Even sleeping pills have given up on me!
I am often greeted with: “You are everywhere”.
If one is interested and involved in life, then there is so much to see, study and understand.
Life for me includes current affairs, books, theatre, dance, music, film, poetry… and social activism. Each day introduces new challenges.
I can proudly claim I have not had a day’s boredom in my life.
Early this week, I was in Chennai – where we had eventually been invited and stormed the conservative portals of Chennai. After eighteen years of resistance from their powers-that-be, we performed ‘The Vagina Monologues’ before an enthusiastic audience that couldn’t have enough of us even after the closing time of the Phoenix City Mall, where we performed in their expanse of open space.
The next morning, en route to the airport, I decided to visit the Krishnamurti Foundation (KFI) exhibition in Vasanta Vihar on Greenways Road. This great philosopher and thinker had made the most profound impact on human consciousness. I never met the man. But two years after his death, I enrolled my son Quasar in the Rishi Valley School in Madanapalle. The exhibition was celebrating 125 years of Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986) and his association with education. On this day, a number of principals and teachers from the various Rishi Valley Schools around the world had congregated there for a conference. I had the privilege of meeting Dr Radhika Herzberger, Principal Dr Shirali, and the most popular Alok Mathur who had taught my son 30 years ago! It was as though I was paying obeisance to the school!
Six hours later, the Air Asia flight landed me in Mumbai and I rushed to G5A - the gem of a space tucked away at the end of a lane off Tulsi Pipe Road - that has become a very selective cultural hub for contemporary culture, offering stimuli to the discerning in diverse disciplines.
‘Lal Ded’, about the Kashmiri mystic poet, was being performed by the film, television, and theatre artist Mita Vashisht, who has been doing so for 15 years, and is finding the core of ‘Kashmiriyat’. The Kashmiri ‘Vakhs’ of Lal Ded’s poems cut through all the ‘isms’ of religion, form, and time… and reveals the pure self, which is within each one of us, till we are indoctrinated into a religion and sect.
Among the audience that night were Ruby Ahluwalia and her husband Anil – who agreed to drop me home. She introduced herself as a cancer survivor and invited me to her book launch at the Bombay Gym three days later. I had never heard of her before but I thought I owed it to her to attend her book launch. And what a surprise it was… ‘The Fragrance Of A Wild Soul’ is truly unputdownable. I read it in a single sitting.
Ruby Ahluwalia is a bureaucrat – an IRAS officer of the 1986 batch and is the finance advisor and chief accounts officer of the Indian Railways. You could have knocked me down with a feather. Life is full of surprises. There is not one of us who has not experienced cancer directly or indirectly. Her book is truly inspirational.
You have to read the book to fully understand when she writes: “All we need to do to heal a wound, to close an open chapter in life, to end misery, to get over a bad experience – is silent but active listening and a little bit of empathy in the end.”
I share a special relationship with the Mumbai University Academy of Theatre Arts. It is celebrating the 12th National Vasant Natyotsav in the open-air Muktakaash Rangmanch in Kalina, with plays in Marathi, Hindi, Bundeli, Bhojpuri, Manipuri and a multilingual ‘Dr. Faustus’ in Bengali, English and Sanskrit - from Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, West Zone Culture Centre, Udaipur, South Central Zone Cultural Centre, Nagpur, and Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre, Kolkata.
The play ‘Nangeli’ in Hindi, written and directed by Dhananjay Laxmanrao Sable blew my mind! I had never heard of the breast tax (Malakkaram or Mula-Karam in Malayalam) - a tax imposed on the untouchable women in Travancore (now Kerala) until 1924. A tax was enforced on the covering of breasts of untouchable women. The outcast men had to pay a similar tax, called Tala-karam on their heads. Those belonging to the varna (Suvarna) from Brahmins to the Shudras were exempted from the taxes.
Women of the lower caste were not allowed to cover their breasts at all. In keeping with the tradition of Travancore, bare breasts were a symbol of respect to people of the higher caste.
The Nairs bared their breasts to the upper-caste Nambudiri Brahmins, while the Brahmins bared their breasts only to the images of deities. The people of an even lower caste, like the Nadars or Shanars were not allowed to cover their breasts at all.
With the spread of Christianity in the 19th century, the Christian converts among the Nadar women started covering their upper body. Gradually, even the Hindu Nadar women adopted this practice.
After a series of protests, the Nadar women were granted the right to cover their breasts in 1859.
A pity the majority of the city’s theatre-goers seldom hear about the challenging work being done in areas other than South Mumbai. I wish more people could see this production…brave in its content, faultless in its depiction through dance, music and tribal setting. I would certainly see it again to grasp the full impact of its message.