Friday, October 22, 2010

Monday, October 4, 2010

Sunday, October 3, 2010

"Sathyaleela" (A comedy play in Tamil)

Serumadar Theatre
Moondraam Arangu


(A comedy play in Tamil)
(Adaptation of Mahendravikrama Varma Pallava's Sanskrit Play "Bhagavathajjukiya"

Adapted and Directed by: K.S. Karuna Prasad

on 9th and 10th, October 2010
Time: 7pm
Kalakshethra Foundation's "Rukmini Arangam"

Sathyaleela – An adaptation of mahendra Vikrama Varma Pallava’s play
Ascet Sathyananda and his disciple Adharmananda enter into a garden while the Yogi explains the philosophies of human life, birth, re-birth and yoga. As their discussion moves ahead the royal danseuse Leelavathi and her friends enter the garden to meet her man of dreams.
Leelavathi sings a “song of romance’. Both the Yogi and his disciple are enthralled by her beauth and the sweetness of her voice.

Then enters the “Yamathoodhan”. He announces the intent to take away her life, does so and leaves to “yamalogam”. Whe the disciple stumbles upon the dead Leelavathi, he requests his Yogi to raise her from the dead. But the Yogi, with all his composure tells Adharmananda that she would reincarnate again to her next life. This angers the disciple.

At this juncture, the Yogi decides to teach a lesson to his disciple ans so inserts his spirit into the danseuse’s body. Leelavathi comes back to life. Yamathoodan, who committed a mistake by taking this young Leelavathis’s life instead of an old Leelavathi’s, enters the garden at Lord Yama’s order.

There awaits the surprise for him. He is stunned by the happenings. That’s when he sees the dead lifeless body of the Yogi. He decides to play and hence lets Leelavathi’s spirit into the Yogi’s body.

The exchange of Leelavathi’s and Sathyananda’s spirits between their bodies causes a lot of confusion. The Yogi, consumed by lust , searches for Leelavathi’s man. The disciple approaches Leelavathi, who is in the Yogi’s body. She chases him away. To solve the issue, Yamathoodan appears before them. He pleads with the Yogi, who had ordered his spirit into Leelavathi’s body. The Yogi refuses to leave her body. He claims to enjoy the pleasures of Leelavathi’s body.
On the other hand, Leelavathi, speaks words of love to all those who are nearby. This action of lust scares them away. The Yogi rushes behind them.

Director’s Note:

Bhagavadajjuka is a satirical play written by Mahendra Vikrama Varma, the Pallava King of Kanchi, highlighting religious mindsets, conversions and insincere attitude of hermits towards ascetic life prevalent during his times. It is considered as one of India's oldest farcical comedies.

This play was adapted as a tamil play called “Mutrugai” by Na. Muthuswamy of Koothu-p-pattarai in 1987. K S Karuna Prasad, has based his play “Sathyaleela” on this tamil adaptation.
The Yogi refusing to leave Leelavathi’s body after enjoying the pleasures given by it has lot of contextual reference to the present life and times. The director has chosen this play because feels that the values and sentiments of the play hold true even in today’s scenario. He has kept the story line and language simple in order to generate interest in the new generation audiences and reviving interest in existing audiences who are looking for something new.

Thursday, September 30, 2010



Friday, September 3, 2010


Dr. Muhammad Samad
Professor and Director
Institute of Social Welfare & Research
University of Dhaka, Dhaka-1205, Bangladesh

Muhammad Samad was born in a remote village in 1956 in the Jamalpur District of Bangladesh. He earned his Bachelor of Social Science (BSS) with honors and master’s degrees in Social Welfare (mostly known as Social Work) from the Institute of Social Welfare and Research (ISWR), University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. He completed his PhD on the participation of the rural poor in development programs of government and NGOs in Bangladesh.

Muhammad Samad has been writing poems since his school days. The first book of his verses Ekjan Rajnaitik Netar Menifesto (Manifesto of a Political Leader) was published in 1983 and won the Trivuj Literary Award in the same year among the young poets aged 25 years in Bangladesh. His other published books of verses are Selected Poems (bi-lingual), Premer Kabita (Love Poems) Kabitasangraha (Selected Collection of Poems), Aaj Sharter Akashe Purnima (The Full Moon in the Autumn Sky) Cholo, Tumi Bristite Bhiji (Let Us Be Drenched in Torrential Rain), Podabe Chandan Kaath (Will Burn Sandal Wood) Ami Noi Indrajit Megher Adale (I am not Indrajit Behind the Clouds) and Utsaber Kabita (Poems From Festival ed. Bengali poems rendered in the National Poetry Festival).

He has received number of awards for his contribution to Bengali poetry and literature that made him widely known and honored. Among them are Poet Jasimuddin Literary Award, Poet Jibanananda Das Award and the Poet Sukanta Literary Award. His poetry eloquently addresses the love, pain, plight and human life in many faces of the people of Bangladesh as well as other societies of the world. He has served as General Secretary of National Poetry of Bangladesh for 5 years (1997-2001).

Dr. Muhammad Samad is a Professor and Director at the Institute of Social Welfare & Research, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. He has done extensive research on the rural poor, indigenous peoples and the underprivileged classes in Bangladesh. He has more than 30 articles published in national and international journals. A well-known social scientist Dr. Muhammad Samad has authored and edited more than 10 books
in the field of social science and development. Highlights include The Invisible People: Poverty and Resiliency in the Dhaka Slums (2008; Jointly with Dr. Cathleen Jo Faruque), PublishAmerica, Baltimore, USA, Participation of the Rural Poor in Government and NGO Programs: A Comparative Study (2002), Awareness About the Role of UN in Bangladesh: An Opinion Survey (2000), The Santal Community in Bangladesh: Problems and Prospects (2003; Jointly), Human Rights: 50 Years of Advancement 1999, (Ed. in Bengali), The Fourth World Conference on Women: Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action (Ed. 1997 in Bengali), Role of NGOs in Rural Poverty Alleviation of Bangladesh (1984, in Bengali) and The Struggle of Poets and Poems (A collection essays ed. in Bengali, 1994).

In 2005 Dr. Samad has taught the course Globalization of Social Welfare as a visiting Professor at the Department of Social Work of Winona State University (WSU), Minnesota, USA. This summer (2009), he will teach the same course at WSU. He has worked as a Fellow of Katherine A. Kendall Institute of International Social Work Education, CSWE, USA in 2009. In Bangladesh, he teaches Social Development, Rural Development and International Social Work at his school. Dr. Samad has been serving as Secretary General of Bangladesh Council for Social Work Education (BCSWE) since 2007. He has visited India, Nepal, South Korea, United Kingdom and United State of America on invitation as poet and academic.



Muhammad Samad

In my blood the tender dawn
In my blood the restless cowboy
In my blood sandalwood fragrance
In my blood rock's life
In my blood the music of the stars
In my blood the rising sun

In my blood Krishna's flute
In my blood Radha's longing
In my blood the Urubela hamlet
In my blood Sujata's passionate desire

In my blood the pride of power
In my blood the evil of supremacy
In my blood the fire of anger
In my blood slander and jealousy
In my blood abominable vengeance

In my blood homosexual urge
In my blood extra-marital affairs
In my blood youth's perversity
In my blood the ecstatic cry of sex

In my blood terrible hypocrisy
In my blood the bigoted executioner
In my blood the greed for others’ wealth
In my blood the joy of plunder
In my blood the delight of luxury

In my blood cold ice
In my blood the venomous snake
In my blood the killer's home
In my blood great distrust

In my blood volcano's resentment
In my blood quick sharp hatred
In my blood hurricane's fury
In my blood the tempestuous sea
In my blood Indra's bow
In my blood Noah's flood
In my blood the tiger's roar
In my blood the lion's cry
In my blood heroic protest
In my blood thirst for light
In my blood the message of freedom
In my blood the blood of the worker
In my blood the sweat of the peasant
In my blood the daily fight

In my blood the bright sun
In my blood Prajnaparamita
In my blood the mountain's contemplation
In my blood knowledge of all scriptures
In my blood hymn to the rains
In my blood graceful sunlight
In my blood clouds rivers water
In my blood the beauty of the grains
In my blood serene forests
In my blood the twittering of birds
In my blood young banana leaves
In my blood the garden of love

In my blood saints-sages-prophets
In my blood the creator poet
In my blood hermit's tapobon
In my blood pure Buddhagaya
In my blood holy Bethlehem
In my blood Hera's meditation
In my blood the silent Himalayas
In my blood all religions and verses
In my blood bow to Man.

Translated by Kabir Chowdhury

Love grows in darkness

Muhammad Samad

Love grows in darkness – love grows as it gets dark.

