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
PARABLE OF THE LOST POST OFFICE:
A SALON THEATRE-INSTALLATION/EXPLORATION
Principal Text: Rabindranath Tagore
Additional Text: Thema book of Naxalite Poetry, Aga Shahid Ali and Dhumketu
Directed and designed by Parnab Mukherjee
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.