Net, divorce on SMS
to bee successful
Sangita Deol at her bee farm in Lambra: She keeps updating her skills. — Photo by S.S. Chopra
As Girish Karnad
returns to theatre after 35 years with A Heap of Broken Images, Neelam
Mansingh Chowdhry reflects on his earlier works and her
association with the playwright.
Girish Karnad has always been a topic for conversation and, whatever he does, makes news. He was, perhaps, the youngest earthquake that hit the theatre terrain, and has been since than the golden boy. Armed with an MA degree in mathematics from Oxford University he returned to India in 1960. His first play, Yayati, showed the influence of Camus and Satre. His second play, Tughlaq, had the tone and texture of great drama; profoundly poignant, with a structure that was epic as well as classical in its appeal. Hayavadana and Naga- Mandala borrowed its idiom from folk theatre, with all the conventions: the chorus, music, comic interludes and the mixing of real with the unreal. The theme of tradition in Karnad’s writings is given radical interpretation. The angles and turns that he gives to a story, presents an alternative world. A world where dolls speak more eloquently than the human, as in Hayavadana, or where a chorus of flames push the narrative onto a dangerous precipice, in Naga-Mandala. In this way Karnad explores the meaning of creativity by presenting a complex and provocatively ambiguous world where fictional characters and real characters intermingle and the lines between the visible and the invisible surge into each other spontaneously. What makes his work fascinating is that even though it is set in the traditional\ folk or historical format, it examines issues that are contemporary.
Shades of the Nehruvian dream gone sour resonate in Tughlaq, drawing sharp parallels with the then political scenario. The mind versus the body debate from Thomas Mann’s Transposed Heads in Hayavadana echo the Cartesian concept of duality. His earlier plays took their cue from the past to observe the present. His new play A Heap Of Broken Images takes its sustenance from the images of the ‘now’. This in a certain way adds a new curve in his oeuvre. It is this very eclecticism that makes his work universal and shows his deep commitment and passion for theatre.
To write about a play, as I am doing now, without seeing or reading it could be perceived as blasphemous. But does one have to be in the eye of a storm to describe the whirlwind? I know I am walking on quicksand, by writing about a play based on other people’s interpretation and reactions, but I took the risk, because of my immense admiration for Karnad and his writings.
This new play, A Heap of Broken Images with its title taken from T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland signals the return of Girish Karnad as a director after a gap of 35 years. It marks a point of departure, by taking a huge leap from the mythological and historical by framing it in the world of technology: a metaphor for the New Age. Set in a television studio, the lone protagonist( played by veteran actress Arundhati Nag), Manjula Murthy nee Naik is a unsuccessful regional writer who has crossed over and written a successful novel in English. The play debates this issue through the dramatic device of mirroring her image on the television screen, suggesting a monologue with her alter-ego. Sucked into the vortex of globalisation with its obscene advances and media hoopla she tries to explain her position, by arguing that even though she was writing in the English language, her publishers insist that her ‘book is selling because it has the smell of the soil.’
Self-admittedly autobiographical, Karnad in various interviews has mentioned that the seed of the idea for this play was planted in his mind by a conversation that he had with the writer Shashi Deshpande, about the emotional encounter that she had at a writers’ conference in Neemrana between the regional writers versus the English writers. On another register this play deals with the politics of language. How language is not just ciphers on paper but contain within them cultural history, and images as well as being time-bombs of hierarchy and discrimination.
I would like to relate an anecdote . One Evening in 1989 while reading a theatre journal, I read about Girish Karnad’s new play Naga-Mandala. I wondered how I could convince him to allow me to direct his play. I had done no significant work to merit any credibility as a director. On an impulse I wrote to Girish in a tone that had a dash of enthusiasm that covered my shaky confidence. Imagine my surprise when without any reluctance, or hesitation he sent me the script. Normally one has to read a play several times before it becomes ‘visible.’ In most plays there is never a congruence between the play as read and the play when performed. But I could in one burst see the milieu, the environment the external appearances of the performers the power of the symbols. For me and my actors, it was ‘love at first reading. I could feel the characters come alive in my mind’s eye and could not wait to start the rehearsals. The show in Delhi was an overwhelming success, and as it so happened it was staged the same day Girish released the English translation of the play. I was thrilled to see photographs of my production on the cover of the book.
Nikaah on Net, divorce on SMS
Naim on advantages of a virtual wedding that is tailored to suit
the changing needs
Imagine sitting in a cramped cyber café in your bridal finery saying qabool hai to the monitor. This is exactly what happened at a cyber café in old Lucknow last week. Here sat Shabnam, in front of a computer in a long ghunghaat huddled amongst relatives.
The virtual image on screen was of the man selected by her family—Abdul Kalam, a computer engineer who lives and works in Saudi Arabia. Separating them were thousands of miles of real space that was instantly bridged by the two magic words qabool hai or "I accept".