In darkness love lies with the beloved in its arms.
In darkness love rumbles all night long like the clouds of Ashaar.

In darkness love throbs impatiently at every point of its million hairs
In darkness love quietly treads along a thorny bush.

In darkness love shudders as it smells the long tresses of its beloved.
In darkness love runs gurgling like a mountain brook.

In darkness love kisses the kaash blossoms by the river bank.
In darkness love drips on the beloved body under the shewli tree.

In darkness love entireness itself around the beloved’s neck and throat and all her limbs
In darkness love knocks its head a begging at the golden door of heaven’s den.

Love grows in darkness – love grows as it gets dark.

Translated by Kabir Chowdhury

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Jana Sanskriti, Forum Theatre and Democracy in India

Jana Sanskriti Centre for the Theatre of the Oppressed, based in West Bengal, is probably the largest and longest lasting Forum Theatre operation in the world. It was considered by Augusto Boal to be the chief exponent of his methodology outside of its native Brazil.This book is a unique first-hand account - by the group's artistic director Sanjoy Ganguly - of Jana Sanskriti's growth and development since its founding in 1985, which has resulted in a national Forum Theatre network throughout India. Ganguly describes the plays, people and places that have formed this unique operation and discusses its contribution to the wider themes espoused by Forum Theatre.Ganguly charts and reflects on the practice of theatre as politics, developing an intriguing and persuasive case for Forum Theatre and its role in provoking responsible action. His combination of anecdotal insight and lucid discussion of Boal’s practice offers a vision of far-reaching transformation in politics and civil society.

Friday, May 28, 2010


Michael has broken many grounds in this ballad. He has introduced a new style …’amitrakshar chhanda’ ( the lines of his ballad do not rhyme : blank verse). More importantly, he has portrayed the characters of Ram, Lakshman , Ravan and Meghnad in a very unconventional way. The story has been told in several layers and he followed western grammar of epics , specially Virgil.

While Michael has shown Ravan and Meghnad are victims of Destiny (the poet has repeatedly used the word ‘Bidhi’ which means ‘the god above’), his narration brings out a picture of conspiracy by the gods and deception by Ram’s camp being at the root of defeat and fall of Meghnad, not the valour of Lakshman. He has portrayed Meghnad as invincible in face-to-face battle with both Indra, king of gods (that is why he used to be called ‘Indrajit’,he who vanquishes Indra) and Ram.

‘….duibaar aami haranu Raghave, aar ekbaar pitah deha aajnaa more;dekhiba ebaar beer baanche ki oushadhe! – twice I defeated Raghav ; father, you give me permission once more, let’s see which medicine brings him back to life this time ) !

Night of the long knives : Indra convinces Parbati to influence Shiva in accepting that Ravan and Indrajit do not deserve any more support of Shiva. Kamadev aids the process. With Shiva’s acceptance of the proposal in principle , Mahamaya hands over the weapons Kartikeya used to kill Tarakasur and Indra arranges to deliver the same to Lakshman before the day-break.

Deception : Bibheesan shows the path to the place where Meghnad has lighted the fire for his Yagna at dawn before he will proceed for the battle and obstructs Meghnad’s exit for acquiring weapons to fight Lakshman . Please view the panel Bengal’s artist portrayed decades prior to Michael’s penning this ballad.

Bibheeshan and Lakshman enters the premises where Meghnaad

has started ‘Nikumbhila Yagna. Terra Cotta panel, Ramcandra Temple, Guptipara,WB. Late 18th century least 80 years before Michael wrote this ballad!

By:Shyamal Chattergi

Too many Ramayanas- the hindu and buddhist tellings

Rama’s story has been told in many religions. Although the Rama story is not, as such, a Hindu story, the Hindu versions are very ancient. In this article, I’d like to stress upon one thing- The characters and happenings of Ramayana can be looked from a variety of religious traditions including, and not limited to, Hinduism. The Hindu versions of Ramayana are attributed to authors recognized as religiously inspired sages or poets. According to Hinduism, everytime the order (social, political) of the world is threatened by sources of disrespect and disharmony, lord Vishnu incarnates in some form. One such form is Rama. His enemy is Ravana, who is a demonic figure who acts in ways that generate disorder in the cosmos and turbulence in society.

However, Buddhism presents with two well known tellings of Ramayana. The first is Dasaratha Jataka which is argued by many to be the first Ramayana. The second is the one written in the Phra Lak/Phra Lam. The teller of Dasaratha Jataka is believed to be Buddha himself, who preached stories of his previous births (Jataka tales) during his stay at the Jetavana monastery. Here, the enemy is not personified, and the “victory” is purely spiritual. In this distinctive crystallization of the Rama story, the enemy is the kind of desirous attachment that binds persons to this-worldly life; and the victory comes when the exiled Rama confronts the news of his father’s untimely death with an appropriately Buddhist attitude of equanimity and an appropriately Buddhist commitment to compassionate activity. In Phra Lak/Phra Lam, Ravana is identified as an earlier form of Mara, the personalized embodiment of desire and death whom the Buddha defeats again and again during the course of his final life as Goutama.

Sourav Roy

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

150th birth anniversary celebrations of Rabindranath Tagore

Prakriti Foundation


a Poetry with Prakriti festival outreach: a tribute for the 150th birth anniversary celebrations of Rabindranath Tagore and 100 years of the publication of Dakghar




Principal Text: Rabindranath Tagore

Additional Text: Thema book of Naxalite Poetry, Aga Shahid Ali and Dhumketu

Directed and designed by Parnab Mukherjee

Video-essay: Someetharan

Installation: Gautam Bajoria


Why Dakghar? Why a tribute and not a production of the origninal in-toto...Let's just flesh out the details first. In a range that would include about 2,230 songs and eight novels/four novellas and numerous letters, Tagore's performance text holds a special significance in the history of theatre. His journey began when he was sixteen and played the lead Jyotirindranath's adaptation of Moliere's celebratd Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. His fist tryst with a theatre performance piece was Balmiki Pratibha (The Genius of Valmiki) shown in salon/intimate setting in Tagore's own house. In 1890 he wrote Visarjan (Sacrifice)and in 1911-1912, he came up with the classic Dakghar (The Post Office) both in Bangla and in an English translation which he carefully supervised.

During World War II (specifically on July 18, 1942), Polish educator and doctor, Janusz Korczak directed the orphans of the Warsaw ghetto in a moving performance of Dakghar before they were moved to Trebelinka concentration camp. Mahatma Gandhi was moved by Dakghar and Andre Gide read the French version on radio as World War II clouds were looming. Dakghar received rave reviews in Germany and Irish theatre during Tagore's lifetime and interestingly on October 2008 has been commemorated in a stamp by the Department of Posts in Bangalore.

Amal, a terminally ill kid standing on the precipice of death is stuck in a closed room. Sitting inside, he imagines the democracy of open spaces, of the world that he cannot access, the possibility of a king's arrival and the indefatigueable urge to learn from everybody passing by the details of life. Finally, the royal physician carries a letter from the King which eases the child. Does he die or moves to another domain?

What is that domain? Is it a common nationality..Tagore and H.G. Wells met in Geneva in early June, 1930. ....Let have a rewind of their conversation...

TAGORE: The tendency in modern civilization is to make the world uniform. Calcutta, Bombay, Hong Kong, and other cities are more or less alike, wearing big masks which represent no country in particular.

WELLS: Yet don't you think that this very fact is an indication that we are reaching out for a new world-wide human order which refuses to be localized?

TAGORE: Our individual physiognomy need not be the same. Let the mind be universal. The individual should not be sacrificed.

WELLS: We are gradually thinking now of one human civilization on the foundation of which individualities will have great chance of fulfillment. The individual, as we take him, has suffered from the fact that civilization has been split up into separate units, instead of being merged into a universal whole, which seems to be the natural destiny of mankind.

TAGORE: I believe the unity of human civilization can be better maintained by linking up in fellowship and cooperation of the different civilizations of the world. Do you think there is a tendency to have one common language for humanity?

WELLS: One common language will probably be forced upon mankind whether we like it or not. Previously, a community of fine minds created a new dialect. Now it is necessity that will compel us to adopt a universal language.

TAGORE: I quite agree. The time for five-mile dialects is fast vanishing. Rapid communication makes for a common language. Yet, this common language would probably not exclude national languages. There is again the curious fact that just now, along with the growing unities of the human mind, the development of national self-consciousness is leading to the formation or rather the revival of national languages everywhere. Don't you think that in America, in spite of constant touch between America and England, the English language is tending toward a definite modification and change?

