Thursday, 29 August 2013


This is how I feel: Blue Lily Red Lotus
I have not heard much of Susheela Raman's music, but it is soothing in a sort of vague familiarity.
She is drums, and she is peace. She is Tamil and yet not quite. Not the tunes that you associate with these songs. Not wholly carnatic and yet relatable.

The image I feel is this:

Is it possible to feel you are an image and a song at the same time? 

Monday, 26 August 2013

How to Skin a Giraffe (Metro Plus Theatre Festival,Hyderabad, Day 2)

I wasn't overly impressed by the play How to Skin a Giraffe. While I have not read Buchner's play, Leonce and Lena, on which this was supposed to be based, I found a few loose ends within the play. The two things I thought were disconnected were the teaching scene, where Wagner the dog was more studious than the students themselves (a fact I can vouch for from classes I sit in) and the two men who were looking for a criminal within the forest.

The enactment was good, with quite a bit of melodrama, good usage of stage-space, body language and the multi-purpose triangular props:

Yet, the play seemed to hold on to certain gender stereotypes that weren't quite palatable. For instance, Rosetta, Popo's love, is almost just a prop. One could say that the she is only intended to highlight Popo's melancholia. Yet, she is not even represented as a character in the few lines where she professes her love, and is suddenly made to look death-like, immediately giving way to the next scene. Vaal's description of "fried chicken" which was actually about his neighbour's wife was just cheap comedy. The speed dating scene was over-done, where women apparently fell for 'rap-ists' (oh, no- that's just the music), howling 'aaaoooo' when they got lucky! Before the melancholic and highly cynical Popo meets dreamy-eyed Pipi, he tells Vaal, his sidekick, that he needs someone dumb! What does that say of the female protagonist, not to mention his own sense of self? Pipi is always dreaming for something beyond her- looking into the trees, and counting stars, and falls for Popo.

One of the best scenes in the play, however, was the scene with the reflections. I have always liked the concept of mirroring in theatre, and it was done well, where Pipi and her governess first enter the realm of reflections and almost get trapped within it, but manage to escape when the princess wakes up from the trap, dragging her governess out. But Popo and Vaal get stuck in the mire of self-images and only after a great struggle can Popo free himself from the reflections. Vaal, however, gets trapped by these reflections, and requires Popo to untangle him from his own self-image.

I did not quite understand the use of certain names. While Buchner's play used the names Popo and Pipi as the names of kingdoms, where they meants 'buttocks' and 'urine' respectively, How to Skin a Giraffe used the name for their protagonists. While these meanings for a kingdom implies the degeneracy within the state, I do not understand what significance it could have when used as names for protagonists! I do not know why the name 'Wagner' was used for the dog either. Apart from the word 'wag' in it, I cannot see any other connection (any ideas?).

There was also the question of language. I did not stay for the discussion with the director, but heard later that there was an uproar about the issue of language. As someone who can understand and follow Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil and English (which were the primary languages, apart from the use of a little Kannada and apparently Nepali), the play was not too difficult to comprehend. And the idea of subtitles is not too appealing, since the focus shifts from the enactment to the words on the screen (as is the case with TV also, I find). I liked this mix of languages. It lent a different flavour to the play. I find that it also reflects something prevalent in Indian cities- where people from different language groups are constantly mingling with each other, attempting to define their languages to each other. However, in the brochure given to the audience, the space in 'Language' says 'English (with other languages)'. This was not the case. The play used a lot of Indian languages, and the primary mode of conversation was not English. If, instead, the space read 'multi-lingual', maybe one can guarantee that only people with an inclination towards the multi-lingual will come for such plays.

Overall, I wasn't too interested in the play and was happy when it ended. I also think my disinclination to the play was fuelled by the intensity of the previous day's performance, which was near perfect, and I found myself constantly reverting to comparisons between the two plays, even though I was very aware of the difference of style and narration. I would probably rate How to Skin a Giraffe as a mediocre performance that could do with a lot more evolution in its script.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

The Tale of Haruk (Metro Plus Theatre Festival, Hyderabad, Day 1)

The Tale of Haruk is a Korean folk story that was enacted on stage, and the brilliance of the performance lies in the simplicity of style used to depict something sublime. Using a multiplicity of styles- puppetry, shadow performances, masks, as well as massive canvases that covered the entire stage, the cast incorporated both music and sound to hold their audiences captivated. The cast of five was dressed in plain whites throughout the show, using minor alterations in costume to depict different characters.