While online marriages are no longer a novelty they still remain an oddity. While their validity in terms of religion is clearly established, technology taking on a vital role in human relations is something that still raises a few doubts. According to member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board Zafaryab Jilani, "People often come with questions regarding the validity of online marriages. We tell them that as per the Shariah there is nothing wrong in it".
Echoing this is Maulana Khalid Rashid Firangi Mahali the Naib Imam of Lucknow’s Eidgaah who says that a nikaah over the Net is absolutely valid as long as it fulfills the provisions laid out by the Shariah. The prerequisite is the consent of the partners and agreement over the dower.
The intrusion of technology into human relationship and especially marriage may have the stamp of religion. It may also be seem like a huge leap forward. But is technology bringing any fundamental change in the way relationships are being made and unmade?
Let’s take a glance at the online marriage in question. North Indian Shabnam’s virtual marriage to a computer engineer hailing from Tamil Nadu and working in Saudi Arbaia would seem a move forward. But then Shabnam had no say in the matter.
It was fixed like any other arranged marriage. Her mother and elder brother had undertaken the negotiation and fixed it on her behalf. The couple did not have a chance to have a ‘virtual’ glance of each other before the marriage was solemnized. The question of talking or meeting in person in order to get to know each other was obviously beyond the realm of possibility.
Even on the wedding day the bridegroom’s request to have a ‘virtual’ look at the bride’s face hidden behind the heavy veil was turned down by the elders from the bride’s side. The bride’s mother sitting in Saudi Arabia instructed her daughter-in-law in Lucknow over the Net not to allow a glimpse till the nikaah was performed. It was only after they were pronounced man and wife were they permitted to furtively steal a fleeting peep of each other much to the amusement of the family collected on both sides of the screen.
What sociologists call the "modernization of tradition" is not only visible in the manner in which marriages are being solemnized but also in the way they end. A curt SMS pronouncing talaq led to a major debate in Malaysia. While technology is simply facilitating tradition only few have the courage to challenge it.
A marriage to take place again in Lucknow on May 10 would be a revolutionary in more ways than one. The wedding invite has a footnote listing its special highlight in bold print: Purantaya dahej rahit, Kanyadaan Pratha Venirmukta (The wedding will be without dowry and will not confirm to the custom of Kanyadaan).
The marriage is of the daughter of a senior IAS officer, Hardev Singh. He mentions that this is not the first wedding in his family that has done away with such rituals, his elder daughter was also married this way. This time however, he decided to mention it on the invite so as to create awareness about respecting the girl-child.
How to bee successful
Minna Zutshi meets Sangeeta Deol, the ‘Bee woman’ of Doaba who came up trumps after battling her disability.
There’s one thing which she detests. And that is pity. Fifty-plus Sangeeta Deol, who is known as the "Bee-Woman" in Doaba region, has painstakingly carved stepping stones out of the stumbling blocks that came her way.
This gutsy woman who had almost nothing in her favour, except her dogged determination and family support, started poultry business with borrowed money, supplemented her income with dairy farming, switched over to mushroom farming, and finally settled for bee-keeping in the non-descript village of Lambran, about 12 km from Jalandhar city. She even devised a simple machine that purifies and filters 50 kg of honey in neat five minutes!
Afflicted with polio at a
very young age, Sangeeta, as a child, was familiar with jeers and jibes.
"Children can be very cruel sometimes. I still remember how the epithet
of langdi used to be hurled at me by my classmates." She learnt
early in life to fight for her right to dignity.
Her parents, thankfully, were
indulgent and they encouraged her to think of her disability as a small speck
in the vast canvas of her life. "I have been lucky, as my childhood was
never disability-centred. I knew I had a problem, but I did not let it become
the pivot of my existence. Wallowing in self-pity was a strict ‘no’ for
Her marriage set her on the path to economic independence. "I did not want my husband and in-laws to feel that I was a burden on them. Those were days of intense struggle. A working woman, particularly in the rural areas, was still an aberration."
At that time, she was a novice in the field of agriculture. And she had yet to learn the dynamics of demand and supply. Carried away by the prospect of the excellent yield of mushroom crop, she went in for "grand mushroom farming" (300-quintal yield) without thinking of the marketing part. Later, she had considerable difficulty selling the produce for which there were very few takers. "I would visit clubs to impress upon the members the benefits of eating mushrooms!" she chuckles.
But the right mix of perseverance and flexibility, coupled with a keen desire to learn, made her successful in her ventures. Awards trooped in and she let herself be immersed in her work. Today, she imparts training in bee-keeping and mushroom farming not only to farmers but also to youngsters struggling to eke out a living.
"Technical expertise is a must. I believe in upgrading my skills and updating my knowledge regularly," she says. Recently, she learnt the technique of queen-bee rearing from an expert, who was here from London.
She’s already thinking of diversifying into organic farming. "Our landholding is small. We can go in for vegetable cultivation," she says, as she takes us around her brinjal cultivation that is shaded by a huge neem tree. brinjals are sans any pesticide," she announces with a broad smile that defies all hurt and pain.