WELLS: I wonder if that is the case now. Forty or fifty years ago this would have been the case, but now in literature and in common speech it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between English and American. There seems to be much more repercussion in the other direction. Today we are elaborating and perfecting physical methods of transmitting words. Translation is a bother. Take your poems - do they not lose much by that process? If you had a method of making them intelligible to all people at the same time, it would be really wonderful.

TAGORE: Music of different nations has a common psychological foundation, and yet that does not mean that national music should not exist. The same thing is, in my opinion, probably true for literature.

WELLS: Modern music is going from one country to another without loss - from Purcell to Bach, then Brahms, then Russian music, then oriental. Music is of all things in the world most international.

TAGORE: May I add something? I have composed more than three hundred pieces of music. They are all sealed from the West because they cannot properly be given to you in your own notation. Perhaps they would not be intelligible to your people even if I could get them written down in European notation.

WELLS: The West may get used to your music.

TAGORE: Certain forms of tunes and melodies which move us profoundly seem to baffle Western listeners; yet, as you say, perhaps closer acquaintance with them may gradually lead to their appreciation in the West.

WELLS: Artistic expression in the future will probably be quite different from what it is today; the medium will be the same and comprehensible to all. Take radio, which links together the world. And we cannot prevent further invention. Perhaps in the future, when the present clamor for national languages and dialects in broadcasting subsides, and new discoveries in science are made, we shall be conversing with one another through a common medium of speech yet undreamed of.

TAGORE: We have to create the new psychology needed for this age. We have to adjust ourselves to the new necessities and conditions of civilization.

WELLS: Adjustments, terrible adjustments!

TAGORE: Do you think there are any fundamental racial difficulties?

WELLS: No. New races are appearing and reappearing, perpetual fluctuations. There have been race mixtures from the earliest times; India is the supreme example of this. In Bengal, for instance, there has been an amazing mixture of races in spite of caste and other barriers.

TAGORE: Then there is the question of racial pride. Can the West fully acknowledge the East? If mutual acceptance is not possible, then I shall be very sorry for that country which rejects another's culture. Study can bring no harm, though men like Dr. Haas and Henri Matisse seem to think that the eastern mind should not go outside eastern countries, and then everything will be all right.

WELLS: I hope you disagree. So do I!

TAGORE: It is regrettable that any race or nation should claim divine favoritism and assume inherent superiority to all others in the scheme of creation.

WELLS: The supremacy of the West is only a question of probably the past hundred years. Before the battle of Lepanto the Turks were dominating the West; the voyage of Columbus was undertaken to avoid the Turks. Elizabethan writers and even their successors were struck by the wealth and the high material standards of the East. The history of western ascendancy is very brief indeed.

TAGORE: Physical science of the nineteenth century probably has created this spirit of race superiority in the West. When the East assimilates this physical science, the tide may turn and take a normal course.

WELLS: Modern science is not exactly European. A series of accidents and peculiar circumstances prevented some of the eastern countries from applying the discoveries made by humanists in other parts of the world. They themselves had once originated and developed a great many of the sciences that were later taken up by the West and given greater perfection. Today, Japanese, Chinese and Indian names in the world of science are gaining due recognition.

TAGORE: India has been in a bad situation.

WELLS: When Macaulay imposed a third-rate literature and a poor system of education on India, Indians naturally resented it. No human being can live on Scott's poetry. I believe that things are now changing. But, remain assured, we English were not better off. We were no less badly educated than the average Indian, probably even worse.

TAGORE: Our difficulty is that our contact with the great civilizations of the West has not been a natural one. Japan has absorbed more of the western culture because she has been free to accept or reject according to her needs.

WELLS: It is a very bad story indeed, because there have been such great opportunities for knowing each other.
TAGORE: And then, the channels of education have become dry river beds, the current of our resources having been systematically been diverted along other directions.

WELLS: I am also a member of a subject race. I am taxed enormously. I have to send my check - so much for military aviation, so much for the diplomatic machinery of the government! You see, we suffer from the same evils. In India, the tradition of officialdom is, of course, more unnatural and has been going on for a long time. The Moguls, before the English came, seem to have been as indiscriminate as our own people.

TAGORE: And yet, there is a difference! The Mogul government was not scientifically efficient and mechanical to a degree. The Moguls wanted money, and so long as they could live in luxury they did not wish to interfere with the progressive village communities in India. The Muslim emperors did not dictate terms and force the hands of Indian educators and villagers. Now, for instance, the ancient educational systems of India are completely disorganized, and all indigenous educational effort has to depend on official recognition.

WELLS: "Recognition" by the state, and good-bye to education!
TAGORE: I have often been asked what my plans are. My reply is that I have no scheme. My country, like every other, will evolve its own constitution; it will pass through its experimental phase and settle down into something quite different from what you or I expect.

Using Aga Shahid Ali's Country Without a Post Office, a video trribute of the exiled young Sri Lankan filmmaker Somieetharan and Gujarati legend Dhumketu's story Post Office...the performance creates a haunting tribute/interpretation of Tagore's text.

The play deals with the core issue of what dies within us before we actually die.

Using installation as a metaphor and unrelenting images through puppets and video fragments that range from Dantewada to philosopher Zizek, the perfothe performance searches for the version of utopia that is neither downloadable nor steeped in some clever praxis.

Amal, of the Dakghar, lives to fight another day.

About the director:

An independent media analyst and a performance consultant by profession, Mr. Parnab Mukherjee is one of the leading alternative theatre directors' of the country. He divides his time between Kolkata, Imphal and the Darjeeling hills.

Currently, a consultant with two publication initiatives, he has earlier worked for a sports fortnightly, an English daily and a Bengali daily. He is an acclaimed authority on Badal Sircar's theatre, Shakespeare-in-education and specialises in theatre-for-conflict-resolution and theatre-of-the-campus.

He is considered as a leading light in alternative theatre in the country having directed more than 150 full-length/workshop productions. These include full-length plays, workshop performances, theatre interventions, non-verbal texts, invisible theatre, promenade theatre, structured work-in-progress, site-specific theatre and installation-based performance.

Parnab has created a personal idiom of using spaces for theatre exploration. He has extensively worked on a range of human rights issues which include specific theatre projects on anti-uranium project struggle in Jadugoda, Save Tenzin Delek campaign, rehabilitation after industrial shutdowns, shelter issue of the de-notified tribes, a widely acclaimed cycle of 12 plays against Gujarat genocide, and a range of issues on north-east with special reference to Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958.

He is the artistic director of Best of Kolkata Campus- an autonomous non-registered performance collective and a performance foundry, that has completed 18 years of doing dedicated theatre in found spaces and public arena.

Some of the most memorable productions of the collective include Trilogy of Unrest (Hamletmachine, Necropolis, This room is not my room), River Series (used as a exploratory adocacy tool by Unifem, Undoc and Kripa Foundation), Only Curfew, Rehearsing Antigone, Raktakarabi-an urban sound opera, Buddha Files, Kasper-dipped and shredded, They Also Work, Dead-Talk series, Conversations with the dead, Crisis of Civilisation, Shakespeare shorts, Man to Man talk, Inviting Ibsen for a Dinner with Ibsen, Your path wrong path and And the Dead Tree Gives no Shelter.

Four of his major workshop modules: Freedomspeak, The Otherness of the Body, Conflict as a Text and The Elastic Body have been conducted with major theatre groups and campuses all over the country. He has written four books of performance texts. He curates a series called Talk Gandhi and the Festival of Here and Now.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Arundhati Roy : the GREAT WRITER ,ACTIVIST

Arundhati Roy (born November 24, 1961) is an Indian novelist, activist and a world citizen. She won the Booker Prize in 1997 for her first novel The God of Small Things.

Roy was born in Shillong, Meghalaya to a Keralite Syrian Christian mother and a Bengali Hindu father, a tea planter by profession. She spent her childhood in Aymanam, in Kerala, schooling in Corpus Christi. She left Kerala for Delhi at age 16, and embarked on a homeless lifestyle, staying in a small hut with a tin roof within the walls of Delhi's Feroz Shah Kotla and making a living selling empty bottles. She then proceeded to study architecture at the Delhi School of Architecture, where she met her first husband, the architect Gerard Da Cunha.

The God of Small Things is the only novel written by Roy. Since winning the Booker Prize, she has concentrated her writing on political issues. These include the Narmada Dam project, India's Nuclear Weapons, corrupt power company Enron's activities in India. She is a figure-head of the anti-globalization/alter-globalization movement and a vehement critic of neo-imperialism.

