Voices from the stage
Randeep Wadehra
Woman consciousness and Indian ethos
Ed Alka Sharma. Omega Publications, New Delhi. Pages: xx+190. Rs 450.

For ages women in India have been simultaneously deified, demonised and damned. She is either a Devi, a she-devil (raakshasi) or a doormat but never human. But, does this sum up her status in the Indian ethos? More important, what is the level of her own awareness regarding the various challenges to her very existence, and her potential to overcome these? These are some of the issues addressed in this bilingual collection of essays. Kumud Sharma avers that "women are rediscovering their individual and collective resources rather than remain rooted in traditional social systems" and "it is important to constantly interrogate dominant narratives of women’s consciousness that shape the notion of self". Aditya Angiras blames western materialism and loss of hoary Hindu values for women’s present predicament. Ramakant Angiras stresses the need for understanding feminine identity in today’s context while Padmaja Amit examines women’s sensibility in Sanskrit literature. Other writers tackle the issue of female status and consciousness in scenarios ranging from domestic violence to the corporate world. If only the Hindi contributions in this volume were translated into English.

Theatre of the streets
Ed. Sudhanva Deshpande. Jan Natya Manch, N. Delhi, Pages 160. Rs 120

Remarkable for a highly visual style street theatre, in medieval Europe, used to comprise jongleurs and strolling players who would involve the onlookers into the narrative. Originally based on Christian theology and mythology, it eventually became a powerful tool for promoting leftist values. In India IPTA was set up in 1942-43 to propagate progressive ideas and forge a new society. A vibrant group-theatre movement ensued that gave us Bijon Bhattacharya’s pioneering Bangla play Nabanna in 1944. The post-1947 era saw Utpal Dutt’s propagandist productions, Cho Ramaswamy’s stinging satires, Habib Tanvir and Safdar Hashmi’s rousing street plays. Among the various post-1947 theatre-groups Janam or Jana Natya Manch is one of the best known. It hit media headlines when its leader Safdar Hashmi was killed on January 1, 1989. This collection contains articles delineating Janam’s history and activities. If you love theatre this volume is indispensable reading.

The portrait of Mahatma Gandhi
by Himendra Thakur Antarjyoti, New Delhi. Pages xxii+90. Rs 100

Plays and playwrights have been in short supply for quite some time now. So, any addition is welcome. This play revolves around the theme of the loss of Gandhian values even as it projects the onset of terrorism. The characters and stage settings have been detailed, but there are certain bloomers. Ramu, who is in his late sixties in 2007 couldn’t possibly have had childhood memories of the Mahatma. The dialogues too could have been written more skillfuly; for example, on page nine Ramu addresses Sarojini as didi, Choti-memsahib and Behenji’ in successive dialogues – changing the honorifics for no rhyme or reason. Worth staging, nevertheless.