Gathering has participated in the National Children’s Drama Festival. It will now be participating in the Colombo International Drama Festival, Kathmandu International Children’s Drama Festival, and Jashn -e- Bachpan International Children’s Theatre Festival, held by National School of Drama, Delhi, India.

About the Play
This is the story of the journey of a sperm and an ova. They get together and make a child. Be it a girl or a boy, the sperm and ova do not discriminate – same power, same energy and same hope. Just a different gender in the world. And then? Pink for the girl and blue for the boy which they never ask; car for the boy and doll for the girl which also they never ask. We divide them. We make different laws and rules for each. Then comes puberty!
In Sri Lanka we care so much about our ‘nationality’, but do not care about the nation of our girls. As an Asian country, our society is concerned more about the virginity of girls than the girls themselves, more about their discipline than their life, love or hope. Puberty makes it worst. This play talks about the difference in the life journey of a baby girl and a baby boy.

Sachithra Rahubadda is an active director of children and youth theatre in Sri Lanka. He began his study of theatre at school. He began producing plays while still in school and later did a Diploma course in Drama and Theatre at the Institute of Sinhala culture, and then a Diploma in Script writing and Communication at the University of Sri Jayawardenapura. He obtained his BA degree in Drama and Theatre from the University of Kaleniya. He conducts workshops and stage shows in schools around the country, as a result of which Red Apple Theatre Gathering was founded. He gives the children and youth of Sri Lanka necessary training and makes all the effort to bring their talents forth. Many of his students are contributing in many creative fields throughout the country.

Director’s Note
Children’s world is totally different from that of the adults. It is difficult to understand them. Our interpretation of children’s imagination can be erroneous. Puberty reveals the modern children – instant and innovative. But with roots that are cultural and social. Within the Asian cultural background, life circle of two new born children is the theme of the play. The structure of the production is modern, choreographic, non-verbal and musical.

Cast & Credits
On Stage
Jayawardhana Pedige Yeshmi Thakshila Madhumali Jayawardhana, Samarasinghe Dhanushka, Sooriyaarachchige Nadun Tharanga, Dewathanthri Arachchige Tharindu Madusanka, Ambanwala Gedara Chandima Lakmali Sirinayake, Ilandari Pedige Jeewan Madusanka Kumara

Off Stage
Ilandari Pedige Janaka Sumith Kumara, Samarasinghe Vithana Pathirannahelage Chana Thushsari, Koralegama Hewage Ruwan Chandana

Direction      Sachithra Rahubadda

Red Apple Theatre Gathering
17, Bandaranayake mw
Papiliyana, Sri Lanka
Tel: +94112732619
Fax: +94112732619
M: +94711900514
E: rat.srilanka@gmail.com
Fb: www. Facebook/Red+Apple+Theatre+Gathring.com

Jashnebachpan: Ichhapuran

Writer: Rabindranath Tagore
Director: Rajesh Bakshi
Group: Theatre Actor Studio, Delhi
Language: Hindi
Duration: 1 hr

About the Group
Theatre Actor Studio has been participating in children’s workshops for a long time now. Rajesh Bakshi, the founder of this group, has been directing these workshops for the last 10 years. Some of the group’s important productions are Ichhapuran (Rabindranath Tagore), Kalakar (Phanishwar Nath Renu), Paazeb (Jainendra Kumar), Wizard of Oz (adapted by Bharti Dang) etc. Some of the short plays directed by Rajesh Bakshi are Savdhani Hi Suraksha, Rishi Ki Seekh, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Nasha Mukti, Say No to Crackers, Sadak Yatayat Ke Niyam, Shiksha, Changu-Mangu, Ghogha Sant etc. Rajesh Bakshi has long been associated with Hindi Akademi, Sahitya Kala Parishad, Shri Ram Centre, Udyan Orphan Trust, Yuva Sanstha, Ayam Sansthan and Dramabaaz Company.

About the Play
The play is about a father and son who wish to live each other’s life. Devi Ichhapuran grants them their wish but living each other’s age, joys and sorrows becomes unbearable for both.

Rajesh Bakshi has acted in more than 45 plays and participated in many cultural theatre festivals including Bharat Rang Mahotsav, Nandikar Rang Mahotsav, Bharatendu Natya Utsav, Bharat Muni Rang Mahotsav, Sarang Rang Mahotsav, Uttar Pradesh Sanskritik Mahotsav, IPTA Rashtriya Utsav etc. He has 12 years of experience in teaching theatre. He has conducted many theatre workshops for children with organisations like Hindi Akademi, Dramabaaz, Multivalent, Ayam, CCRT etc. Some of the plays directed by him are Jasma Oden (folk play), Aankh Micholi, Doosra Admi – Doosri Aurat, and Ila.