In response to India's testing of nuclear weapons in Pokhran, Rajasthan, Roy wrote The End of Imagination, a critique of the Indian government's nuclear policies. It was published in her collection The Cost of Living, in which she also crusaded against India's massive hydroelectric dam projects in the central and western states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. She has since devoted herself solely to nonfiction and politics, publishing two more collections of essays as well as working for social causes.

Roy was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize in May 2004 for her work in social campaigns and advocacy of non-violence.

In June 2005 she took part in the World Tribunal on Iraq. In January 2006 she was awarded the Sahitya Akademi award for her collection of essays, 'The Algebra of Infinite Justice', but declined to accept it.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Theatre has been Sarachchandra's lifelong passion. As a young professor at the University of Ceylon, Sarachchandra produced sinhalese adaptations of Anton Chekov, Oscar Wilde and Moliere. But Western plays he decided, "never got to the root of our people." He searched the villages for dramatic forms in his quest to identify an indigenous theatre. Together with his students and scholars he investigated folk rituals and dramas in villages of the south, as well as in the Kandyan hills and some parts of the Tamil north. The epoch making play Maname was a result of his dedicated effort. Maname's sensational reception established Sarachchandra's stylised play as a popular genre. A stunning revival of sinhala theatre followed.

Among Sarachchandra's repertoire of plays, Maname, Sinhabahu, Pematho Jayathi Soko , Mahasara and Lomahansa are considered to be a few of the finest. His plays still continues to attract and hold audiences. Sarachchandra has no rival as Sri Lanka's national dramatist.


Concluding the review of Sarath Amunugama's 'Maname Mathakvi'

Who then was Ediriweera Sarachchandra?
Sunday essay by Ajith Samaranayake

The most intriguing aspect of this book is the thesis that Sarath Amunugama develops about Sarachchandra's position in the contemporaneous power structure.

Sarachchandra then was part path-finder and part Godfather but what is true is that he was the undisputable father of modern Sinhala drama who struck a chord among his audiences by bringing about a felicitous marriage between the cultural moment and the cultural product.
Using Foucault's post-modernist concept of civil authority Amunugama views Sarachchandra not merely as a university teacher, dramatist or writer but as also an authority figure in the intellectual and artistic establishment of his time capable of wielding considerable civil influence.

His contention is that Sarachchandra was part of a trinity (the other two figures were M. J. Perera and D. G. Dayaratne, both civil servants) which saw it as its self-anointed task the shaping of taste in the newly-awakened Sri Lankan nation. In fact Sarachchandra himself had sat for the Ceylon Civil Service examination but had failed the viva voce presumably because of the kurtha which he had worn for the interview and his nationalist views. Amunugama hints that Perera and Dayaratne having sat for the examination in London, the citadel of imperial power would have stood better a chance than Sarachchandra.

Anyway by the time Sarachchandra had become the doyen of cultural fashion at Peradeniya (a kind of Sri Lankan Leavis) and was producing 'Maname', M. J. Perera was the Director General of the then Radio Ceylon which was part of the Information Department.

A new intelligentsia had arrived on the scene as the fruit of Free Education and was keen to assert itself in the intellectual and cultural life of the nation. They were bi-lingual but scorned the slavish westernisation which had been the badge of their predecessors who had devotedly worshipped the doddering Anglo-Saxon gods.

They were mostly products of the Peradeniya University which was a thriving intellectual centre in contrast to the shells into which today's universities have been transformed. As Amunugama points out the staff consisted of a galaxy of intellectual talent and the young students of the time were stirred by the writings of H. A. de S. Gunasekera on the Sri Lankan banking system, Das Gupta on the economy, Ralph Peiris on the Sinhala social organisation, Siri Gunasinghe on Indian art, Sarachchandra and W. S. Karunaratne on Buddhist philosophy and Karl Gunawardena on the Dutch period in Sri Lanka.

The University possessed one of the finest libraries of the time and its famed 'Ceylon Room' had such rich archival material as the writings and letters of Anagarika Dharmapala, D. B. Jayatilleke, Ponnambalam Arunachalam and Sir James Peiris. It is Amunugama's contention that Perera and Dayaratne as civil servants used the young Peradeniya intellectuals as vehicles to take new thinking and values to the people with Radio Ceylon as their main organ.

Certainly it would be true to say that Sarachchandra saw himself as a modernist intellectual in a society still warped by semi-feudal and colonial features and a crusader slaying the dragons of vulgarity and cultural backwardness. Like F. R. Leavis he became the guru of a coterie of intellectuals, writers and poets who saw themselves as the vanguard of the literary and cultural renaissance of the day. Hence the term 'Peradeniya School' or 'Peradeniya Period' which have been used both in complimentary as well as pejorative senses.

Amunugama argues that it was this modernist outlook on Sarathchandra's part which made him the butt end for the fierce attacks of the tradionalists spearheaded by the Colombo School although Sarachchandra himself was a teacher of Sinhala who had written a doctoral thesis on Buddhist philosophy. The contradiction here was that although Sarachchandra was a modernist by intellectual temperament all his major dramas would be derived from Buddhist literature or Sinhala folk lore and made use of traditional or stylised dramatic methods.

The traditionalists, however fought back for although the Peradeniya coterie commanded Radio Ceylon influential sections of the print media were in the hands of the traditionalist rearguard. The Editor of the Lake House Sunday Sinhala daily 'Silumina' was Meemana Prematilleke, a stalwart Colombo School poet, while Sisira Kumara Manikkaarachchi who wrote the anti-Peradeniya tract named 'Sahitya Kollaya' was a feature writer of the Lake House Sinhala daily 'Dinamina'.

However the fact that the latter was not allowed to publish his book under his own name but had to have recourse to the nom-de-geurre of 'Wansanatha Deshabandhu' (because he was a Lake House employee) vindicates Amunugama's argument that Sarachchandra had powerful media backers among whom he includes Mrs. Nalini Wickramasinghe, the mother of the Prime Minister.

However his contention that Sri Chandraratne Manawasinghe had written a laudatory review of 'Maname' in his 'Wagatuga' column in the 'Lankadeepa' probably on the instigation of its Editor D. B. Dhanapala is debatable since Manawasinghe was too independent a writer to give into either cajolings or blandishments.

Who then was ultimately Ediriweera Sarachchandra? Was he the serious shaper and moulder of artistic and cultural taste in post-Independence Sri Lanka or merely the Godfather of an intellectual Mafia tucked away in the hills of Hantane?

Amunugama does not provide an answer but in the light of the confessions of Gunadasa Amarasekera in the mid-1960s and the now largely-forgotten controversies between the two there is at least some valid reason to believe that some of Sarachchandra's literary assessments were not quite on target.

But the very fact that Amarasekera who was portrayed at the time as Sarachchandra's favoured protege was able to recant his earlier writings and transmogrify himself into a master of literary realism and a spiritual prophet shows at least tangenitally Sarachchandra's powerful influence.

Certainly the fond portrait which Amarasekera has drawn of his old guru in his later series of semi-autobiographical novels shows Sarachchandra in the light of his old Peradeniya days.

Sarachchandra then was part path-finder and part Godfather but what is true and what Amunugama seeks to bring out in this work is that he was the undisputable father of modern Sinhala drama who struck a chord among his audiences by bringing about a felicitous marriage between the cultural moment and the cultural product.


Sunday, 16 November 2003



Thursday, April 29, 2010

In Memory of Sarath Chandran,

In Memory of Sarath Chandran,
a renowned activist and filmmaker.

Sarath Chandran was born on 16 February 1958 and had his education in MG College, Trivandrum and at Dharmadam. During his student years, he was involved in the resistance against “Emergency”.

For Sarath, filmmaking was a political act where cinema accomplished one of its most elemental of qualities: to ‘document' the world before it and to bring those images back to the people. He traveled extensively to create a network of filmmakers, activist groups, and campuses in order to show films and open up new horizons for youngsters and activists alike.

His apprenticeship in filmmaking was from Late Sri.G Aravindan, and the Late John Abraham. During the 1980's he was involved with Samkramanam a radical magazine published from Kochi and started making documentary films on VHS. His screenings played a pivotal role in raising public awareness on environment and giving focus to the debates on environmental issues and people's struggles in Kerala.

Sarath was one of the founders of VIBGYOR film collective and was the artistic director of the VIBGYOR film festival, Trichur 2010.

Monday, April 26, 2010

By Mir Ali Akhtar

The folk theatre of Bangladesh has an ancient past. However, the continued viability of this tradition is a perennial question. Folk culture in the rural areas, has long been under pressure form the urban culture. Just as folk-crafts have found it difficult to compete with mass produced goods, so too, folk music and theatre must compete with radio, TV, and the cinema. Under the pressure of the larger urban culture, many elements of folk culture have disappeared or been pushed into oblivion. This page will deal with our efforts to revive the traditional kushan theatre of Bangladesh.