The play begins with a narrator who initially gets the audience's attention by performing minor tricks. Calling out to the audience, he brings in his troupe of musicians who enter playing various reusable objects- empty plastic water cans, beer bottles, a couple of pots and pans- all of which are used for making the most melodious of sounds. Their initial disorganisation is arranged by the 'narrator' who plays the clarinet and once they synchronise with each other, they move to the corner to allow their characters to take stage.

Three of the five actors become the narrators, and two of them become the old couple who do not have children. Even this transition from narrators to characters in the story is beautiful, where the couple wear their traditional hanbok on stage, wearing masks to depict their roles. With the narrative in Korean, most of the play was depicted through actions, using dialogue only when necessary. The concept of Haruk, who starts out by being an egg, and then a face, and eventually a rag doll manoeuvred by the third actor, who enacts the child Haruk. One of my best images of this trio, is when the couple try to get Haruk to tell new words, using newspapers in many different ways to portray different animals, all of which Haruk responds only by repeating his name (something akin to Hodor, if you think about it). 

The father, who knows barely any story, tells Haruk the story of a tiger that eats up an old lady who carries rice on her way back home. Apart from being a vague parallel to the main story, the interesting part of this story-within-a-story is the use of cellotape as a musical instrument, culminating in the tiger ripping the heart of the old lady (shown with red tape)!

But Haruk eats the forbidden rice! Nothing visible happens and Haruk goes to sleep and dreams of massive beings and wisps of white. 
And when he wakes up, he becomes a giant with an insatiable hunger:
And keeps growing:

He eats up the sun and the moon, and his parents become puppet-like in size to him. He watches from way up high as his parents become actual puppets amidst a halo of yellow light, desperately begging their child to stop eating. Yet, Haruk cannot stop and this only causes harmless bickering amongst the old couple, who eventually decide to sacrifice themselves to Haruk's hunger. Haruk's tears become an ocean on which the puppet parents are tossed, and eventually they are consumed by the stage-encompassing canvas of Haruk.

In the next scene, the parents are now seated comfortably in Haruk's belly:
The beauty of this play is not the story, but the enaction that defies description! This shadow couple sitting in the belly of their child, end up doing what they did before they asked for a child- the old man reads his paper and the old woman does her knitting (and the paper and the wool with the string held by the old woman are actually shown in that little encirclement).

The play ends with the narrators once again, resuming the stance they took before the narration commenced. The tale was simply told, with the on-screen translation only aiding the understanding process (something that I did not anticipate). The actors were amazing, using the entire stage, and with splendid movements that showed their agility and grace. The constant repetition of 'Haruk' evoked much laughter. But most of all, the stage-sized enormity of the insatiable Haruk evoked sublime awe. It was in this beauty that the plays strengths lay.

This was one of those plays that leaves you stunned and spell-bound at the end. I have not seen such a lovely play in a really long time, and was glad that I had taken the effort to go watch it. Haruk is a story that will ever remain with me!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

To Ifemelu (who lives in the novel Americanah)

Ifemelu, why do you remind me so much of myself? - your penchant for words, and the way in which you use them and analyse them; the way in which even the slightest statement can trigger within you a sense of rebellion; a longing for home, and yet a need to see it change in its perspective; the love of ‘foreign’ food, but also a deep rooted love for home-made dinners. I love how you portray hair as suddenly something more meaningful than just an outgrowth on the head. Though for you your hair is a reminder of home, mine becomes something that wants to change, to alter, to become something new and not just the plain longness of silky, black, Indian hair.
Your story also evokes a slight pang for my not knowing Africa more. A different place and different stories, maybe, but I still want to revisit that place- the dingy third floor house filled with rats, and broken window panes, on unsafe streets; the house where we could hear gunshots at night; ISL; ice-cream at Tontos. Though Africa was foreign to me, it was the first home I remember. And something in your story stirred a reminder of a memory.
Though so vastly different, there are also so many similarities to a country far away- the hawkers whose lives were torn down by the government leading to empty pathways, the vibrant life, your preference to roadside shops over fancy restaurants, the constant power-cuts, the humidity, the dusty, traffic-filled roads. All of that is home for me too. In a sort of alienness there is also a deep understanding.
The constant questions of ‘when are you getting married?’ as though that is all that matters in life. The half foreign, half native self that I am. The stress on the world around you on finding a man, who need not even exist- by not just your family, but even your friends and acquaintances! And simultaneously, the meeting at the Jazzhole, surrounded by the comfort of books, meeting the one man that you gave your heart to, the world thrumming with a sort of energy you never experienced before. That, too, is my world.