Director’s Note
Childhood, with its restless playfulness, can be understood only with love and intelligence, whereas adulthood brings not only independence but also responsibility along with it. To make this story written by Rabindranath Tagore, more interesting and meaningful, a few of Tagore’s poems and another story by him ‘Vidhyarthi Ki Pariksha’ have been incorporated.

Cast & Credits
On Stage
Mrinalini Jindal, Aman Sharma, Vikrant Sharma, Jitesh Sharma, Olive Jain, Eshna Jain, Nandika Chadda, Gurjas Bhatia, Samaira Grover, Shivaye Madan, Diva Gandhi, Yuvraj Mavi, Maya Parashar, Saksham Gupta, Saksham Parashar, Ragav Mehta, Siya Singh, Ananaya Mukerjee, Rahul Mukherjee, Samarth Girotra, Yatharth Gaurav Gupta, Ayam Sharma, Sneha Chaubey, Dattatreya Buddhiraja Haldar, Ira Jasuja. Naisha Prem, Dipti Purohit, Mahua Aggarwal

Off Stage
Music                               Bharti Dang
Music Operator              Garima Arya
Property in-charge        Aman, Vikrant, Jitesh, Narendra
Light Design                   Rahul Chauhan
Make-up                         Narendra Kumar
Choreography                Vikram Mohan
Costume                        Yashasvini Bose
Creative Input                Bharti Dang
Special Thanks             Dramabaaz Company & Garima Arya

Playwright                          Rabindranath Tagore
Design & Direction            Rajesh Bakshi

D-301, Aggarwal Estate
Sector- 28, Rohini
M: +91 9891192267, 8920461628
E: ssrajeshsharma@gmail.com

Jashnebachpan: How Cow Now Cow


How Cow Now Cow
Director: Vinod Ravindran
Group: Sandbox Collective, Bangalore
Language: English
Duration: 1hr

About the Group
Sandbox Collective is a creative services organisation that curates, produces and tours performances. It acts as a catalyst facilitating meaningful collaborations nationally and internationally between artists, cultural agencies and arts spaces creating an explosion of innovative artistic expression.

About the Play
Rosamma the Cow is fast turning into an unbearable pain. She scolds, rants and raves, and makes life miserable for all the other animals on the beautiful farm. Find out what happens to Rosamma when she’s sent off to a mysterious country far, far away. A group of actors combine storytelling, object theatre, and shadow puppetry to tell a compelling tale of patience, love, adventure, and imagination.

Vinod Ravindran has worked in the theatre in various capacities. He started his career in theatre with B. Jayashree’s Spandana Theatre in Bangalore. As an actor he has worked with directors like B. Jayshree, Atul Kumar, Ajay Krishnan, Manav Kaul, Abhishek Majumdar, Kirtana Kumar and Sachin Gurjale. He wrote and directed Somewhat like a Balloon which opened at the Jagriti Curtain Raisers 2013, he wrote and directed Raja Tantra Choo Mantra, a play for children which opened at the AHA, Ranga Shankara International Theatre Festival for children. He also directed Ajay Krishnan’s Touching and Moving.

Director’s Note
Stories are everywhere and everyone has a story… and we can tell stories together. What worked most importantly for us about How Cow Now Cow is the simplicity of the story. We wanted to work on this play in a way that it leaves enough space for our audience to have questions and thoughts. That is what keeps us excited about this play. We are often asked questions about the play that we ourselves have never thought about. We used common every-day household objects to bring the story to life. The play uses a now archaic technology of the overhead projector (OHP). The rudimentary nature of the OHP technology and the physical interaction that is required to bring images to life is the kind of rawness that we wanted in the play.

Cast & Credits
On Stage
Anirudh Mahesh
Shweta Desai
Vinod Ravindran

Off Stage
Light Design and Execution     Parthasarathi S
Producers                                     Sandbox Collective

Direction            Vinod Ravindran

Beagles Loft
37/5, 2nd Floor, Yellappa Chetty Layout
Ulsoor Road
Bangalore – 560042
M: +91 9686865638
E: sandbox.medha@gmail.com