Kushan Theatre
The kushan is a form of folk theatre that was once found in many parts of West Bengal and the former greater Rangpur district of Bangladesh. However today, it is extremely rare. Our efforts at reviving this artform have been centred around the Dhorla river basin area of northern Bangladesh. The kushan (sometimes transliterated as kusan), is a dramatic presentation which involves, singing, recitation of dialogue, acting, dancing, and musical accompaniment.

The themes of the kushan theatre are essentially religious in nature and revolve around portions of the Ramayan. In particular they tend to revolve around Ram's sons Kush and Lob (i.e., Lav).

The etymology of the term "kushan" is unclear. There appear to be two stories concerning the origin of the term; but both of these deserve considerable scepticism.

According to some, it seems that one day Sheeta's (i.e. Sita) son Lob (i.e., Lav) was missing. Sheeta was in great distress and Balmeeki Muni (i.e. Valmiki) heard of her problems. Sheeta told Balmeeki that she did not know how to tell Sree Raam Chandro (i.e., Sri Ram Chandra) that their son was missing. When Balmeeki heard of Sheeta's dilemma, he told her to "bring some straw" (Kush = "hay" or "straw", "aan"= "bring"). When Balmeeki obtained the straw, he fashioned it into the form resembling the missing son Lob, and infused it with life. After some time, the missing son Lob returned, and from that day forward Sheeta had two sons, Lob and Kush. According to this etymology, "Kushan" means "bring straw".

There is different story concerning the origin of the term. According to other people the word "kushan" means "To wipe away evil" ("ku"= evil, "shan"= "to clean by wiping"). This is supposedly derived from the concept of destroying injustice, which is a consistent theme of the kushan theatre.

There is a distinctive hierarchy of performers in the kushan theatre. There is a main performer who is also the leader of the group; he is known as the "geedal" or "mool". The geedal gives the narration in Bengali; this is the official language of both Bangladesh and the North East Indian state of West Bengal. Secondary to the geedal is the dohar, daaree, or doaree. This secondary narrator gives almost the same narration, but instead of a more standard Bengali (Bangla Bhasha), he translates it into a local vernacular dialect of Rangpuri or Rajbongshi. After these come the supporting musicians, and a very few singer-cum-actors. The supporting musicians are known as the "baiin". The baiin members are named according to their instrument; therfore "banshia" is the banshi (i.e., bansuri) player; Khuli is the khol player; Juridar are the mondira or khafi players (i.e., manjira); and the behala-master is the violin player. there is a slightly different nomenclature for the players of Western instruments; for these, the term "master" is appended to their instrument name. Therefore one finds designations such as, harmonium-master; clarinet-master; etc. The supporting singer-cum-actors are known as "paiil". Of particular interest among the paiil are the chokra. These are four to six young boys who dress up in women's clothing and play the female parts of the drama. As is typical of much of South Asia, women performers are not used.

Female Roles Played by the Young Boys (chokra)

Music In The Kushan Theatre
Music and dance are integral to the kushan theatre. However, unlike much of the other theatre of South Asia, dance plays a relatively minor role. Much of the narration is presented in the form of the song. Perhaps the greatest demands are placed upon the main performer (i.e., the geedal), who must sing, provide narration, and play the traditional stringed instrument known as bana.

The songs play an important part in the performance of the kushan. These songs are classified as nachari, dhooya, poyaar, and khosha. Of these, the nachari gives dialogue and naration; the dhooya are popular folk songs), the poyaar are the musical themes of the performance, while the khosha are comical riddles.

Instrumental music is also very important to the kushan theatre. Obviously the major purpose is to provide musical support for the singers and to provide a background for the dance performance. However in the case of the main performer (geedal), the bana actually helps define his position within the performance.

There are a number of instruments which may be used in the kushan. Aside from the bana, there is a bowed instrument known as as sharinda (i.e. saringda). Over the years, this has come to be replaced with the violin or the harmonium; however the use of these Western instruments is not traditional. Arbanshi (i.e., bansuri or bamboo flute) is also commonly employed. There are also a number of percussion instruments used as well; principal among these are the akhrai (e.g., dholak), khol, mondira (i.e., manjira), and khapi (larger manjira).

Typical Format
The kushan performance has a typical structure. It is:

Bondona (i.e.,Vandana)(adoring/invocation/veneration) - The bondana is what is known in India as a "vandana". It is a prayer in the form of a song. Such bondonas may be in praise of gods, saints, or gurus (either spiritual or artistic). Typical examples may be Debi Shoroshshoti Bondona (i.e., Saraswati Devi Vandana), Debi Monosha Bondona (i.e. Manisha Devi Vandana)(in folk-theatre Poddopuran only), Dikbondona (Invocation of the blessings of the cardinal directions, east, south, west, and north), Guru Bondona, etc. Each bondona is usually four to five minutes long. Everyone in the group participates in this; but there is no dance with bondona.

Nachari - This is a type song or a number of songs, whose lyrics describe the forthcoming pala (play). These are dialogues with acting in front of the audience. All the group members participate in this, with a full accompaniment of dance, music, etc. It lasts about five to six minutes. The musical structure is as of vaoaiya which is a very common folksong in this area.

Palarkotha (dialogues and naration) - These are a few lines of the dialogue which are delivered by the geedal in somewhat standard Bengali; the dohar quickly repeats/and elaborates in the local dialect. In this case it was Rangpuri or Rajbongshi. This is necessary because the locals do not understand standard Bengali very well. This continues for about 10-12 minutes. There is also acting with this. At times, one or two members of the paiil join in for dialogue and acting. There is no dance accompaniment, but there is music.

Poyaar - The poyaar is generally three to four lines, but sometimes as many as eight lines, of a popular folk song vaoaiya. The themes of which fit with the interludes of the preceding dialogue. It lasts about 10-12 minutes. All the members of the group participate. There is also dance and musical accompaniment. Generally the chokra do not sing because they are busy dancing. These folk dances demand strength in the knees as chokras (i.e, young boy dancers) are required to rise vigourously on the "shom" (i.e., sam or first beat of the cycle). At times three or four subsequent risings are required when a "tehai" (i.e., tihai or a triadic rhythmic device) is given with the khol (i.e., folk drum).

The gach poyaar is particularly interesting; It may be thought of as a theme. These are fundamental poyaars made at the time script is first created. "gach" in Bengali means "tree", but in this context it means "original" or "fundamental".

One should note that the term poyaar in the context of folk theatre does not mean the same as it does in mainstream literary circles. Typically a poyaar is Bengali measure of verse consisting of two lines, each of which is 14 syllables. However the poyaar in the folk theatre of Dhorla River basin, area does not adhere to this structure.

Nachari - See #2

Palarkotha - see #3

Poyaar/dhooya/ Khosha - At this point there will be poyaar, dhooya, and khosha. The poyaar has already been discussed; however the terms "dhooya" and "khosha" deserve some discussion.

Dhooya - These are also a few lines of any very popular vaoaiya/chotka, but not related to the theme of the play. All the members participate in this. The music of this is generally in a 3/4 time signature ("druto" or fast dadra tal).

Khosha - This is a short comedy drama, which need not directly related to the story of the play. It generally lasts for 20-30 minutes. It is performed by geedal, dohar, and one or two of the paiil. There is no dancing in this, but there is musical accompaniment. Very often this comedy takes the form of a riddle. Khosha was extremely important in the old days when there used to be competitions (norok). It is considered to be the most interesting and most attractive portion of the performance.

Nachari - see #2

Palakotha - see #3

Ending - In one night a play is performed for 6-7 hours. It is ended by singing a dhooya; however before ending, the geedal lets the audience know that it is finished and invites the audience for future performances.

Revival Efforts
Recently there was a effort to revive the kushan theatre of the Dhorla river basin. The last time it was played in this remote area of Bangladesh was about 27 years back (from 2005 CE) . After such a long hiatus, there were many challenges which needed to be overcome. The challenges at times involved logistics (i.e., power generators, venue, videotaping, etc.). However, these challenges at times were cultural and social in nature.

The first and greatest difficulty would be finding of the main performer (i.e., the geedal). It was fairly clear that if a competent geedal could be found, then from there it would be possible to either find or train the rest of the performers. Only three performers were found in the area; of these only two were acceptable. One was Mohesh Chondro Bormon and the other was Shadhu Robindronath Roy.

One acceptable kushan leader (geedal) was Mohesh Chondro Bormon. Mr. Bormon was a resident of Foolkhar Chakla; he was about 90 years old.