Ifemelu, your story is something I can relate to- if not completely, at least for the most part. Your strength and determination amazes me. Though you come from half a world away, I relate with you. And this post is to that strength that I read in your story.

Monday, 12 August 2013


Despite the troubles you give me,
I am yours...
Grey sky lullaby that you are,
The clammy sultriness
In the cold monsoon rains,
The stuck-under-roof feeling
As I watch you envelope the earth,
The soft melody of your harsh downpour.

I listen with love to your rage.
I listen in silent awe
To tunes I don't completely understand.
And when I stand under
your all-consuming showers,
I melt
and dissolve
Into your passion.

Peacock-like, I sing in elation.
And dance.
Even as I am subsumed
in your intermittent song,
I stand apart.

Not nature,
But human.
Not the flow of water,
But the rootedness of earth.
Not the gush of wind,
but the stillness of air.

And yet, we two are one.
We two are everything!

Saturday, 3 August 2013

The Voices in My Head

Peter Damien’s post on The Sounds of Reading reflected a conversation that my friends and I were having just a few days ago. When you read something, are there voices in your head? Or are there images? Or do you screen a mini-movie for yourself? For me, this question moves across genres, and the way I approach them is different. When I am reading non-fiction, especially theoretical texts, where not many events are mentioned, I am very conscious of the accent in which I am reading (even when I am reading in my mind). On the other hand, stories and narrations occur in flashes of images. I.e. I can perceive the characters and settings in detail. Yet, it is not at all movie-like. My room-mate, however, mentions that her way of reading always involves a film screen of the mind. Even when she faces a theoretical text, she attempts to associate it with incidents- either in her life or incidents that she has heard about, irrespective of whether they relate to the text itself. She says that a word can trigger a memory of an incident totally unrelated to the narration involved. Without such co-relations, she finds it difficult to comprehend a text.

Poetry, is a slightly different experience. The flashes of images that present themselves in stories are different from those in poetry. Words, I feel, are usually more vivid in poems, where more is expressed through less words, and it is the image that captivates. For instance, Prufrock's "yellow fog" that is most cat-like, is an image that stands out against the backdrop of the poem. Recently, we have been holding a poetry jam session, where we listen to the words. Of course, there is a difference between reading in your own head, reading aloud to yourself and listening to others read. I am most comfortable with the first two. But with poetry, or poetical narratives, the images that are read out aloud create sharp and colourful visuals.

Colour, I think, is another interesting thing to think about. If one tends to visualise a text, how colourful are they? Even if colours are not described, does one tend to place a colour to an image? Are they affected by other visuals, or are they randomly selected? I say this, because, I had a very interesting experience in a class on creative writing. A professor of ours requested us to close our eyes and handed out a bag of random objects. Without seeing the object, we had to visualise it in our mind's eye. And without knowing what the object was, we had to write about it. The object I touched, without seeing it, was a shade of grey. I do not know what made me think of that colour, but I was certain of its greyness. The object turned out to be a red cocktail-stirrer, though. Isn't it the same with words? Are they not unseeable visuals that take shape in our head- almost like Prufrock's yellow fog? Do we then, ascribe colours to these unseeable objects?

Though I tend to read texts 'out loud' in my mind, I still feel that I am capable of both reading faster when I read silently, and also that I can skip bits and pieces of passages when I do. And this applies to all kinds of texts- stories, theories, passages, articles, poems and all of that. Speed essentially differs based on mood, interest, and comprehensibility- not so much on the silence or the loudness of the reading. Even interest triggers different speeds! For instance, I could either race through it, because of its quick and gripping narrative, or I could slow down considerably, because I want to savour every word and every image related to it. Sometimes, a single page could take me five minutes to digest. This has sometimes made my friends wonder whether I was enjoying the piece or not! Comprehension of the text, of course, plays a major role in the speed of reading. Sometimes, I need to read and re-read a text to get the meanings. Sometimes, I find that reading out loud helps me in this comprehension, but I slow down when I do this. And finally mood- even the most racy and interesting read could put me off if I just don't feel like dealing with it at that point in time.

On a slightly tangential note, I find that book covers play a prominent part in whether I can read a book or not. The cover, in a sense, speaks to me. The image, the colour and the font are important. They help with speed, the images in my head and are definitely based on my mood. Indeed, the book cover is almost a minor conversation in my head that leads to the larger interaction between me and my book.