Mohesh Chondo Bormon and Party

Another acceptable kushan leader (geedal) was was Shadhu Robindronath Roy. He was a resident of Khamargobindogram; he was about 76 years of age. Although Mr. Roy proved to be very knowledgeable about kushan and the great geedals of the past, things did not always proceed in a smooth manner. At one point, he claimed that he was giving up worldly pursuits and living in the temple; therefore it would not be possible for him to perform the kushan.

Shadhu Robindronath

We were also able to locate another geedal named Kripa Shindhu Roy in Rotigram, but unfortunately he did not work out. One of the reasons for his not being able to do it was that he did not possess bana; since this is a requirement for the geedal, this was a problem. Furthermore, he said that after so many years, he could not remember the script that we were wishing to perform. Still, he is a performer of some repute in many other ways.

With two qualified geedals, it was then possible to create two functioning kushan theatre groups. However half a century ago an area such as the Dhorla River basin might have had a larger number of groups. This allowed them to have competitions between them. In the old days, such competitions were a matter of great interest to the people. Such competitions were called norok and would go on for several nights.

The Performances
First kushan was revived and presented on the night of December 12, 2006. This was the first time that the kushan had been presented in this area in nearly three decades. The name of the play was "Boilabodh". The geedal was Shadhu Robindronath Roy and dohar (i.e., translator) was Nirmol Chondro Roy. The revival was fully supported by this researcher Wing Commander Mir Ali Akhtar (Retd.). The place was Khamargobindogram, Goddess Kali's Mondir Yard. In spite of this being a rainy winter night, turnout was good and the performance was well received. Power for this performance was provided by a small portable generator.

Kushan Performance in Village

The revival of the kushan created a good deal of publicity. As a result of several newspaper articles, the Bangla Academy, and Shilpokola Academy of Bangladesh started to take interest in this revival. With their support, the kushan was able to be performed in several venues around the capital during Febrary 2007. According to many, this was the first time in centuries that the kushan has been performed in Dacca.

Kushan Performance in Dacca

The continued viability of the kushan theatre, is a matter which is still not clear. However the interest generated by this recent revival is certainly a positive sign. It can only be hoped that the renewed interest will be reflected in renewed patronage and an increase in younger artist willing to embrace this artform.



Bangladesh's only scroll artist Shambhu Acharya learnt his skills from his father in a remote village in the south of the country, but is now putting on exhibitions in the capital to revive the dying art. "I am not only trying to continue the work my forefathers did, but also bring scroll art back into mainstream as this form of art is part of our rich heritage," he said. Acharya, who is in his 40s -- many villagers in Bangladesh do not know their exact date of birth -- is the ninth generation of his family to paint scrolls which has been an art form in Bangladesh since the 16th century.

Every scroll painting tells a story and in the countryside people used to gather to listen to songs based on the paintings to the tune of an ek tara (one string) guitar and a local drum called a dhol. But in recent years scroll painting virtually died out as the artists found more lucrative work.

Acharya is the only one left and wants to pass on his skills to his son and three daughters to ensure the art form lives on. He uses natural colours, glue made from plants and crushed bricks to paint on cloth and paper scrolls.

"I will return to using brushes made of goat and cow hair like my forefathers did for nine generations as they give different effect to painting," Acharya said. "I sometimes work for 14 to 16 hours straight and it is an addiction as much as my profession ... I am never tired," he told AFP as he showed with pride his 45 works on display this month at Gallery Chitrak in Dhaka.

"The artists are trying to find their roots and it is very important to know ones root," said Ramendu Majumder, a celebrated actor and art connoisseur who organised the show. "Mr. Majumder found me in my village and told me I must work hard and should not worry about my stomach ... this exhibition is the outcome of his support," Acharya said.

The artist worked relentlessly for more than a year to finally present his first solo exhibition which has been successful in attracting huge numbers of art lovers as well as sales. The most expensive scroll "Gazi Pat" was sold for 15,000 taka (260 dollars). It tells the story of the Bengali Muslim saint Ismail Gazi who, accompanied by his tiger, acquired heroic virtues.

Acharya's work was highlighted in 1999 when he was part of the Arts Worldwide Bangladesh Festival at the Spitz Gallery in London. But despite international acclaim, the scrolls were still forgotten in Bangladesh -- until now.

Art experts said it was the first time such scrolls had been on show in Dhaka in many years. Acharya is not alone in the struggle to revive Bangladesh's dying artforms. Azharul Islam Chanchal uses terracotta to make masks, statues of fish and other animals and decorated mirrors. "I travel across Bangladesh to encourage villagers working with clay to pick up terracotta as this popular form of art is slowly vanishing," he said.

At Dhaka's Institute of Fine Arts gallery, Chanchal and two of his friends last month had an exhibition of terracotta which were popular in this part of the world even 2,000 years ago. "Our clay work, which is inspired by terracotta work of the Hindu Pal dynasty, Mughal rulers and Australian aboriginal art, was an instant success," Chanchal told AFP. "Now I think our mission will be a success as people too want the revival of this dying art."

"The patience of waiting while the clay is in the fire is the real love of this art as you really don't know the outcome," said Chanchal, whose work sells for between 100 and 6,000 taka (1.7 to 103 dollars). Celebrated painters Ranjit Das and Shishir Bhattachajee told AFP the urge for revival was encouraging. "For any country its heritage is an asset and we simply cannot afford to lose it," said Bhattacharjee.

SERAJUL ISLAM CHOUDHURY:A committed intellectual

A committed intellectual

HOW would he like to be remembered? Pausing for moments, in his measured enunciation typical of his classroom lectures, Serajul Islam Choudhury, on a definitive note, said, ‘a committed intellectual.’

A man of commitment, or rather public commitment, Serajul Islam went on to define intellectuals as people who could rise up vertically in knowledge and achievement, but could also spread horizontally towards society, but for which they are reduced to mere scholars or professionals, or even mere social beings when they are inclined more towards society. This responsibility, shouldered out of volition, is to understand society and to strive after social transformation.

And this commitment has been with him as the guiding spirit and the driving force in all he has done, contributed or achieved in his vocation, teaching, and avocation, writing, all his life.

In his early life, he wished to become a novelist, but failed. His father wanted him to join the civil service after a degree in economics, but he wanted to study the Bangla literature. On a note of compromise, he enrolled with the English department at the University of Dhaka after an intermediate of arts degree in 1952, obtained from Notre Dame College, preceded by matriculation from St Gregory’s High School in 1950.

He joined the department as a teacher in 1957, setting out also to be a writer. He decided not to become a bureaucrat which many around him were doing then. He counted two reasons for his becoming a writer: his work at the university, which ensured that he would not be transferred and which made scope for him to read a lot, and his temperament. He liked the library too. He received his master’s degree in 1956 and worked briefly with Haraganga College in Munshiganj and Jagannath College in Dhaka.

In more than four decades that followed, he taught students, wrote essays, headed the department, became dean, spawned off several academic and research processes, initiated doctoral dissertation guidance at the department, started periodicals, founded study centres and remained involved in university politics.

He went to England twice by the time – for a post-graduate diploma in English studies at Leeds University and for doctoral studies at Leicester University.

After his retirement, now he edits a quarterly, Natun Diganta (new horizon), which started coming out in 2002, writes, gives lectures and leads or joins social movements. All what he has so far done or all he still does are a manifestation of his commitment – to understand society better and to bring about social transformation.

He had failed to become a novelist: for two reasons; he has never been familiar with the bigger life out there, one that is beyond the bounds of the middle class, and his academic job in the university which has hampered his creativity and showed him that his literary attempts did not reach any heights compared with what he read and taught.

The life out there may still be unknown to him, but he knows middle-class sentiments, or meanness, very well, always trying to rise above such issues which he thinks is necessary to make progress.

He failed to become a novelist; but he has emerged as a writer – an essayist – with a style very individual of him, larded with punctuations which he thinks are necessary to give readers space to breathe and think. He has achieved to write in a style that is moulded into the syntax of the English language, free-flowing and fitting for the subjects he deals with. Yet, there are some who think the style is too populist to go with philosophical contents; he differs.

His style, which he prizes less than the content, has been unknowingly influenced by four writers — Francis Bacon, Buddhadeb Bose, Sudhindranath Dutta and Shibram Chakrabarty. He liked the style of Buddhadeb, although the contents failed to attract him, the deliberateness of Sudhindranath and the humour of Shibram, which have probably moulded into the reasoning of Bacon in his writing. He started prose-writing with Anveshan, a volume of his essays published in 1964, and now he admits drifting from what he started with. He had deliberateness in his writing which has now been replaced with spontaneity.

Serajul Islam has more than 73 titles, mostly volumes of essays on literary criticism and social analysis, to his credit and about a dozen of them have run to the second or third reprint, from 1962 till now. He has half a dozen compilations of his writings and has edited a three-volume set of the works of Anwar Pasha, and six journals.

Serajul Islam first initiated to offer PhD degrees in English at the university. He guided eight students in doctoral dissertations beginning in 1980, as he had thought it had been time the university should have started doing such things. He edited journals, the university journals of arts and letters in Bangla and English — Dhaka Visvavidyalay Patrika for 15 years and Dhaka University Studies for nine years. He founded the Visvavidyalay Patrika.

It was for him that the journals came to be published regularly, at least for the period he edited them. During his student days, he decided not to be a bureaucrat, but feels he has a bureaucratic temperament, which he enjoys when he edits magazines.

His commitment to striving for changes in society led him to stand for the position of member on the executive committee of the Salimullah Hall union soon after he had become student of the university. He worked as treasurer of the Dhaka University Central Students’ Union and during the period he pushed for debates, cultural functions and other such events involving students and teachers, which he said had disappeared after the rule of Ershad.

He founded the University Book Centre in 1978 and the Centre for Advanced Research in Humanities in 1986. In keeping with the spirit, he now runs a centre called Samaj Rupantar Adhyayan Kendra (centre for studies on social transformation), which works towards waking people up to a democracy which would mean ‘equality of rights and opportunities. Rights being equal would not mean anything unless the opportunities remain equal.’ He also set up the seminar in the department and introduced seminars every week with teachers and students.

He took part in the drafting of the Dhaka University Order, which laid the ground for the much-required autonomy. And he had been with university politics, the panels, till 1991 to ensure that the university, in addition to being autonomous legally, should also be autonomous institutionally. He was nominated by the senate to the three-member panel for vice-chancellor’s appointment on three occasions, heading the poll for two times. He was elected to the executive committee of the Dhaka University Teachers’ Association for several times, which, too, was out of his commitment to the university, students and fellows.

Diligent and dutiful he is, Serajul Islam said. He loves being social, too. This is how he evaluates himself. The day his wife, Najma Jesmin, whom he married in 1962, died of cancer in 1989, his students said, he went to take the class scheduled for that morning and the students sent him back home. ‘Duty has always been important to me,’ said Serajul Islam, at the reminder long after the event. ‘I knew my wife was being treated and there were people around her to look after. I also needed to discharge my duty.’

Born on June 23, 1936 at Bikrampur in Dhaka and having lived in Rajshahi and Kolkata, till 1947, and in Dhaka thereafter, Serajul Islam, like most others around him, had colonial influence dominant as he grew up. He became leftist when he went to England for a diploma at Leeds University. He stayed there for 10 months.

When he reached England, he found many of his friends had become Marxist by then. He followed suit, studied Marx and became interested in the politics, economics and social order underlying the literature, which led to his doctoral dissertation on the evil in the novels of Joseph Conrad, EM Forster and DH Lawrence, and similar criticisms of the classics in Bangla.

He believes he is not an orthodox Marxist, but Marxism has taught him to analyse society in the light of class differences. He started believing that capitalism could not cure capitalism and nationalism would also fail to change society. And since then, he has had no regression, no aberration, in his belief.

Serajul Islam, who has written so many books, inspired so many people, contributed significantly to academics, won so many awards including the Bangla Academy Award in 1976, Ekushey Padak in education in 1996, Abdur Rab Chowdhury Gold Medal (Dhaka University) in 1988, and came to be loved and admired by so many people, says life has given him fulfilment, although there is discontent, or dissatisfaction rather, as to making proper use of his time. He does not feel he could do more, but feels he could do what he has done in a better way. There is nothing for him to regret.

Now focused on writing a book on nationalism, communalism and people’s emancipation, being serialised in Natun Diganta expected to be finished in a year, he feels he will look forward to progressing in what has done and is doing and look back to his past to learn from, the never-ending process that keeps life rolling further, for better, for him and for society.

Abu Jar M Akkas


April 9, 2010

Mini-Symposium on Poetry Today

English Department

Future of poetry

Anisur Rahman

I do not believe as one should say or can say much on the future of poetry, however I would like to make my observations as well. I am simply love to see myself as a miner in the mine of poetry and thus survive. One can say something about the future of a poet, but not poetry truly. Poetry is really un-catchable goddess or beloved. One can only feel, but to understand her is almost impossible.

On the other hand, echoing the voice of one of our Bengali great poets Syed Shamsul Haq (1935--), I would like to say poetry is love-letter to time…. Against this backdrop, it is difficult to say in advance about the mind in a lover so in poetry and its future.

I had an exclusive conversation over social commitment in writing with Swedish writer Ola Larsmo at CafĂ© Vetekatten in Stockholm sometime last year. He asked me to whom a writer should be committed. I said, ‘none but life’.

I also believe in the saying by Norwegian talent Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906), ‘To be poet is to see’. The future of poetry will be as how the future poets see life and how the life would actually be then. Life is must be for truth and beauty and so is poetry in past, today and in future. This is the subjects in poetry I am pointing out in the question of futurity.

There are some more universal and essential considerations in poetry. Poetry is a matter of ‘words’ ‘spontaneity’ ‘sensitivity’ ‘visibility’ and ‘musicality’. In this consequence I would like to remember Wordsworth (1770-1850) as saying …poetry is spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; and so will be in future. Poetry is also paintings at the same time. I hope future poets will not dismiss this.

Domination of technology is increasing day by day. It does not mean, humans will lose their interest in poetry. In that case use of poetry or presence of poetry or promotion of poetry may be different, but there is no way to find basic variance in futurity of poetry.

There is a saying scientists usually do not ignore the ways …on the other hand the poets do not think of ways but never ignore life. The same will be in future. Commercial use of poetry will be increased …like slogans, ads, t-shirts, city’s beautification and so…

Poetry is a concern of language and mind. Poetry from different languages and lands does have its common language. That language is to tell the mind. Poetry must tell mind either today or tomorrow…always.

In life there is something that can no how be expressed but in poetry…what is difference between photography and painting…that is something camera cannot give the language of mind, imagination and dream, thinking in photography, but a painter’s brush can present those in paintings…so does a poet in poetry…. The same will be in future…

In future, the humans will have mind, (as they have today) power, will of thinking, imagining, dreaming, biasness towards truth, beauties in life so to poetry. The toughest job is to write poetry…I myself do not believe as I have been able to write my successful poem yet…

Patronisation to poetry is somehow necessary. For this it is a must to have value based socialist welfare state functionality. In the history of Bengali poetry some longs years in between 1000-1200 AD and some one hundred years after 1757 during the British colony in Indian sub continent are considered to be the dark ages in Bengali literary tradition. No recognisable poetic tradition was made that time. The causes in this regard were absence of sovereign national governance in Bengal land. Futurity of history as well as life will be reflected in futurity of poetry.

I am not frustrated at all as the appeal of poetry will any how be demeaned in life in future. Moreover, for peace, progress, spirits in mind and biasness towards beauties in life, humans must come back to poetry again and again. Poetry is a shelter in life.

Anisur Rahman, a poet from Bangladesh, is ICORN guest author in Uppsala.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Jana Sanskriti – Centre for Theatre of the Oppressed


The Forum Theatre Festival


Jana Sanskriti – Centre for Theatre of the Oppressed


The idea of Theatre of the Oppressed was born in South America in the early seventies from the work and practice of Brazilian theatre theoretician and director Augusto Boal. Jana Sanskriti was the first group to bring Theatre of the Oppressed and Forum Theatre to India.

In Forum Theatre members of the theatre team select, construct, and narrate a social problem from their daily life. With artistic direction this play is taken to an audience who must now find a solution to the problem. Passive spectators then become engaged spect-actors. Spect-actors come on stage to enact the solutions they have thought of, debating with trained activists about the feasibility of the solutions suggested.

Since 1991, Jana Sanskriti has removed itself far from conventional theatre and spread the practice of Forum Theatre to remote villages of the Sunderban in Bengal. With 20 theatre teams active in rural Bengal, Jana Sanskriti is today perhaps the state’s largest theatre group. Jana Sanskriti has also taken this theatre pedagogy beyond the boundaries of the state to different parts of the country - to Tripura, Orissa, Jharkhand, Delhi, Utranchal, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat.

Jana Sanskriti believes that every individual is essentially intellectual. Not only great men thinks but also all men think, philosophy exists in the thought of so called illiterate human beings. But they are not aware of it all the time. The political culture never takes care of this intellectual faculty of the people. They are made blind followers. Jana Sanskriti on the other hand wants to develop rationality within the people. Through out in last two decades this is where Jana Sanskriti has focused her artistic activities. They have always tried to make the qualities of human being visible which is normally invisible to the people. Creating rational people is the main focus of Jana Sanskriti's work. This is how they want to bring change in the society.

Jana Sanskriti believes the biggest form of violation of human rights is not to create democratic space for the people to think. They should not be seen as the implementers only they can contribute in the making of the policies. That is the reason Jana Sanskriti left propaganda theatre and started Theatre of the Oppressed devised by Augusto Boal. They are the first exponent of Boal here in India and the largest and long-lasting Theatre of the Oppressed movement in the world according to Augusto Boal.

Today Jana Sanskriti has created the Federation of Theatre of the Oppressed, India where a number of large activist movements are present. They have handed over theatrical means (means of making theatre) to the poorest of the poor, to the tribal communities, lower caste, to the rural people.

Jana Sanskriti is a work of art and the name of a space where total transformation is constructed. It is an organization founded in 1985 which practices Theatre of the Oppressed among the most disadvantaged sections of Indian society. From its inception in one remote village, Jana Sanskriti now has constructed theatre teams consisting of men and women agricultural labourers. These actors come together transcending divisive social and political affiliations to plan constructive action and provide dynamic leadership for social justice and community development. Their plays onstage and their political activism offstage feeds one another to mobilize around issues as wide-ranging as domestic violence to political violence, from reconstruction of public institutions to resistance against aggressive forms of development. Rather than use theatre to deliver development messages and services, Jana Sanskriti has used theatre to establish dialogue in society. They believe that dialogue allows for informed critical thinking and prevents a human being from following blindly – whether in pursuit of material things, an ideology, or a person. This form of dialogue is an aesthetic experience of life, an internal transformation which inspires action for external transformation. This is what we mean by total transformation.


In our work on Forum Theatre we have dealt with a range of issues which are relevant to different groups in different regions – Displacement, malpractices in the public distribution system, communalism, exploitation by contractors, undemocratic culture of political parties, and corruption in the Panchayat, blind superstitions, domestic violence, insurgency and terrorism etc.

The important reason for holding this Festival is that it becomes a meeting ground for the Forum Theatre teams trained by Jana Sanskriti all over India. Each of these teams is active in their own regions; most of them are also heading organizations engaged in struggles to assert the rights of the marginalized. Though all these teams are linked to each other through their commitment to the Forum Theatre movement, they have had very little opportunity to interact with each other and see each other’s work. At this Festival we were able to provide this valuable opportunity. This interaction has, as seen from the last three festivals, no doubt, imbued each individual and team with the feeling that they are not alone in this challenging task of establishing dialogue in society.

Usually Forum Theatre is performed before audiences who are also facing the problem portrayed in the play. Since problem solving and understanding the problem sociologically through collective action is the primary intention so the spectators and actors form a homogenous group. But in this Festival like the previous three that we had we will again try to have all kinds of interest groups involved and interested in theatre of the oppressed in the audience, from all over the world! And since Forum Theatre allows room for debate and discussion, the audience emerges from the experience with a more human outlook.

Finally, the name ‘Muktadhara’! ‘Mukta’ means free and ‘Dhara’ is a flowing steam. A flow that is free from dogma and all those structural constructs that prevent a dialogue between people, is what is implied by the term Muktadhara – celebrating movement in peace and togetherness! This is when the glory of development is said to have taken place – participation in togetherness.


The festival will be held at an open air venue in the centre of Kolkata.
Workshops will be held either in a Mango Garden or by the side of a river.
There will be one more workshop on Rainbow of Desire, we will place it in the festival schedule and will let you know.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Ratan Thiyam: The Metamorphosis

Ratan Thiyam: The Metamorphosis
By A Spectator

In his earlier incarnation he was known as Thiyam Nemai. He was lanky, mild mannered and would be seen in what used to be called "classical song sessions". Then nothing much was heard about him till he graduated from the National School of Drama, the Mecca of Indian theater and tried his hand with a theater group in Delhi, but a critic had found his Hindi wanting. This was in the early 1970s.

That must have been the time when he started searching for his roots in Manipur and soon became one of the finest exponents of the theatre of roots. The path from his makeshift "Shangoi" cum studio in his ancestral house to the magnificent "Shrine" at the Chorus Complex at Shamushang has been a long and arduous coping along with personal tragedy and an indifferent bureaucracy.

Actually the "people in power in Manipur" heard about him first when he was offered the Directorship of the National School of Drama. The then chief secretary was said to have quipped "how is that the Prime Minister knows him and we don't."

His plays have traveled, from Aryan Theater, GM Hall, Jawaharlal Nehru Dance Academy (JNMDA) to the Shriram Center for Arts, New Delhi with the group's first overseas break coming in with their trip to Greece. Yes, we all know that Yanni had performed at the Acropolis or the Herrod Atticus. But actually Ratan had been there much before, staging an Indian play in Manipuri attire before a record audience of 10,000 Greeks.

After watching his "Urubhangam"- a drama critic in Calcutta wrote that standards of Indian theater would one day be measured along the lines of "Urubhangam". His "Chakravyu" was to follow soon engulfing audiences worldwide into that ancient Indian battle formation from which there is no escape.

This man's other talents came to light in the opening ceremony of the India Festival at Moscow. TV watchers in India and the then USSR watched with amazement when the Manipuri Moibung's (Conch) "Dhani" reverberated across the Red Square prompting Raisa Gorbachev to ask for an encore. Yes, that was Ratan Thiyam's imagination at work and what might have been just another blowing session for the "Moibung Khongba" or the Conch-player, it was a giant leap for Manipuri culture.

Having traversed the globe from Moscow to New York, he recently returned home with the New York Times describing him as a "Genius". The
honor from the city of Paris and New Delhi in the form of the Padmashri was all there before, but this is different.

The question that now comes into the minds of ordinary spectators like this writer for instance is the question of whethere this Master of the Theater of Roots has lost touch with the roots from which he draws his materials that makes him a Genius. Does his leikais (neighborhoods) get to see his plays or for that matter the students?

Habin Tanvir came to stage his Chandradas Choir at the Manipur University. During his stint as Director of the National School of Drama he had come in for sharp criticism from a person none other than its founder Director Ebrahim Alkaji, for not spending enough time with the students. Incidentally the NSD students had gone on a strike then, launching an oust-Ratan campaign. Yes, he is a Guru today and the manner how he chooses his disciples is his discretion.

However one incident may serve as his Achilles heel. It was on the 12th of April. Gathered at the Shrine were the Governor of Manipur and the Who's Who of the Indian Theater and Cultural world. That was when Ojah Ratan Thiyam's Majordomo in the form of Shri Samarendra Chongtham, retired director of Arts and Culture, Govt of Manipur stepped in as the Master of Ceremony. He began by laying emphasis portfolio-wise while introducing the right Hon'ble Minister who was present. And in that order, veterinary and animal husbandry took precedence over his cultural responsibilities!

Then came the coup de grace. The Master of Ceremony soon announced that time was being given for local artistes. The first "local artiste" whom he called out was Aribam Shyam Sharma. Shyam Sharma as some us half literates know is he other Genius of Manipur whose films have captured worldwide attention from Nantes to New York. A man compared by some to the great Kurusowa himself, Shyam Sharma's film debut "Imagi Ningthem" has been placed alongside with Satyajit Ray's Panther Panchali as one of the 15 Indian films of the millennium by TG Vaidyananthan (Outlook 15 November). Luckily "Eigya Shyam"as he is affectionately known was not present in the audience and that was his saving grace.

The other local artiste was not so lucky. He is none other than Manipur
"Theater man of the Masses"- the rebel from the National School of Drama and whose epic production "Pebet" is still a landmark production and whose work has been described to be at the forefront of contemporary Indian Theater, by Rustom Bharucha in his book "The theater of Kanhailal".

Yes we are talking about H Kanhailal, whose group Kalakshetra has been contributing their humble mite. He was not so lucky as he was present in the audience. Yes, if not for the parochial connotation, there is nothing wrong with the term "local", but the fact is the patronizing tone and implications of the term cannot be swept aside. The retired director perhaps overlooked this, but in the world of art he ought to have realized that it is sensitive. The perfectionist that he is, Ratan had flown in Sadhana Shrivastava from Delhi to compere the 1st Bhagyachandra National Festival of Classical Dances- his MC was the then Director. The question is will the genius of the roots return to his roots and make amends in the best of Manipuri traditions.

(Courtesy: The Imphal Free Press)